Nicolina Buccilli picked up Macomb Intermediate School District STEM consultant Mark Muzzin in a TG-7A motor glider, flying from Detroit City Airport to Romeo State Airport in October 2020.

Nicolina Buccilli picked up Macomb Intermediate School District STEM consultant Mark Muzzin in a TG-7A motor glider, flying from Detroit City Airport to Romeo State Airport in October 2020.

Photo provided by Macomb Intermediate School District

IAM junior one of fewer than 700 teen female pilots in United States

By: Nick Mordowanec | Metro | Published March 15, 2021


CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Nicolina Buccilli is on her own flight plan.

Buccilli, a 16-year-old International Academy of Macomb junior from New Baltimore, is part of a select group of people: she is one of 691 female pilots in the 16-19 age range in the country.

Her passion for aviation began when she was around 9 years old and in the fifth grade. Her mother discovered a Department of Defense-sponsored program called STARBASE, offered locally through Selfridge Air National Guard Base, that incorporates science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, experiences.

Shortly thereafter, Buccilli attended the Young Eagles program for children ages 8 to 17. The program, run by the Experimental Aircraft Association, increased her interest in flying. She used the experience to score good grades in school, especially in areas of math and physics.

Buccilli took a Federal Aviation Administration test, consisting of specific questions on aspects such as flight instruments, flight planning and meteorology. If an individual averages 75% on the FAA tests, their flying will be funded in total through the Tuskegee Airmen Flight Academy scholarship program.

The Legacy Flight Academy, under the foundation of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, encourages youth aviators to combine their character skills with their STEM skills. Buccilli started flying around March 2019, at age 14.

“Before going into the glider club, I was generally familiar (with flying),” she said. “Being in that (Tuskegee) program definitely gave me more experience to what they actually did.”

She learned the ropes from flight instructors Mario Accardo and Steve Tupper, the former of whom took her on her first solo flight in the TG-7A Terrazzo Falcon, taking liftoff from Detroit City Airport on Sept. 5, 2019.

“The main thing that they always try to teach me is to be prepared for any type of situation, especially an emergency situation — always thinking ahead or having a backup plan,” she said.

In October 2020, she flew from Detroit City Airport in a TG-7A motor glider and picked up MISD STEM consultant Mark Muzzin at the Romeo State Airport on 32 Mile Road.

“She gave me a walk around of the plane, explained all of the parts, the flight plan and the maneuvers she wanted to demonstrate (stall, touch-and-go landings),” Muzzin said. “It truly made my day. Her story really highlights the importance of early involvement with STEM education.”

Buccilli said everything has been smooth so far. Currently only qualified in gliders, she usually flies over water or large areas of empty land, practicing maneuvers.

“Every time you go up, there are different conditions and you’re always getting new experiences,” she said. “That part definitely appeals to me. I think that flying has taught me to keep a calm mind and just kind of relax and be prepared for anything.”

Currently, Buccilli is working on her private pilot certificate in the airplane category and thinking further beyond.

She wants to work search-and-rescue in the U.S. Coast Guard, intending to take the four-year program with a mechanical engineering focus. If selected, she would go to Naval flight school for one to two years.

The appeal is having a closer interaction to other people, using her own skills to aid others in different situations.

Buccilli knows what she’s doing is unique. As of June 2020, FAA statistics indicated that, of 660,000 pilots nationally, fewer than 8% are female.

It has prompted people like Matthew Brown, who is Buccilli’s English teacher at IAM, to call her “Top Gun.”

“I do feel proud, and also very grateful for all the people who have helped me to get there. … It’s definitely hard to comprehend those statistics and just how rare this is,” Buccilli said. “I wouldn’t really consider myself an inspiration. Maybe down the line. It’s more me following my passion.”