Learning to fly: Smith Voc student takes to the skies after obtaining pilot’s license 

Brook Wolcott, 17, sits inside one of the small planes at Northampton Airport. Wolcott obtained her private pilot’s license in January, enabling her to fly to any civilian airport she wishes.

Brook Wolcott, 17, sits inside one of the small planes at Northampton Airport. Wolcott obtained her private pilot’s license in January, enabling her to fly to any civilian airport she wishes. STAFF PHOTO/ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 02-12-2024 9:04 AM

Modified: 02-12-2024 4:56 PM


Before she learned how to drive, Brook Wolcott of Easthampton learned how to fly.

The 17-year-old junior at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School first became interested in aviation at age 14, when she attended a glider camp at the Northampton Airport, where students pilot engineless planes which are pulled into the air by one of several small planes at the airport. Wanting to experience more, Wolcott enrolled in classes at Western Mass Wright Flight in Westfield to learn more about flying.

“I like how I’m in control of everything,” Wolcott says when asked what she enjoys about flying. “Sometimes it can feel like you’re doing a lot at once and it’s overwhelming, but I kind of like that aspect of it.” 

Wolcott then began taking flying lessons at the Northampton Airport after obtaining a Mary Shea Wright Memorial Scholarship. Named after the late Mary Shea, a longtime pilot and instructor at the airport and an advocate for women in aviation, the scholarship provides young women opportunities to obtain a pilot’s license. 

Since then, Wolcott has logged more than 100 hours of flying experience, and obtained her private pilot’s license in January. Part of her instruction included flying her parents, with supervision, around the Statue of Liberty in New York City in a small, six-seater plane. 

“At 16 years old, It’s hard to find something that kids are interested in, because they’re too old for some things and not old enough for other things,” said Greg Wolcott, Brook’s father. “The fact she was able to get behind the seat of an airplane was pretty awesome.” 

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With her private pilot’s license, Brook Wolcott now has permission to fly aircraft unattended and can enter and leave any civilian airport. She recently flew a friend to Worcester Regional Airport, a short 25-minute journey from the Northampton Airport. 

“After we told the [Worcester airport] tower we were ready to depart, they said it was going to be a few minutes because there was a big Delta jet about to take off on the runway,” she said. “So we got to watch them take off, that was pretty cool.” 

Currently, only 8% of all professional airline pilots and flight engineers are women, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, although the number has been growing over the past several years.

New pilots also are highly sought after, with concerns in the industry that there are not enough to meet current demand. 

For now, Wolcott says she’s looking to enter the Air Force Academy once she graduates from Smith Voc, and continue her love of flying. She also volunteers teaching an aviation class for the Wright Flight program to middle school students, encouraging them to become future pilots as well. 

“It seems like everybody who joins the Air Force wants to fly for FedEx or something like that in the future,” she said. “So maybe if the time comes I’ll do that, but I really don’t know.” 

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.