FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Joseph Flaherty, 16, and Lukas Lozada Perez, 15, had never flown in any aircraft before May 18. But after spending the past few months working as consultants on the purchase of a Bombardier Learjet 40XR, they felt they were ready.
The two 10th-graders are part of a brain trust of a dozen students from Cathedral Preparatory School and Seminary in Elmhurst, Queens who joined a STEM project to help research purchase options for the jet, which is now the “Flying Classroom” of pioneering pilot Capt. Barrington Irving.
His Flying Classroom curriculum gives STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) learning opportunities via lessons in aviation and other fields.
On May 18, Irving brought his recently purchased Learjet to Republic Airport in Farmingdale on Long Island. There, the pilot and a few of his teachers met the Cathedral Prep crew of researchers and thanked them profusely for their research. Next, to show his appreciation, the pilot took the students on brief flights over Long Island.
And that’s now Flaherty and Lozada Perez first experienced the “miracle” of flight.
“I feel nervous, but excited at the same time,” Flaherty said just before takeoff. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what it’s going to feel like.”
Mhelvin Prangan, a 17-year-old senior, said he had flown back and forth to the Philippines to visit family on large commercial jets, but nothing like the midsize Learjet 40XR.
“Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve been interested in how airplanes work and how they are able to find the sky,” Prangan said. “I hope to one day be in an airplane traveling around the world.”
Before taking his seat in the cockpit, Irving said the Learjet is a high-performance jet aircraft built for efficiency, and that passengers were about to experience the powerful force of takeoff.
“Just enjoy it, guys,” he said. “Because you deserve it.”
And they did, cackling with laughter as the jet sped down the runway and became airborne. The students gave each other “thumbs ups” and excitedly snapped pictures on their phones of the landscape shrinking below them.
To the northwest was the Long Island Sound, with the shores of Connecticut in the distance. On the other side, to the southeast, was the vast Atlantic Ocean.
Seven schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn started participating in Flying Classroom’s STEM projects in 2020. An estimated 3,000 students nationwide have experienced the curriculum via Zoom, but the Flying Classroom’s visit on May 18 was the first time for its teachers to meet students in person.
Irving, 38, was born in Jamaica but grew up in Florida where he became a star football player. He considered a career in professional sports but opted for aviation.
In 2007, he set two Guinness World Records when he became the youngest person, at age 23, and the first African American aviator to fly solo around the world.
Cathedral Prep students were tasked with researching three aircraft for the Flying Classroom and recommending the best option to purchase. They applied their STEM skills to understand basic concepts of aeronautical engineering.
For example, Ronicio Cervantes, 16, learned how different colors of paint have different weights, with black being the heaviest. An all-black jet would have to carry more weight, which could blunt flight performance, the students learned. This Flying classroom, however, is mostly white, with only the tail, engines, and a few other accents painted black.
Students of other schools in the diocese also visited the airport on May 18 to see the Flying Classroom. They came from St. Peter Catholic Academy, Bensonhurst/Bath Beach; St. Clare Catholic Academy, Rosedale; and Saints Joachim and Anne Catholic Academy, Queens Village.
But the Cathedral Prep students were the only ones to take flights in shifts of six passengers, which is the cabin capacity of the jet. Joining them were Father James Kuroly, Cathedral Prep’s president and rector; Principal Richie Diaz; and Spanish teacher Alejandro Sanchez.
Top diocesan education officials also observed the fun, including Tom Chadzutko, outgoing superintendent of schools, and Ted Havelka, director of enrollment management and financial assistance.
Flaherty and Lozada Perez said the flight delivered beyond their expectations.
“Awesome,” said Lozada Perez of the flight, and added it made him more interested in a career in aviation, but not necessarily as a pilot. He said he’d like to build aircraft.
Said Flaherty, “I’m not sure about a career, but it was really enjoyable. It was a reward.”