Freshmen take off on piloting journey


Submitted Greg Alberti

Freshman Greg Alberti completes an unassisted landing at Fitchburg Airport with his flight instructor.

Ava Arcona, Staff Writer

While many people are afraid of heights, freshmen pilots-in-training Greg Alberti and Paneet Kandola find nothing more gripping than being in control of an aircraft thousands of feet above the ground.

Alberti began his aviation journey as a student pilot during the summer of 2016, while attending a free youth flying program held at Minute Man Airfield in Stowe, MA. According to Alberti, he and his father were lucky enough to be assigned the best plane in the airport along with a certified instructor, marking the start of his six-year-and-counting aviation journey.

“It was a Bonanza A36, and we got hooked right after that,” Alberti said. “We started to go to more events, volunteer, go to the chapter meetings, and it started from there.”

The Beechcraft Bonanza, one of 75 aircrafts owned by Minute Man Airfields, has a 33-foot wingspan and a cruising speed of 190 miles per hour. Alberti practices maneuvers in planes such as these with an instructor present, although their involvement in his piloting can vary.

“One instructor let me do unassisted landings, which was interesting,” Alberti said. “He was basically telling me what to do, showing me what to do, and I did it and practiced it.”

Alberti and his father, who got his own pilot’s license this past winter, founded the Youth Aviation Club at the airfield in December 2020 with the goal of providing opportunities to young people who share an interest in flying. The club members meet regularly, in addition to working as volunteers and attending tours at the airport.

“We started it so that the people really invested in aviation would have good experience learning early,” Alberti said. 

Kandola, Alberti’s friend and neighbor, heard about the Youth Aviation Club from her parents last winter and signed up shortly after, without any prior experience or knowledge of aviation. Kandola believes the most difficult aspect of flying is being familiar with the ins and outs of the plane’s controls.

“Before even stepping into an aircraft, knowing what everything meant was a lot,” Kandola said. “Especially since I had no experience. I knew absolutely nothing.”

Most people get their licenses at 17, but the two will be able to fly solo after their 16th birthdays. In order to get an official pilot’s license, they need a minimum of 40 solo flight hours as well as a passing grade on a written exam. In the future, Alberti hopes to attend college for aviation and become a commercial pilot.

“My dream plane to fly is a Boeing 787,” Alberti said. “But of course you have to start small, and you get seniority as you go on.”

Despite not knowing what the future holds for her in regards to aviation, Kandola wants to keep the path open in case she decides to become a pilot full-time. Like Alberti, she also plans to get her license once she reaches the age requirement.

“My road is probably going to be a lot longer [than Alberti’s], just because I don’t have as much time,” Kandola said.

Both Kandola and Alberti have a profound appreciation for seeing the world from thousands of feet above the ground. 

“My favorite part about flying is definitely seeing Earth from a different perspective,” Alberti said. “You’re up there seeing the ground; you’re not on the ground seeing the ground.”

To them, nothing beats the spectacular views and the excitement of being inside an aircraft, as well as the satisfaction gained from piloting it themselves.

“For me, it’s the feeling of when you’re up there,” Kandola said. “When you finally get up in the sky and the wheels take off, that’s just the best feeling.”