The Anchor: Student Spotlight: Michael Pieri

Michael in classic aviators while flying (Michael Pieri)

WESTCHESTER, New York – Michael Pieri loves to fly, his name at Hen Hud is almost synonymous with pilot. Michael has aspirations to be just that, a commercial airline pilot– and has already taken many steps to get there.

Michael was born in Yonkers to two Cyprus-American parents, cited as a significant part of his cultural identity. Many of you may know his sister Chrisanthi, who recently started working as a substitute teacher at the high school. Michael has an overly enthusiastic dog named Koby who’s always running around the house. Though he only really sees his family at night, they try to get as much time together as they can. 

Besides the obvious interest in piloting, Michael loves to watch and play basketball. He always plays with his friend Oscar Platko and watches all of the Golden State Warriors’ games to see his favorite player, Klay Thompson, in action. His immense knowledge and passion for the sport allow him to keep a conversation interesting, stating stats I couldn’t begin to comprehend about the team he’s loved since 2011–clarification that no, he is not a bandwagon. In addition to basketball, Michael is also a Star Wars fan through and through, having watched every film and series out there. 

Mike was introduced to planes at just one year old while traveling to see his family back in Cyprus. Time after time, he was captivated by the experience, and his dream of piloting began to blossom at 5 years old. That dream quickly moved to center stage as high school started. He finally started flying during his freshman year. Now in his senior year, he has been training for almost three years and has a Private Pilot license.

Michael’s first one-on-one flight took place after he begged his uncle to go with him. His parents had refused for years; during his freshman year, his parents finally agreed. That moment was the catalyst for where he is now. This flight reinforced his love for piloting and after lengthy conversations with his family– he was enrolled in flight school at Westchester County Airport. Mike’s parents were skeptical at first, questioning whether he could keep up with it, but his persistence gained their pride and support.

Some inspiration on this journey has come from various pilots. Notably, Sully Sullenberger, a pilot who famously landed in the Hudson River post 9/11 when both of his engines failed after a bird strike. Mike holds respect for him and aspires to hold a similar mindset. The real hero for Michael is a YouTuber named Captain Joe. Joe was part of the reason that Michael started flying, as he was inspired by the motivational videos that he posted encouraging new flyers to start on that path. 

Michael continues to take guidance from one of his flight instructors, Darren. While learning how to fly, Michael went through many instructors. Pilots are required to complete 1500 hours for airline jobs, and typically turn to flight instruction to do so, leaving students like Michael once they finish. Darren was Mike’s fourth instructor, and while his previous mentor almost made him quit from exertion, Darren taught him how to have fun with it. From the experiences of all of his instructors, Michael has learned to balance responsibility and technique with comfort and fun in terms of piloting.

The plane that Michael flies is a Cessna 172, and it is the only plane he has flown so far– though he hopes to fly an Airbus A350, a commercial plane, someday. Although he’s only flown one model, each individual plane has some “personality”– the planes he flies are around 20 years old, but it doesn’t change the exhilaration of flying. Michael aspires to be a commercial flight pilot, and specifically hopes to fly for Delta Airlines, appreciating the professionality of their pilots. 

Aerial view of Hendrick Hudson High School from one of Michael’s flights (Michael Pieri)

The track to achieve Michael’s dream is not as long as you’d think. In order to get your Private Pilot license, you need 40 hours of flight time. Since Mike started at 14, very early for most pilots, he was finally allowed to solo at 16, and he easily got his license at 17. With three years of solely flying for fun already under his belt, Mike has more experience than most at his age. With the license he has now, he can fly to any airport, but cannot get paid to do so.

The next step on this track is Instrument Flight Rating, which fine tunes piloting skills and mainly deals with flying in bad weather and other conditions. Later, he can get his Commercial License, which will allow him to get paid and fly for a commercial airline. Then, he can become a Certified Flight Instructor, like Darren, and teach other aspiring pilots. After this then he can get his Multi-Engine License, which allows for a more vast repertoire of planes, and lastly his Airline Transport Pilot License. This entire process, surprisingly enough, will only take about five years.

While this endeavor is extremely effortful and expensive, “It’s worth it,” Michael says, “and I’ll make the money back. I don’t want to feel like I’m working, and I won’t if I’m flying airplanes.” 

The feeling of flying for the first time for Michael was more anxiety-inducing than anything, he was wholly unprepared, which was expected. Now, Mike is super confident. “I know what I’m doing and I know I’ll be okay–it feels more natural to me than driving a car.” He could barely describe the feeling of operating such a large piece of machinery.

His favorite place to fly is straight down the Hudson River to circle around the Statue of Liberty. Now that he can also bring passengers, he has brought his sister Chrisanthi, his mom, his friend Simon Eichenholz, and former Hen Hud Class President, Daniel Saleem. Both his sister and his mom were scared at first, but just as you’d think, it gets easier as time goes on. All of his passengers have given him positive reviews. 

While he’s glad to fly, Michael has a hard time talking about his passion with others. He continues to talk to Darren as he is still close with him, but he’s busy. “The good thing is that a lot of people are interested, they just don’t know anything about it.” Michael wishes to explain his passion to others who are maybe scared of flying to “understand more about aviation and why it’s so safe.” This endeavor is of course not something you see every day, but that’s part of what makes it so intriguing.

Oddly enough, Michael is scared of heights. He finds an explicit sort of comfort in flying, it’s a comparison of being in a plane and jumping off of one.

Originally, Michael thought he might go into law enforcement in one way or another, and it was a pretty big thing for him. That all changed the first time he flew and even earlier just while learning about airplanes. Piloting is a great profession as it is “exciting without true danger.” The farthest that Michael has flown was 100 nautical miles–around the west end of Pennsylvania– in two hours.

The only thing Michael would say that he is not too great at is power-on stalls. This type of stalling forces the plane to lose lift by creating less airflow over the wings. Although it is a maneuver he has prepared for, he would say he needs improvement. Mike also states that he’s great at landing smoothly–something kind of important.

While he loves flying, there are some negatives in the life of a pilot. Michael hates ordering fuel from dispatchers because “they take 10 years to get to your plane.” The biggest perk of flying is being able to use it as an escape from the daily static.

Michael is now committed to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, Florida where he will continue his journey to flying as an aeronautical science major. Some classes will prepare him for airline flying. He’s very excited about this new adventure and can’t wait to fly more.

Michael plans to follow the traditional pilot path and retire at 60. He wants to be a facilitator of connection–and of perpetuating seemingly impossibly ambitions. Reflecting on the joy that pilots bring, he says, “Pilots are the people who provide you with enjoyment, they’re the people that take you on vacation, the ones that bring you closer to people you haven’t seen in years.”