Flying lessons offer unique perspective on Valley

Michael Foy of Five Star Flight Academy performs a preflight inspection on the Cessna 172. Reminder photo by Lori O'Brien.
By Lori O'Brien, Correspondent

WESTFIELD Flying over the maize field at Warner Farm in Sunderland had been the destination but inclement weather on Oct. 1 made "touch-and-go's" the reality of the late afternoon for Michael L. Foy of Five Star Flight Academy.

Five Star at Barnes Municipal Airport offers "Learn to Fly" intro rides year-round at a cost of $59 and it was this reporter's assignment to experience firsthand a bird's eye view of the Pioneer Valley.

"Most people who do the intro flight have an interest in learning to fly to begin with," said Foy, assistant chief flight instructor and a partner with Stephen Hayden of the Five Star Flight Academy.

Foy is a Springfield attorney who also teaches Aviation Law and Aviation History at Westfield State College. Hayden serves as chief flight instructor at Five Star and is also a first officer on the Airbus A-300 with DHL Worldwide Express, an international express freight carrier.

Foy noted that individuals who try the intro session want to satisfy their curiosity about the flight.

"This gives them the opportunity to really see if flying is for them," he said.

The intro session begins with a 20-minute ground lesson featuring experiments demonstrating lift and aerodynamics.

"It's helpful that individuals understand the aerodynamics of the plane," added Foy.

After the briefing it was time to observe Foy preflighting the 1981 Skyhawk II which includes an extensive check of the perimeter of the plane, looking for dents or rivets. In addition, Foy inspects the fuel and oil levels, rudder, nose wheel, air filter, vent, antenna, and the condition of the lights, wheels and brakes.

"All planes are also inspected for every 100 hours of flying," said Foy, citing aviation regulations during the preflight check.

After all systems outside were scrutinized, we boarded the four-seater, 160-horsepower Cessna 172 and then Foy conducted another round of system checks. After careful review of all instruments, Foy communicates with the control tower that we will "stay in the pattern" and complete "touch-and-go's" due to an impending storm. As we taxied out to Runway 02 the longest runway at Barnes at approximately 9,000 feet a final round of system checks are made.

We were stopped momentarily for a local aircraft to land then we were cleared for takeoff. As part of the intro session, participants are offered the opportunity to push in and lock the throttle and pull up on the yoke for takeoff after reaching a speed of approximately 60 knots. Foy remarked that the takeoff is one of the best parts of the intro experience.

"I enjoy seeing their face and hearing their reaction to the airplane lifting off the runway when they do the takeoff," said Foy, adding "almost all the people who do this love the experience."

Once airborne we climbed to 1,300 feet and circled the runway several times which allowed ample time for framing photographs and taking in the breathtaking sights of fall slowing creeping into the valley. Also in the distance were picturesque views of the Springfield and Hartford skylines.

Throughout the flight Foy is in contact with the control tower and also takes time to reiterate the instrument panel workings that were reviewed during the briefing session. There is an opportunity to also negotiate right and left turns by pressing on the rudder petals while turning the yoke all under the watchful eye of Foy.

The "touch-and-go's" touching down and then accelerating for takeoff again are smooth and Foy is in his element since one of his favorite pastimes is flying. All too soon the flight comes to an end due to a report from the control tower that another band of storms would soon be closing in on the airport.

After a final circling of the runway, it's a smooth touchdown once again and within minutes the Cessna is being pushed back into its holding space.

Foy noted that Five Star, now in its fifth year of operation, conducts 75 to 100 intro flights a year.

"Some people do the intro flight just to be able to say they flew an airplane," said Foy, but for many it is the first step in what will become an avocation.

"With over 40 years of combined professional airline and personal flying experience, our goal is to bring our unique learning techniques and real world experience directly into the cockpit," added Foy.

For more information on the intro flights, call Five Star at (413) 568-5800 or visit

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