Teen Pilots Discover the Joys and Rewards of Flight
Football season was over for 2017, and Kim Marotta knew her son Ryan would need a new activity to keep busy.
So she asked Ryan, then 16, what he’d like to try. His answer was surprising.
The Windham, N.H., teen, who had only recently gotten his driver’s license, said he wanted to take flying lessons.
“It was different for sure,” Kim Marotta recalls. “It came out of nowhere.”
While her son had always been interested in movies such as “Top Gun,” he hadn’t expressed a desire to fly. Kim and her husband, Cliff, did some research and found Eagle East Aviation, a flight training school at Lawrence Municipal Airport in North Andover.
Ryan took an introductory “discovery flight” and was hooked.
Last summer, shortly after graduating from high school, the 19-year-old earned his pilot’s license. He’s now in his first year at Kent State University in Ohio, studying aeronautics, with plans to become a professional pilot. Marotta is among a growing number of teens and young adults who are seeking a pilot’s license when most of their peers are still mastering their ability to drive.
His first few lessons were eye-opening, Marotta says. Single-engine planes fly slowly and low to the ground. From his seat, he’s able to see some of the towns he’s flying over. It’s a perspective you can’t get from behind a steering wheel while battling traffic, he says.
“Up there, everything gets simplified,” Marotta says.
Still, the time he took the controls on his first solo flight was a terrifying couple of moments, he says.
“[You think], ‘it’s all on me, I’m really going by myself,’ ” he says. But, after about five minutes he settled down and it was a smooth ride.
Marotta and his family appreciate the friendships they have made through Eagle East Aviation, and the support they have received from others, including Dave DeVries of Windham, an advocate for aviation culture who offers scholarships to students.
That support enabled Marotta to pursue his dream — and get a boost toward his future career. He began his freshman year of college with some credits.
After acquiring his certification, Ryan took his first passengers on separate flights — his mother, Kim, his grandmother, Judy Marotta, and his older brother, Andrew. During lessons, he’d ask Eagle East Aviation owner Tim Campbell to take some photos of him behind the controls, Ryan says, which he sent to Andrew, who was studying abroad, just to show him that he wasn’t the only sibling doing some astounding things.
Flying in a Cessna with her son at the controls was an incredible experience, Kim Marotta says.
Was she nervous?
“Honestly, no,” she says, recalling how a more confident Ryan explained all the steps he was taking, as well as what they were seeing out the windows.
Still, she jokes, Ryan can’t do his own laundry, yet “he can go in a plane and fly from here to Maine.”
As for other passengers, Ryan will wait a little longer before taking his friends up for a trip, but they are all impressed — both with his certification and the fact that he already has a career path he wants to pursue.
“They joke around and call me ‘Fly Guy,’ ” he says.
Griffin Stella, 18, has long dreamed of a career as a fighter pilot. A 2019 graduate of Andover High School, he started taking flying lessons at Eagle East Aviation when he was 15 and completed his training in just under two years.
Making his first solo flight (at a distance of over 50 nautical miles) was “a surreal experience,” Stella says. “It’s the first time you’re dependent on yourself.”
But then, he says, you get to a point in the trip when you relax and start to take in the sights and experience of it all.
“It’s a really beautiful thing,” Stella says.
In addition to providing knowledge on how to operate a plane, flying lessons teach many other valuable tools, Stella says, including how to be resilient and calm in tough situations. Flying also requires an understanding of meteorology; pilots need to learn about clouds, weather patterns, precipitation and wind speeds.
“Flying is such a great thing to have on your resume,” Stella says.
Success stories like Marotta’s and Stella’s motivate Campbell. The flight school draws interest from many young people, he says, including some who intern.
For those who want to fly, Eagle East Aviation accepts students starting at around age 15 1/2.
“In Massachusetts, you can solo an airplane before you can drive a car,” Campbell says. “It’s a skill you can take with you your whole life.”