Taking flight

Two ‘permits’ in one day for Granville teen

At 16, most teenagers can only think of one thing – getting their learner’s permit to start learning how to drive a car.



For Granville teenager Matthew Tatko one learner’s permit is just not enough.

Tatko took not one, but two tests on his birthday on July 6, earning a permit to drive a car and a certification to fly an airplane.

“I started a year ago this month,” Tatko said, adding that he can’t recall one single thing that led to his curiosity about flight.

“I don’t really know why. All of a sudden I was just ‘I wonder what it’s like to fly airplanes?’” he said. Some digging produced a place to get more information just south of town.

“We found out they give (lessons) in Argyle. We went out and had a meeting and a couple of days later I took my first lesson and I just kept going,” Tatko said.

Since then the pursuit of flight has been the focal point of his life.

Tatko’s mother, Pam Tatko, said initially she was concerned. “At first I was really scared, but I wasn’t going to let my fear stop him from something that he really wanted to do, something that is his dream,” she said.

“I just don’t think I’ll ever get over the fact that this kid is flying an airplane,” she said. Tatko quipped that she is so impressed with her son’s skills that she might take lessons herself, one day when he is an instructor.

Pam Tatko said instructors have told her they think her son’s age is actually an asset when it comes to learning to fly because he’s young enough to absorb all of things he’s being taught and “they’re not afraid of anything,” she said. 

The day of the solo went smoothly, Matthew Tatko said.

“I wasn’t really nervous, but the day before I went up I did a lot of landings – it was a lot – I probably did more than ten; my first six were really good, but then I didn’t do so good on the rest of them, so I was like ‘Oh great this is going to carry over onto tomorrow,’” he said.

The night before, still a bit worried about what he considered a mediocre showing from the day before, Tatko said he wasn’t so sure he wanted to have an audience, especially not those who paid for all of his lessons.  

Watching from the ground were his grandmother and grandfather, Beverly and John Tatko, and mother and father, Peter and Pam Tatko.

To warm up, his instructor flew with him for the first three landings and then got out of the plane and let him go.

“My instructor … slid his seat back so I couldn’t see him and so when I went back up I kind of imagined that he was still there,” Tatko said. To become certified Tatko had to complete three takeoffs and three landings, consisting of taking off and flying to come around to the runway, making an approach and putting the plane down on the runway. Once on the ground, Tatko had to come to a stop and taxi back into position for another takeoff and repeat the procedure three times with no problems.

“Once I did the first one right I said I’m going to do everything the same way I just did it,” he said.

A few minutes later he was finished.

His flight was just like pilots want each flight to be, uneventful.

Tatko said he had flown enough that the testing process wasn’t nerve-racking – at least not for him.

“I don’t think it was as much for me as it was for everyone else,” Tatko said.

As a small aircraft pilot from Granville, Tatko said he was well aware of another Argyle Airport pilot who had been in the news recently.

Tatko said he knew Sarah Steves but had not had much of a chance to talk with her about her in-flight emergency.

Steves successfully landed her crippled single engine Cessna after it lost electrical power in flight between Glens Falls and Keene, N.H. Steves and the aircraft were undamaged following the scare.

“I … wouldn’t have known what to do. She’s good; she knew what to do,” he said. The two share an instructor. Tatko said he took some of his lessons from Dick Bovee at Argyle, just as Steves did.

Tatko said the year between now and achieving his pilot’s license will be the time when he gains the flight experience that was so critical in Steves’ successful outcome of an in-flight emergency.

“They won’t even let you take your test unless they know you’re totally prepared. They give such as excellent background in aviation; they’re just so safety conscious. There have been several small plane accidents in the last year since he flew and we’ve read them in the paper and talked about them. … He’s just so conscious of safety and not taking risks,” Pam Tatko said.

Pam Tatko said she’s more concerned about her son’s learner’s permit for driving, which he also obtained on July 6. “I think I’m more nervous about him driving on all of the roads because of all of the traffic he’ll encounter and I know that he’s just extremely safety conscious when he’s up there,” she said.

“I was more afraid, later that morning when he was driving me home after obtaining his learner’s permit,” she said.

Matthew Tatko said he had already been on cross-country trips with his instructor around the east to destinations, including Lebanon and Laconia in New Hampshire, Burlington, Vt., Glens Falls, Fonda, and Schenectady.

