Young pilots get their wings before their wheels
Young pilots Noah Meyerowitz (left) and Johnny Werner at Walter J. Koladza Airport in Great Barrington.
Photos by Christina Rahr Lane
It was a blue-sky Sunday, not a cloud above the Harriman-and-West Airport in North Adams. An assemblage of onlookers stood astride the taxiway when the radio call from the fixed-base operator’s office projected to the expectant group: “North Adams Traffic, Cessna November 46 Juliet Whiskey departing runway 29 to the north, North Adams.”
Conversation hushed and all eyes followed the yellow-and-white 1969 Cessna 172K as it started its ground roll down the 4,300-foot-long asphalt runway. Everyone’s gaze was fixed on the small plane as it tracked out of the valley toward the Taconics, one of the mountain ranges that rings this public airport. After one go-around, the airplane settled onto the tarmac and the crowd cheered. There were even a few moist eyes. This scenario has been repeated thousands of times since the North Adams airport was activated in 1949, but this take-off and landing sequence was special. It was the solo flight of young Johnny Werner—and it took place on his 16th birthday.
A similar scenario rolled out at the other end of Berkshire County at the Great Barrington Airport, when Noah Meyerowitz soloed for his 16th birthday. These two young aviators are cut from the same cloth—part of a cadre of bright, talented youth who, at age 16, were more interested in pursuing their pilot’s license than getting their driver’s license.
Both boys share delightful memories of that first solo flight—and, in fact, every flight they’ve commandeered since, which amounts to hundreds of hours collectively. The young aviators also share the experience of fathers who guided them to the left seat of an airplane.
“I was four when I started flying with my father,” says Meyerowitz, whose father and brother, Ari, 26, were private pilots. “I remember he took Ari up, and then it was my turn. I was afraid at the start but, with a little nudge from Ari, I was rolling down the runway in the passenger seat beside my father. The feeling of leaving the earth for the first time was sensational—I’ll never forget it. We flew south from Great Barrington and over the Twin Lakes in Canaan, Connecticut. I remember the beautiful turns we made over the lake, and the glorious glistening of the lakes reflecting off all the surfaces of the plane. It was a crisp, clear, beautiful spring day. I was hooked.”
Werner became smitten with airplanes after a commercial flight at age five, but it was four years later following a flight in a small private aircraft when he told his dad they needed to get an airplane. His solo flight was a long-awaited day after earning some 85 hours and 190 landings in his log book under his father’s tutelage and the watchful eye of Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) Trevor Gilman.
“It felt good, but it was different because there was no one to talk to,” says the teen. “So, I talked myself through my first approach. I was lighter, with no one else in the airplane, so I decided to go-around.” He recalls using the Airplane Flying Handbook for a book report when he was in seventh grade and writing about applicable sciences. His father, John Werner, is a pilot and aircraft purchase evaluator who owns Werner Aero, Inc.
Requirements for a solo flight include passing an aviation medical exam; training that typically includes ground school lessons, with a curriculum encompassing aviation-related subjects; flight training; and the approval of a CFI. Prior to certification as a private pilot, students also must pass a written exam and achieve proficiency with flight tasks such as navigation, daytime and night flying, communicating with air traffic control, and logging shorter- and longer-distance flights before the evaluation of an FAA-approved examiner. The minimum age for certification is 16 for balloons and gliders and 17 for powered flight (airplanes, helicopters, and gyroplanes).
Meyerowitz, who trains at Berkshire Aviation, estimates that he has flown more than 300 hours. He was on track for his FAA check ride, the final step in obtaining a private pilot’s license, on his 17th birthday when his father was killed in a car accident in September 2015; subsequently he slowed his pace but plans to take that final step for certification in March. Werner also planned to do the exam in February.
Meyerowitz especially appreciates the south-county flying community that includes teens and young pilots with whom he frequently flies to destinations in the Bay State and beyond. “General aviation is a relatively small community, and we all share in one common love––flight,” he says.
That love brought Meyerowitz and Werner together on the tarmac of the Walter J. Koladza Airport in Great Barrington. It’s a bit of a drive on the roadways of Berkshire County, but for these two, it’s just a short hop on the highway of the sky.
Get Your Wings and Fly
North Adams established a small grass landing strip in 1949. It now houses aviation-related businesses, private and business-owned aircraft, and a 4,300-foot paved runway. Teamflys offers flight instruction, aircraft rental, and scenic flights.
Pittsfield Municipal Airport
The city-owned, public-use airport offers business and casual access to the region via private and chartered aircraft. It serves medical air-ambulance flights, freight charters, military-training operations, and flight training. Lyon Aviation is the fixed-base operator.
Walter J. Koladza Airport
A potato field in Great Barrington became a commercial aerodrome in the 1920s. It now has a 2,585-foot paved runway and two instrument approaches. The fixed-base operator, Berkshire Aviation Enterprises, provides maintenance, flight instruction, and scenic flights.
This city-owned public/military airport built in 1923 is known for its flight training, general aviation, and military presence. Rectrix Aviation is the fixed-base operator. It houses two FAA-licensed flight schools: Westfield Flight Academy and AD-UP Aviation.