MERIDEN — Though Meriden Aviation Center’s ground school remains closed due to the pandemic, the company recently awarded a private piloting license to its youngest student.
The Meriden Aviation Center reopened in July to accommodate all old and new students who look to earn their certification in private pilot training, which is one-on-one instruction. The gradual return toward semi-normalcy, took a while due to instructors’ comfort with teaching students again, owner Mark Poole said.
The 60 to 70-hour program has been able to operate with restrictions because of its emphasis on one-to-one teaching. No student is required to commit to classes each week and this kind of flexibility allows them to learn at their own pace.
Ground school, however, which teaches students aviation theory and various weather conditions in a classroom setting, has been unavailable since pandemic restrictions were put in place. Reopening that part of the business depends on the pandemic restrictions. Poole has about six or seven people on a waiting list for when restrictions are lifted.
Poole beleives some people are taking advantage of the time during the pandemic to pursue an interest, such as flying, in a way they were previously unable to do.
“There are some more people, I think, than in general that either have more time because they have less work or freer schedules,” said Poole. “Or, you know, you got people who got a wake-up call that they should pursue some of the dreams that they had.”
One of those individuals happened to be the youngest private pilot certified at the center a few days ago. Bryce Wiekrykas, 17, completed the training program on Sept. 20. While most students come to the center to finally experience an aerial view from the control center of a cockpit, it wasn’t Wiekrykas’ first time.
Impassioned since the age of 7, Wiekrykas said he would log endless hours in a flight simulator he received as a Christmas present. In 2014, he finally got the chance to get in a plane when he decided to take a Young Eagles Flight at Meriden Markham. This would be the day he logged his first flight time.
“The first time I flew for real – my first real flight – I was confident. Overconfident, maybe,” Wiekrykas said. “Now, just as a person with a passion for cars may be comfortable and content driving their favorite car, flying is my getaway from the stressors of life. Few people get to have the views I see from my cockpit, and even fewer are lucky enough to be able to rent an aircraft when they feel like it.”
After completing almost 19 hours of flight time, he said he was able to move onto more complex instruction, such as flight planning and weather theory. During the last few years, he also decided to pursue a career in military aviation, applying to the U.S. Naval and Air Force academies, which would allow him to pilot some of the most technologically sophisticated aircrafts in the world.
As demanding as these schools are, he embraces the challenges.
“I am very grateful for having an extraordinary instructor, Kris Lotko at Meriden Aviation Center, and am very grateful for the Experimental Aircraft Association, who provided me with a scholarship to earn my license,” said Wiekrykas. “Most of all, I am extremely grateful for my parents who supported me through the whole process.”