Earning her wings: Northampton junior makes first solo flight

  • Krista Jordan checks the oil of a Piper Warrior before her flight lesson with Vinnie Melling, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020 at Northampton Airport. She is a 16-year-old Northampton High School student who received the Mary Shea Wright Flight Memorial Scholarship. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Krista Jordan checks the engine of a Piper Warrior before her flight lesson with Vinnie Melling, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020 at Northampton Airport. She is a 16-year-old Northampton High School student who received the Mary Shea Wright Flight Memorial Scholarship. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Krista Jordan checks the fuel of a Piper Warrior before her flight lesson with Vinnie Melling, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020 at Northampton Airport. She is a 16-year-old Northampton High School student who received the Mary Shea Wright Flight Memorial Scholarship. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Krista Jordan and her instructor, Vinnie Melling, prepare for her flight lesson, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020 at Northampton Airport. She is a 16-year-old Northampton High School student who received the Mary Shea Wright Flight Memorial Scholarship. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Krista Jordan gets ready for her flight lesson with Vinnie Melling, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020 at Northampton Airport. She is a 16-year-old Northampton High School student who received the Mary Shea Wright Flight Memorial Scholarship. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Krista Jordan checks the flaps of a Piper Warrior before her flight lesson with Vinnie Melling, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020 at Northampton Airport. She is a 16-year-old Northampton High School student who received the Mary Shea Wright Flight Memorial Scholarship. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sixteen-year-old Krista Jordan takes off in a Piper Warrior during her flight lesson with Vinnie Melling, Aug. 10, at Northampton Airport. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Krista Jordan flies over the Northampton Airport in a Piper Warrior during her flight lesson with Vinnie Melling, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. She is a 16-year-old Northampton High School student who received the Mary Shea Wright Flight Memorial Scholarship. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Krista Jordan checks a Piper Warrior before her flight lesson with Vinnie Melling, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020 at Northampton Airport. She is a 16-year-old Northampton High School student who received the Mary Shea Wright Flight Memorial Scholarship. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Krista Jordan taxies a Piper Warrior toward the runway during her flight lesson with Vinnie Melling, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020 at Northampton Airport. She is a 16-year-old Northampton High School student who received the Mary Shea Wright Flight Memorial Scholarship. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/16/2020 5:52:34 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Last month, 16-year-old Krista Jordan, a rising junior at Northampton High School, took to the skies during her first solo flight at Northampton Airport. Jordan is the recipient of the second annual Mary Shea Wright Flight Memorial Scholarship, which is paying her way to earn her private pilot’s license at the airport.

Jordan said she hadn’t been expecting to do a solo that day, but that after flying with her earlier in the day, her instructor told her she would be doing her first solo and got out of the plane.

“I really didn’t have a chance to get scared or get excited,” Jordan said. “He got out, and I taxied the plane back out to the runway.”

In the air alone for the first time, Jordan said she “was just flying the plane normally,” although she did note that her takeoff and landing were affected by not having the extra weight of her instructor in the plane.

“It wasn’t my best landing,” she said of her first of two solo landings that day.

It was only after finishing flying solo that “the weight of the experience hit me,” she said.

She also noted how people at the airport had congratulated her and described what their first solo flights were like.

“Hearing those stories really made it sink in,” she said. “It really felt like I was being welcomed into this super cool special club.”

Flying for free

After submitting a two-page essay and letters of recommendation and going through several rounds of interviews over Zoom, Jordan learned that she had received the scholarship, which is covering about $5,000 in flight training and additional costs such as taking a test to receive her private pilot’s license when she turns 17.

“I haven’t had to pay out of pocket anything for the program yet,” she said. She started the flight program at Northampton Airport in early June and typically flies three days a week.

Jordan is the youngest of five sisters, two of whom have participated in the Wright Flight program, based at Barnes Airport in Westfield, which educates students in Grades 7-12 about aviation. Jordan herself took part in the Wright Flight program starting in the eighth grade.

“The learning curve was really reduced because a lot of that knowledge I had — it was just practically applying it when I was in an airplane,” she explained. “The first couple of lessons, of course there’s a learning curve as there is with anything, but then there’s sort of a sense of, ‘This is the airplane. I can control this. I know how to do this. If I don’t, my instructor’s sitting right next to me and he’ll take over if I do anything wrong.’”

For Jordan, the defining moment of her flying career thus far was when she realized how difficult it is to stall an airplane when she was being taught emergency procedures.

“The airplane is not designed at all to do it and it felt very unnatural to bring the airplane into that really high bank of a stall,” she said. “After that, I kind of realized that it’s going to be really hard for me to do something that will mess up this plane. After that, there was a lot of confidence added.”

After obtaining her private pilot’s license, Jordan plans to go on to attain her instrument rating license, which requires at least 50 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot in command.

“I’ll be able to fly if there’s clouds and if there’s low visibility,” she explained. “I’ll basically be able to fly the plane with only instruments and without having to look outside. That’s the next step in eventually going to fly commercial.”

Even though she’s training to possibly become a commercial pilot, Jordan said she’s also interested in air traffic control as a potential career.

“They’re really necessary for pilots in the air, to help guide and traffic everything,” she said.

‘Joy to work with’

Northampton Airport flight instructor Vinnie Melling, 66, of Florence, has been teaching new pilots for the past 25 years. He said the memorial scholarship is dedicated to flight instructor Mary Shea, who had taught aviation since the mid-1970s.

“She was just a wonderful woman,” Melling said. “She was a wealth of experience with all different kinds of flying. She unfortunately passed away. When she passed away, we decided at the airport that we wanted to do something to honor her. We thought that a scholarship for young women in the local school system would be a great honor.”

Melling is Jordan’s instructor at Northampton Airport. He said she’s a quick learner and a rare student with a natural aptitude for flying.

“Krista has been a joy to work with,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve taught. I’m sure I’ve had hundreds of students over the years. And you get all ranges of aptitude and interest level along that time. Every once in a while you get people like Krista, who are just all in and have basic skills and are willing to put in the time and the effort and the work and just have some natural talent.”

Staff writer Bera Dunau contributed to this story.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.




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