On the trip to New Hampshire, Tatko said he flew over mountains other people drive to like Killington, cruising at about 3,000 to 3,500 feet and going over the mountains at altitudes up to 5,500 feet.

“It was getting into spring and the snow trails were still on the mountains and we went right over them, you could see the tip of Mount Washington was still snow covered — it was pretty cool,” Tatko said.

From Argyle to the Glens Falls Airport, “it’s like a two-minute flight to the east,” he said. “You can see it, because it’s a city and the airfield’s so big you can see it from the air and I know where it is because I’ve been there a lot,” he said.

Tatko said he does all of his flying by what’s known as ‘VFR’ or visual flight reckoning, navigating by knowing the direction to take by compass and ground-based landmarks.

The flights require trip planning on a chart that is kept right in the pilot’s lap for reference during the flight so Tatko can monitor his progress ticking off the waypoints along the course. 

“OK, there’s Comstock prison, check; there I’m good; and then you just keep following your line,” he said.

Later in his flying career he said he will become certified to fly ‘IFR’ or instrument flight reckoning, which is a different rating, beyond a private pilot’s license allowing flight in bad weather and after dark.

The next step for Tatko will be a private pilot’s license, “I have another year until I can do that,” Tatko said. Tatko said he hopes to do the same thing, weather permitting and take his next test on his birthday.

Tatko said his summer routine will be to take the Cessna 172 up twice a week. 

Based around sports, football, basketball and baseball schedules, Tatko takes lessons during the school year on the only day he can, Sundays.

Tatko said he only knows of a handful of kids his age or a little older who have pilot’s licenses and Sarah Steves is one of them.

Tatko said flying has had an effect in other areas of his life particularly school. With a focus for his studies and attending college as a career goal, he’s hitting the books with more intensity.

Tatko said his friends at school know and other than the occasional suggestion that he should fly them somewhere, th
ey didn’t have strong reaction to the news either way. “They’re just ‘OK, that’s cool,’” he said.

Although he had a solo certification, Tatko isn’t about to embark on any trips with those friends just yet. Solo means solo when he’s up flying by himself it has to be by himself. “I can’t take any passengers – unless there’s and instructor with me, then I can take passengers,” Tatko said.

Flying passengers to their destination is something the soon-to-be-junior thinks about, looking toward aviation as a career. “Oh yeah, I don’t know if I want commercial or if I want to go into one of the forces,” he said.

Tatko said he’s torn between a commercial flight school like Embry Riddle in Florida versus flying in the Navy or Air Force, but seems to be leaning toward school.

He said he wants to get his private pilot’s license just before leaving for college, “Then I’ll extend my training while I’m at school,” he said.

Beyond getting his private pilot’s license, Tatko said, he wants to then achieve instrument certification and then multi-engine certification before heading into commercial aviation.

Tatko said taking off was really impressive initially because his first time in a plane his instructor let him take the control, standing by to take the controls if there was a problem. Now that he has some experience, Tatko said, flying around and looking at the country is his favorite thing about flight, “I kind of just like cruising,” he said. “And talking on the radio is pretty cool.”  

Certified flight instructor Kyle Hartman has been Tatko’s teacher for much of his time out at the Argyle Airport. The 24-year-old said he, like Matthew, soloed when he was 16 years old. Although he said he did not know the numbers of younger pilots nationally, he said he did not believe there were large numbers of them. “There are not too many; it’s quite rare really,” he said.

“I don’t feel like you see a lot of kids asking the questions that he asks. He just seems really pumped up when he’s flying and when he gets done with a lesson,” Hartman said. 

Hartman’s assessment of Tatko was enthusiastic. “He’s great pilot,” Hartman said. “He was determined right from the start to work hard and go through everything that’s really required even though he’s got a lot on his plate going to school and being an athlete – it’s really pretty incredible for a guy his age.” 

In addition to being mature for his age, Hartman said, Tatko’s level of curiosity about all things related to flying helps to make him an excellent student.

“He’s got an open mind and he’s willing to learn everything that there is to learn,” Hartman said. “You don’t have to tell him twice and that’s good.” 

When it came time for his solo certification flight, Hartman said, Tatko did everything right: “He made every landing as it should have been it was good; nice, smooth touchdowns every time.”




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