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Seasons Magazines

Flight in Connecticut: Soaring to New Heights

By Andrew Kelsey


From the days of flight pioneers Gustave Whitehead and Igor Sikorsky to today’s flying lesson opportunities in the state, Connecticut certainly has held a prominent place on the aviation map throughout history.

And with a shortage in pilots these days, there has been increased interest in flying lessons. Flying, as has been the case throughout the last century-plus, is not necessarily about the end goal of a career in the sky. There are plenty of reasons—and ways—people get up above the clouds: bucket list checkoffs and alternative transportation to see family, for example.

It is not limited to planes and helicopters. Sky diving, hot air ballooning and hang gliding are ways for people to get their fix of a taste of flight for fun.

Jean Dow, a partner and owner with Chester Charter Inc. (, said there are two main reasons why people learn to fly: it is on their bucket list as something they have always wanted to do or they want to pursue a career as a pilot. The latter has been more popular this year than in the past, especially for younger prospective pilots, due to the impact of COVID-19.

The pandemic resulted in less people flying and led to layoffs and early retirement packages for pilots. It was expected to come back slowly but it didn’t—the world of air travel came back like gangbusters, thus creating a shortage of pilots, Dow said.

“There’s a huge shortage around the globe for corporate and commercial pilots,” Dow added.

“I would say there is a good chunk of younger people coming in pursuing a career in aviation,” said Rich Doherty, office manager at Learn 2 Fly Connecticut (, which operates out of Hartford at Brainard Airport, as well as Windham and East Haddam.

The first step toward a career as a pilot is getting your private pilot’s license. A person could get their lessons done in three to four months for about $8,000 to $10,000 at a bare minimum, although it typically takes longer and costs more, Dow said.

“The more you fly, the less it will cost,” Dow explained about what it costs to learn to fly. “If you fly once a week, it’s going to take you 30 minutes to get back to where you left off. If you fly a few times a week, it’s going to take you five minutes to get back to where you left off.”

Doherty said the national average is 60 to 65 hours of fly time to get a private license, and that it costs generally in the $10,000 to $15,000 range, factoring in New England weather that is always sure to alter flying schedules slightly.

“It’s much more affordable than people think,” Dow said. In the past, pilots needed a four-year college degree to get a career but things have changed. Due to the current demand for pilots, requirements have been lowered, continued Dow, adding that accelerated programs make it more cost-effective.

“People love it—it’s a feeling of freedom,” Dow said. “It’s certainly rewarding for a lot of people.”

Doherty is taking flying lessons himself, not to pursue a career, but simply for the enjoyment of it. He was encouraged by his girlfriend Arianna Strand, a flight instructor at Learn 2 Fly, to take to the sky. Both Strand and Doherty’s best friend, Adam Nadeau, have gotten him up in the air and provided flight instruction. As of early February, Doherty had logged about eight hours in the sky, and says the time above the trees and houses is quite unique.

“It’s beautiful. It gives you a whole different perspective of home, your surrounding area,” Doherty said. “It’s fantastic, it’s fun—it’s really cool.”

“You have to really love it. You have to put in a lot of time and effort. It’s not something you would do unless you really enjoy it,” Dow commented.

There are a variety of reasons people get their pilot’s license, including to bring children back to college after breaks, or visit parents out of state. Dow noted that people do not have to be rich to fly. There are many private two-seater planes at Chester Charter that belong to everyday people with regular jobs. Additionally, she revealed, there is an option for people to go into a partnership for a larger plane. There are flight clubs throughout the state where people share their common interest.

“It’s just a community of like-minded people,” Dow said.

Helicopter piloting is an option as well. Northeast Helicopters Flight Services LLC, based in Ellington, Conn., offers Pro-Trac, The Professional Pilot Training Program for those interested in a career as a helicopter pilot. Training costs $80,000 and takes about two years.

According to Northeast Helicopters, helicopter operators will often require 1,000 hours or more of time before a person can fly with them. The Pro-Trac program and instructing will allow pilots to gain the expertise and skill needed to seek employment.



Parachuting, hot air balloons, hang gliding  and sky diving

Connecticut Parachutists (, based out of Ellington Airport, offers the opportunity to tandem skydive for $260. On clear days, parachutists can take in views of Long Island Sound, the Connecticut River and Hartford. Connecticut Parachutists has a large group discount for $235.

The maximum allowable weight for a jumper is 230 pounds and there is an additional fee for individuals over 210, according to the Connecticut Parachutists website.

