Sunday, August 21, 2016

At 86, 'still pulling a few Gs': Oldest regular flyer at Harriman-and-West (KAQW) still up in the air

Pete Esposito, 86, chats with his pilot pals in the lounge of the T-hangar at Harriman-West Airport in North Adams. Esposito has been flying since he was 14, and was there when the airport opened in 1948.

Pete Esposito, 86, sits in the cockpit of his plane at Harriman-West Airport in North Adams. He still performs aerobatics in his 1946 Piper Cub.

NORTH ADAMS >> In 1944, Pete Esposito saw a Piper Cub single engine plane fly over his Williamstown neighborhood.

The 14-year-old jumped on his bike and tried to follow it. It took him all day, but he eventually wound up at Cole Field, a small neighborhood airfield where Mount Greylock High School was later built.

Esposito would sit there for hours watching the planes. At one point, he recalls, a pilot named George West asked if he wanted to go up.

Of course he did. And West taught him to fly.

"Soon as I did that, I was hooked," Esposito recalls.

Now 86, Esposito is the oldest regular flyer at Harriman-and-West Airport in North Adams.

He was there when the airport opened in 1948. From 1958 to 1987, he was a corporate pilot for Sprague Electric Co. He also became a performer of aerial acrobatics in air shows in 1978.

"I've flown in every state and even overseas a couple times," Esposito said.

The running joke around the pilots' lounge at the T-hangar where local flyers hang out has it that Esposito was on the beach in North Carolina in 1903 when the Wright brothers made their first flight.

"I been here forever," he says with a chuckle.

Of course, he wasn't born until 1930. But it seems he was born with wings.

He was a flight engineer with the U.S. Air Force on B-25s, B-26s and B-29s. Based in Harlingen, Texas, when he got out, he piloted crop-dusting planes for a few years before he went to American Flyers School in Fort Worth to get certified.

As soon as he got certified, he headed back home and started flying for Sprague Aviation out of Harriman-and-West.

Although the air show circuit dried up, Esposito still does his old stunts — snap roll loops, Cuban 8s, hammer-head turns and 8-sided loops — just for fun. Today, Esposito flies a 1946 Piper Cub, a trainer in which he can pull off such stunts.

"I still enjoy pulling a few Gs," he said.

After his hitch with Sprague ended, he started up Esposito Flying Service, where he provided charter service and flight lessons.

Today, he goes up "whenever I feel like it," he said.

So far, although his count isn't very precise these days, Esposito has flown "30,000 flight hours, give or take a few."

And he's trained nearly 100 other local pilots, some of whom still hang out in the pilots' lounge with Esposito and a dozen or so other regulars.

"I've done a lot of flying," Esposito said. "That was my life. It's still my life; Always will be."

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