Lyme-Old Lyme senior takes to the skies for her final project

Lyme-Old Lyme High School senior Allie Marsh is seen on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. (Shelly Yang/The Day)
Lyme-Old Lyme High School senior Allie Marsh is seen on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. (Shelly Yang/The Day)

Groton — Bad weather had kept Allie Marsh of Old Lyme away from her lessons for almost a month, but on a blustery May day down at the Groton-New London Airport, she took her dad's Piper Warrior for two short jaunts over Fishers Island and back like it was nothing.

After all, she's been flying since she was just weeks old.

Marsh, a graduating senior at Lyme-Old Lyme High School, is working toward her private pilot's license as part of the high school's senior capstone program.

Fellow students picked other projects, such as learning French cooking or recording their own albums, but for Marsh, learning to fly was the obvious choice.

"My dad got his pilot's license in high school, and when my mom and him met, she wanted to get her pilot's license as well," she said. "When they got married, they decided they didn't want to buy a house, they wanted to buy a plane instead."

Neither of her parents is a professional pilot; her dad is an engineer with Whelen Engineering in Chester, and her mom is an artist.

Marsh isn't pursuing a career in aviation, either, as she'll be studying digital media and design at the University of Connecticut in the fall.

Nevertheless, flying runs deep in her family, and she said it's a unique hobby that's a lot of work but also a lot of fun.

"It's just an amazing skill to have, and it's so enjoyable as a hobby," she said.

She credits her flying experience for being able to stay calm in stressful situations and staying organized.

At the airport, Marsh took her updated checklist and made her way around the plane, fiddling with the flaps and running her fingers up and down the wings to make sure everything was ready to go as her instructor, corporate pilot and family friend Dennis Piscitello, watched.

Normally the tan four-seater is kept in Chester, but Piscitello lives in New London, so it's  easier for them to keep the plane in Groton for lessons.

"Once you learn it, it's like riding a bike, you just jump right back on," he said. "But when you're learning to fly, the best thing to do is to go as often as you can."

He said the ideal schedule for lessons is three times a week.

After they finished engine and control checks, Piscitello opened the hangar doors and pulled the plane out, and within minutes they had aerial views of Montauk Point, Napatree Point and Stonington borough.

They went over the water intentionally because there's more turbulence while flying over land, but Piscitello commended Marsh's smooth piloting.

Even though Marsh isn't going into aviation, she wants to encourage girls to pursue a career as a pilot because it's a very male-dominated field.

She said her mom was a major influence on her as a female pilot, and there are often groups at air shows trying to recruit women.

"Women are good pilots," she said. "When [Piscitello] gets into the plane sometimes with male students, they're kind of like bulls in a china shop with the controls and it's very shaky, whereas a lot of the women have a nice, gentle touch with it and it's very smooth."

"I wanted to be able to provide any inspiration to any girl that's trying to get her pilot's license," she said. "I want to be like, 'Yeah, I'm a girl, and I can fly a plane.'"

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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