Last Word: Taking Flight

Becoming a pilot was not a pie-in-the-sky dream for a young alumnus. He found his wings at Bucknell.

By Colin Hassell '15

I have fond memories of my dad driving me to the airport near my hometown in New Jersey. Even at age 7, I was amazed by the sight of jets gracefully drifting toward the Earth, softly touching down on the runway and ever so quickly returning to the sky. I was inspired. Although this was one of my first experiences with flight, I knew I wanted to be a pilot someday.

Airplanes remained a passion — one I shared with my dad —but it was not until I arrived at Bucknell that I began to seriously pursue my aviation aspirations. During RA training my junior year, I discovered that my good friend and fellow RA Michel Ajjan '14 was an intern at Penn Valley Airport in Selinsgrove. Michel encouraged me to visit the airport and take a flight lesson. One hourlong lesson turned into two, and two turned into countless hours in the cockpit. By April 2014, I had logged 40 hours of flight time, qualifying me to be a certificated private pilot.

By my senior year, I had enjoyed many memorable flights with friends around the Susquehanna Valley, including an unforgettable fall flight over Bucknell at sunset. To see the beauty of our campus from a new perspective, as the sky faded to darkness, was surreal.

This spring, I had a sizable gap between graduation and my start date as an associate business analyst at Southwest Airlines. I had a feeling of indebtedness to all the people who'd helped me achieve my high-flying dreams, so I decided to introduce others to the joys of flying. A sky trip across the eastern United States with fellow pilot Zach Ross '17, during which we could serve as aviation ambassadors, could do just that.

Zach and I flew out of Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass., on June 12 and began making our way in a Piper Warrior III down the East Coast to Florida and back — a journey of more than 3,000 nautical miles. Along the way, we met with members of Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCAs, sharing our passion for aviation with a new generation.

During these breaks from our long hours in the cockpit, Zach and I had experiences we'll never forget, including an ice-cream social in Columbia, S.C., where we met 20 aviators, and a tour of the Piper Aircraft factory in Vero Beach, Fla. By the time we returned to Bedford June 19, we had logged more than 30 hours of flying time and met more than 100 young people.

One of the most enthusiastic was a boy I met in Norfolk, Va., who asked about the intricate details of how the aircraft controls and instruments functioned. After we stepped from the aircraft, he asked to shake my hand as a group picture was taken.

Seeing his excitement made me feel like a kid again, back at the airport with my dad. I remembered that moment 15 years ago when my admiration for the pilots in the sky was just beginning.


Colin Hassell '15, a mechanical engineering major from Aberdeen, N.J., was president of his class for four years.