Earning Her Wings
January 3, 2019
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  • Nina Dakin got behind the controls of a single-engine Piper Cherokee airplane, started the engine, taxied to runway 9, accelerated — and took off into the wild blue yonder.

    This scenario has played out hundreds of thousands of times at Beverly Regional Airport, but this particular takeoff was unusual.

    Dakin just turned 16. She’s a junior at Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School — and although she has already done a solo flight, the Bradford teen will have to wait a few months before she can drive a car on her own.

    In fact, as of recently she had not even obtained her learner’s permit for a Massachusetts driver’s license. With school, playing and refereeing soccer, and flying, she’s very busy, you see.

    “She has really blossomed as a young woman,” said her flight instructor, Paul Beaulieu, owner of Avier Flight School at the Beverly airport. “She has become quite successful in the cockpit.”

    Dakin is studying graphic communications at Whittier, but her true passion is in the air.

    “I want to be a commercial pilot,” she said.

    During a recent trip to England, “she was critiquing the pilot’s landing,” said her mother, Beth Meyer. They were soon heading to Florida to check out Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, which has trained numerous pilots.

    Gaining altitude

    Dakin’s journey to the cockpit began when she was 11.

    “She was spending too much time on video games,” her mother said. So when Meyer found out about the Kids to College program at North Shore Community College in Danvers, she gave her daughter a directive: Pick a course.

    Dakin looked over what was offered and honed in on the class on flying. The class included instruction on a flight simulator.

    She also took a discovery flight, in which she had the opportunity to handle the controls of a plane with a pilot sitting nearby.

    By then, she was hooked on flying. Dakin began taking flying lessons at Avier when she was 14.

    She completed her first solo flight Aug. 19, the day she turned 16.

    There is no minimum age for learning how to fly, Beaulieu said.

    “You have to be able to reach the controls,” he said.

    A pilot must be 16 to do his or her first solo flight.

    “Parents love the idea of having a few years under their belt before they go solo,” Beaulieu said.

    The minimum age to obtain a pilot’s certificate and fly with passengers is 17. Dakin appears to be well on track to accomplish that feat.

    Some folks might tell you that flying a plane is “just like driving a car,” but it isn’t. It’s much more complicated.

    The pilot must get permission from the air traffic control tower before taking off. Fuel and oil pressure need to be checked as well as the magnetos, which are used to generate the electric current providing a spark for the ignition.

    The pilot also has to determine the direction of the wind so he or she can figure out which runway to use.

    During a recent takeoff, Dakin headed due east on runway 9, about 4,000 feet long. The Piper Cherokee she was flying gets airborne at around 80 knots, according to Esteban Monterroso, co-owner of Avier with Beaulieu.

    This flight consisted of circling the airport a couple of times. When she got ready to land, Dakin again had to get permission from the tower, then extend the flaps to slow down the plane and make the descent. Her landing was smooth.

    Dakin said she did get nervous the first time she flew alone, but it was mainly at the beginning of her flight.

    “I was able to calm down (after that), reminding myself that I know what to do and how to do it,” she said.

    Since then, she’s been able to keep her nerves in check.

    “I love flying,” she said. “It’s so peaceful up in the air.”

    Asked how many times she has taken off and landed a plane, she said, “Too many to count!”

    She estimated that as of mid-September, she had logged 50 hours in the air.

    Before too long, she will start making more ambitious aerial journeys, according to Monterroso. Most likely, she will fly to Portsmouth and Laconia, New Hampshire, as well as Sanford, Maine.

    Lofty ambitions

    Dakin credits her parents for encouraging her to pursue her passion for aviation, especially singling out her mother who she said always puts her children first and backs her 100 percent in everything she does.

    “I get a lot of support from my mom and dad,” Dakin said.

    How does it feel to see your 16-year-old daughter piloting a plane?

    “I’m very excited,” Beth Meyer said. “It’s incredible!”

    Her father, Russ Bardsley, hopes to actually follow in her footsteps and learn to fly himself. Dakin’s brother, Joseph Dakin, 19, is pursuing a different passion. A Whittier Regional graduate, he is an aspiring artist and attends the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester. He wants to design logos for clothing, Meyer said.

    Female pilots make up just 7 percent of the aviation community in the U.S., according to statistics. And so far, none of Nina Dakin’s friends have joined her in learning how to fly a plane.

    But Dakin has company in a 17-year-old from Gloucester.

    On Sept. 2, Maggie Taraska was all set to make her first solo flight from Beverly airport. Her destination was Portland, Maine. As she was taking off from runway 9, however, one of the wheels of the single-engine plane she was piloting fell off. With guidance from her instructor, she landed the plane safely.

    Despite their youth, Dakin and Taraska have become confident and competent aviators.

    In 10 years, Dakin hopes to be traveling the world as a licensed pilot.

    “I don’t have a dream destination,” she said, “because I want to see the whole world, explore different places consisting of different people and cultures.”