Students reach new heights

| Scene Reporter

We’ve all gone through airports and seen little kids pressing their faces up against the glass windows in complete awe of the airplanes taking off and landing right before them. Maybe some of us even were those little kids. Staring at the planes is one thing, but actually taking that awe to the next level is quite another.

Here at Washington University, there are a few students who may fly 100 miles to grab lunch or take a walk around a new city for the afternoon—they are pilots.

As a child, freshman Joey Berk’s favorite part of family vacation was flying to the destination. In fact, he even became upset if his family drove instead.

“My parents noticed how interested I was in flying, so for Hanukkah one year, they bought me Microsoft Flight Simulator,” Berk said. “I set it up complete with a pretty cool joystick, pretty advanced control and throttle system and I began teaching myself to fly.”

Freshman Prateek Kumar took a more casual approach to learning how to fly.

“I like doing thrill-type activities,” Kumar said. “I’m not that serious. I just recreationally fly because I love the experience.”

Berk began his flying experience in April 2007, taking lessons at Palwaukee Airport, the third busiest airport in Illinois.

According to both Berk and Kumar, a typical lesson occurs over a three-hour period, but the actual flying occupies only 90 minutes of that time. The rest of the time is devoted to planning the route, making calculations and doing an in-depth check of the plane and all of its systems.

“I went up in the air my first lesson,” Berk said. “The way a plane works is unlike a car. There are controls on both the left and right sides, so my instructor and I were able to fly the plane together.”

Both train in Cessna 172s, which are single-engine piston aircrafts. Berk is in possession of a private pilot license, while Kumar has taken only the written portion of his license test and must still complete the flying portion.

“With a private pilot’s license, you can fly by yourself in the day or night with as many passengers as fill up the aircraft,” Berk said. “There are, though, a wide range of disability restrictions I have to adhere to. I cannot fly within one mile of the clouds in either direction, and I cannot fly if visibility is below a certain amount, which does put somewhat of a damper on when I can go flying.”

Even with the restrictions in place, dangerous incidents still happen.

“The first time I went to a big airport, my instructor let me do everything even though I really didn’t know how,” Kumar said. “You’re supposed to wait a bit after a big plane takes off because of the wake turbulence it creates, but I didn’t know that. I took off straight after, and just went straight up into the air then back down due to the lack of lift. The instructors let me make mistakes then take over and fix them.”

One of Berk’s scares came when one of the plane’s engines failed.

“I’m getting ready to land when suddenly the engine starts sputtering, and I don’t know why,” Berk said. “All of a sudden I look over and I see the oil pressure drop to zero and the RPMs go down. This had me extremely nervous, so doing what we’re trained to do, I go through the steps on why the engine could have failed. I immediately looked down and switched fuel tanks, and the engine started up again.”

Flying may be thrilling, but it requires a lot of effort to reap the benefits.

“Flying a plane isn’t like riding a bicycle where you remember it forever,” Kumar said. “With flying, you remember most of it, but there are all these random rules and theory, so if you choose to begin flying, stick with it until you’re done training.”

Berk agrees that although flying is a thrilling activity, it takes patience.

“It takes a lot of time to develop the skills necessary to be successful,” Berk said. “But once you master those skills it’s one of the best, most rewarding activities I could have ever imagined doing. And hey, you get places faster.”

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.