June 16, 2013

50 years after lesson, Mass. woman flies again

Now 71, the Bay State resident says thankfully the basics of piloting have remained the same.

By MICHAEL HARTWELL The Sentinel and Enterprise

FITCHBURG, Mass. — Stepping onto the runway at Fitchburg Municipal Airport, Santa Amico said a lot has changed in the 50 years since she last took a flight lesson.

click image to enlarge

Instructor Ben Williams goes through a preflight check with Santa Amico at Fitchburg Municipal Airport in Fitchburg, Mass. Amico, who took flight lessons 50 years ago at the same airport, was back in the cockpit for another lesson.

Michael Hartwell/Sentinel & Enterprise

"I can't believe all of the planes here now," she said.

Now 71, she took lessons when she was 21 during the early 1960s at the same spot. A Fitchburg native, Amico stopped taking lessons when she moved to Boston, where she taught English and literature at Fisher College and worked at the Boston Children's Museum and the Museum of Fine Art. She's also a published poet and had a radio show at MIT, where she spoke with artists and musicians.

She moved back to Fitchburg after more than 30 years in Boston and New York.

Amico said she hadn't thought again about flying until December, when her cousin bought her a helicopter ride over Boston as a gift. She remembered those abandoned lessons from the 1960s. She said she's not sure if she wants to take all the steps to pursue a pilot's license, but was eager for a chance to fly again.

Flight instructor Ben Williams went through the preflight check with her, which included checking the propeller and the front of the wings on the single-engine plane for cracks and dents, along with testing the fuel for water contamination by draining a cupful from each wing and the bottom of the airplane body and looking for bubbles.

Wearing dark, loose-fitting clothes and with her long gray hair bobby-pinned behind her head, Amico ran into some trouble on the runway just before Williams was going to take off. She couldn't reach the pedals, so the seat had to be cranked to an angle to give her the range of motion she needed while still being able to see the windows.

The trip was a loop to Mount Monadnock in Jaffrey, N.H. Williams conducted the take-off and landing, and transferred control to Amico in between. It was a hot day, and Williams said that made flying at low altitude bumpy.

During the flight, he refreshed Amico on flying basics, such as avoiding clouds because there may be other aircraft hidden inside, and to keep a hand's width between the dashboard and the horizon to maintain a level altitude.

Back on the ground, Amico said flying requires a good rhythm, just like mixing batter with a whisk. She said the basics of flying a plane haven't changed since she took her first lessons.

"Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have done it," she said.

She said she had a lot of fun but isn't sure if she'll take to the sky again because of the costs involved.

 

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