If going in a hot air balloon is your idea of a good way to spend the day, perhaps for a romantic in-the-sky getaway, CT Ballooning ( in Kensington, Conn., offers options, including the Traditional Hot Air Balloon Adventure at $350 per person and Private Hot Air Balloon Adventure at $1,500 per couple. Additionally, tethered balloons are $2,250 an hour and go up to 75 feet above ground; they are available for events such as company parties, fairs and weddings.

If flying similarly to a bird is of interest, the Connecticut Hang Gliding Association ( utilizes Talcott Mountain State Park in Simsbury, Conn.

“Hang gliding is as close to true flying as a human can get. It’s as close to being a bird as a human can get,” said Greg Saracino, president of the club, who has been hang gliding for about 30 years.

Saracino has flown as high as about 6,500 feet and knows those who have been as high as 15,000 feet up, but notes that it only takes being about 1,000 feet off the ground for a thrill. People get into a thermal or ride lift to utilize the air to go higher. It can be as relaxing, exhilarating or relaxing as you make it by simply gliding or using aerobatics during flights.

The Connecticut Hang Gliding Association was established in 1974; next year marks the milestone 50th anniversary of the club. Saracino noted that the club includes three original members, all in their mid-70s, with about 50 years of hang-gliding experience. The club welcomes new members and is looking to grow.

Annual dues are $50 and the club, currently consisting of about 20 people, meets the first Tuesday of every month at various locations. The members frequent Talcott Mountain State Park where they fly, sometimes for several hours at a time.

Hang gliding has a variety of proficiency ratings, from beginner to novice, intermediate and advanced. In order to be able to fly solo, it generally takes people several months of training a few weekends each month, Saracino said. One way to learn quickly is via a tandem flight method in which hang gliders are pulled by planes.

Based out of Ellington Airport, Connecticut Parachutists Inc. provides yet another option to air adventure.

“Skydiving attracts an incredible variety of people and each has their own personal reason. For some, one tandem skydive is the ultimate bucket list experience or fear to conquer. For others, it’s a challenging skill to continually improve upon. For everyone, it’s a diverse community of awesome people who quickly become family,” said Brett Mickelson, president of Connecticut Parachutists, Inc. The minimum age for skydiving is 18.

“Skydiving is simultaneously having total control and no control. You train diligently and plan meticulously, but still anything can happen. There is no sensation like it,” Mickelson said.



History of flight in Connecticut

For those who are into flight but prefer staying grounded, the New England Air Museum ( is located at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks. It offers three hangers and multiple floors with exhibits and flight simulators. The 58th Bomb Wing Memorial pays tribute to the thousands of men in the first unit to introduce the Boeing B-29 Superfortress into combat in World War II. Among the exhibits is New England Women in Aviation.

“From the time of the earliest flying machines, women have looked to the sky and dreamed of flight. In New England, the setting for many milestones in aviation history, bold and courageous women have worked tirelessly over the past century to overcome the skepticism of those who believed they had no place in the air,” according to the museum website’s description of the exhibit.

“We have a world-class collection of beautifully restored, historically significant aircraft,” said Stephanie Abrams, New England Air Museum’s president and CEO. Exhibits bring visitors back in time and give them a sense of the history of flight. “It’s the story of the people behind the aircraft that brings the history of aviation to life.”

The New England Air Museum can provide some motivation to learn to fly with three flight simulators for young people and adults alike to get a taste of flying.

“We ignite a spark that fuels a passion to learn more about aerospace,” Abrams continued.

According to the website, homepage for the Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company—A Virtual Museum Of Pioneer Aviation, Gustov Whitehead, a German immigrant with a passion for aviation played a role in early—if not the first—flight, and right here in Connecticut.

“Of all the people who claim to have flown before the Wright brothers, perhaps the most controversial is Gustave Whitehead. The controversy first arose in 1935 with the publication of a magazine article on Whitehead’s aeronautical ambitions, and it continues to flare from time to time. According to believers in the Whitehead legend, the first powered flight occurred on August 14, 1901, states the site. The site adds that Whitehead built and experimented with airplanes and his supporters claim he made powered flights in both Pittsburgh in 1899, and Bridgeport in 1901 and early 1902.

According to, on September 14, 1939, the VS-300, the world’s first practical helicopter, took flight in Stratford and was designed by Igor Sikorsky. It was built by the Vough-Sikorsky Aircraft Division of the United Aircraft Corporation, and was the first helicopter to incorporate a single main rotor and tail rotor design. Piloted by Sikorsky, the September 14 tethered flight lasted just a few seconds. The first free flight took place on May 30, 1940.

Whether you have an interest in the history of flight, want to be a pilot for pay or simply for play, enjoy the thrill of parachuting or hang gliding, or drift in a hot air balloon, there are a variety of ways to take to the sky or learn about flying here in Connecticut.