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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Nashua North senior has feet on the ground, but his heart is in aviation

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of a series of profiles of graduating high school seniors.

NASHUA – When you’re a teenager with a job, there’s responsibility – and then there’s responsibility. ...

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of a series of profiles of graduating high school seniors.

NASHUA – When you’re a teenager with a job, there’s responsibility – and then there’s responsibility.

“The scariest part of working here? Moving $20 million planes around by yourself,” said Kiefer Savoie, who will graduate this month from Nashua High School North, and heads to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida in September.

Savoie works at Infinity Aviation, a fixed-base operator at Nashua Airport – a service station and garage for aircraft. He fuels and moves planes, and handles customer needs, and does whatever else is needed (including tossing a Frisbee for Ripley, the hangar’s incredibly well-trained border collie).

He got the job through persistence, badgering everybody in sight until somebody hired him, but has kept it through quality.

“It’s not often you can trust a kid to do this on his own,” said Frank Tognacci, who as line manager is Savoie’s boss. “We don’t want him to leave.”

Greg Lison, co-owner of Infinity, agreed.

“He’s beyond his years – grounded, driven, focused, but a fun kid still. He’s one of the people I get feedback from customers about. He’s impressive,” Lison said.

Savoie, it’s safe to say, loves aviation. He played some sports at the start of high school – freshman wrestling, sophomore pole-vault – but since first going up at age 16, flight has been his delight.

“I’m always here,” he said during an interview before his after-school shift at Infinity. “If I’m not working, I’m flying.”

“It’s just great,” Savoie said. “To be 17 and able to fly places, to pursue my passion.”

He even slipped in a few lines of many pilots’ favorite poem, John Magee’s “High Flight,” about slipping the surly bonds of earth.

Radio-controlled cars were Savoie’s entry to aviation, he says. They led to RC boats, then RC planes – he has been a member of the Southern New Hampshire Flying Eagles RC flying club in Merrimack since middle school.

His parents, Roland and Karen, bought him a ride in a private plane at Nashua Airport when he was 16 and there was no looking back. He started lessons in December of that year and flew solo by February, getting his license in October, the day he turned 17 and as soon as legally possible.

Savoie, 18, also has a tail-wheel rating that lets him fly less-expensive planes and with 130 hours of accumulated time in the air and expects to get his instrument rating this summer.

He plans to get a degree in aeronautical engineering at Embry-Riddle with a minor in UAV technology – i.e., drones – and to work in some capacity around planes, airports, flight of some kind.

Private aviation needs people like Savoie because the recession and fuel prices have hammered it: The number of active private pilots in the country is around 180,000, half the number of the boom years of the early 1980s.

Renting a Skyhawk, the Cessna single-
engine plane that is the workhorse of people learning to fly, costs around $120 an hour. Getting a license requires a minimum of 35 hours of instruction or solo flight, and usually much more, plus instruction, which adds up to many thousands of dollars.

But Savoie says it’s absolutely worth it.

“I want to tell people: You can fly. It’s doable, it really is,” he said.

Savoie, who attended St. Christopher School and Nashua Catholic before entering public high school, graduated in the top 10 percent of his class – although just barely, he noted with a laugh – and could have attended Daniel Webster College’s aeronautical program, staying at the airport.

That would have been fine, he said, but he’s going to Flordia for a reason that will resonate with many graduating seniors:

“I’ve lived in Nashua my while life. I want to get a taste of somewhere else,” he said.

Then he was off: Work beckoned.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).