Alumni Pilots Soar in the Wild Blue Yonder

When three NYU-Poly alumni pilots fasten their seat belts and await clearance for takeoff, they can all thank model airplanes for sparking a lifelong passion for flight. John Craparo ’90MSM restores and flies 1940s aircraft. Henry Bertoni ’62 ’67EE flies light-sport planes made of carbon fiber. Achilles Sakis ’85AE, a major in the U.S. Air Force, test flies advanced fighter jets. A fourth alumnus, Zvi Bar-On ’76ME, created the leading after-market aviation-services company.

Major Achilles Sakis (right) with actor Terrence Howard during the filming of the movie Iron Man (2008). Sakis played an Afghani colonel. Credit: Georgia Sakis

Major Achilles Sakis (right) with actor Terrence Howard during the filming of the movie Iron Man (2008). Sakis played an Afghani colonel. Credit: Georgia Sakis

Craparo’s father, a World War II fighter pilot, built model airplanes in the basement and invited young John to join him. “The first time I saw a hot-air balloon, I was elated,” he said. He later earned an FAA balloon-pilot license.

Over the next 25 years, he earned sport-pilot privilege in airplanes, seaplanes, gliders and powered parachutes. An advanced ground instructor and light-sport airplane repairman, he is a captain in the U.S. Air Force auxiliary Civil Air Patrol. He restored and flies two 1946 airplanes, a two-seat Ercoupe and a Piper Cub seaplane. The Piper, he said, is so low-tech it is covered with an external cloth “skin” stretched over the metal frame. “Classics offer sights, smells and sounds that remind me constantly that these aircraft are from an age in which utility trumped comfort,” he said.

John Craparo and his Piper J-3 Cub seaplane at Hayden Lake, Idaho. Credit: Mike Kincaid

John Craparo and his Piper J-3 Cub seaplane at Hayden Lake, Idaho. Credit: Mike Kincaid

Craparo, a New York City native, is chief information officer for Briggo, Inc., a firm that created a coffee kiosk with a robotic espresso barista, and the author of You Can Fly Now.  His earlier career included vice-presidencies at Hewlett-Packard, Dell Financial Services and General Electric Capital Services.

Craparo praises the influence of Professor Richard Van Slyke: “His reductionist point of view influenced all of my management thinking, whether it involved human-resources decisions or economic ones for technology investments. He made my left and right brains equal. This accelerated my career. I moved from manager to the executive level within two years of graduation.”

John Craparo and his Piper J-3 Cub seaplane at Hayden Lake, Idaho. Credit: Mike Kincaid

John Craparo and his Piper J-3 Cub seaplane at Hayden Lake, Idaho. Credit: Mike Kincaid

Henry Bertoni, professor emeritus of electrical engineering at NYU-Poly, also made model airplanes as a boy. “Flying was special then,” he said. “Propeller-driven planes were more visceral. Today, flying is routine. It’s a technical miracle, but few people have the vaguest idea of what makes it work.”

In 2004, just before he retired, Bertoni started taking flight lessons in a Cessna 152. He got his private pilot license in 2006—at age 68. Today he flies a light-sport Flight Design CTSW, made of composite materials. Because such planes weigh so little and can be bounced about by air currents, they can be flown only during the day.

John Craparo in cockpit, ready to fly. Credit: Jason Craparo

John Craparo in cockpit, ready to fly. Credit: Jason Craparo

After Bertoni earned his MS and PhD from Poly, he joined the faculty in 1967. He headed the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department twice and was vice provost of graduate studies. Retired from the faculty, Bertoni directs the NYU-Poly Wireless Internet Center for Advance Technology.

“Our students,” Bertoni said, “are earnest, highly motivated to succeed and without attitude. Industry sees them as willing to do what is needed to get a job done. By helping to educate our students, I feel I have done something useful."

Watching people fly remote-control model airplanes at age four is one of Achilles Sakis’s earliest memories. Later, the Queens native flew his own model planes. In 1985, after earning a degree in aerospace engineering, Sakis became a Grumman aerospace engineer, conducting wind-tunnel tests of naval aircraft.

Henry Bertoni sitting in his TYPE OF PLANE TO COME. Credit: To Come

Henry Bertoni sitting in his Flight Design CTSW. Credit: Rachel Turley-Bertoni

Sakis joined the Air Force in 1994 and went on to earn a master’s degree in aeronautical science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. As captain, he graduated from the elite Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, in California. He later trained top pilots and flight engineers to evaluate the latest aerospace vehicles, systems and weapons.

At Eglin AFB in Florida, he directed a team that developed and tested the latest air-to-surface munitions. Today, a senior flight-test engineer at Eglin, Sakis directs a 175-person group responsible for improving the combat capability of aircraft and weapons systems.  From 2007 to 2010, he was deputy branch chief of NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre in Greece.

Sakis’s passion for flying remains intense. He recently flew an F-16 fighter over 14, 494-foot Mount Whitney in California. “It was beautiful!” he said.  “The sun was low on the horizon, and cast beautiful shadows on the snowy peaks. I can't believe I get paid to do this.” His NYU-Poly education is the “cornerstone” of his career: “Whether I'm discussing aircraft upgrades with engineers or briefing test leaders on weapons performance, I use the engineering principles I learned at Poly every day.”

Zvi Bar-On (featured in Cable Winter 2012) is founder and chief executive officer of Component Control, a San Diego-based company that is the leading U.S. provider of after-market services for the aviation industry. The company has an e-commerce division for aircraft parts and a suite of aviation-marketplace software products.

Craparo and Bertoni, who are organizing an alumni aviation club, can be contacted at polyflyers@gmail.com.