Past, Present & Future: Opportunities For Women Aviators of All Ages

by Kristine Reigel
Published in Midwest Flyer – October/November 2019 Issue

Since the earliest days of aviation, women have been involved. From the first female mechanic in 1902, to the Women Airforce Service Pilots(WASP) of World War II, the first American female astronaut in 1983, and the first female fighter pilot in 1993, the number of women pilots has increased from 70 in 1929 to over 40,000 today. And yet this is still only 10% of the entire pilot population in the U.S. We need more female pilots, engineers, mechanics and air traffic controllers. EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, July 22-28, 2019, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, had many opportunities available to educate and support women and girls of all ages. Here are just a few of the resources available to women at the World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration:

WomenVenture

Celebrating its twelfth year, WomenVenture by Boeing is a social and networking event which takes place during EAA AirVenture for women who are already part of  – or thinking of becoming part of – the aviation community.

“WomenVenture Wednesday” is the peak event of the week. This year the day began with a breakfast attended by more than 400 men, women and girls, and featured former Naval Aviator and Southwest Airlines Captain Tammie Jo Shults. Shults shared stories of inspiration on how she became a pilot in the face of adversity when many people told her it couldn’t be done. She also shared her story of safely landing a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 (Flight 1380) that experienced an uncontained engine failure and of her upcoming book, “Nerves of Steel”. On April 17, 2018, Shults and her crew departed New York-LaGuardia Airport en route to Dallas Love Field, when debris from the engine damaged the fuselage, causing rapid depressurization. The crew diverted the aircraft to Philadelphia International Airport and made a safe landing, although one passenger was partially ejected from the aircraft and later died.

Next on the agenda was “Boeing Plaza” to have a photo taken with 1,000 other women in purple shirts. According to Molly Martin, Outreach Director for Women in Aviation International (WAI), this is an annual event at WomenVenture. The energy for the photo is always palpable. This year was even more so as the backdrop for the 2019 photo was a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner flown to Oshkosh by an all-female flight crew. After the photo shoot, the women aviators headed to Theater in the Woods for the annual WomenVenture Power Lunch featuring U.S. Air Force Colonel Kim “Killer Chick” Campbell as the guest speaker.

Women in Aviation International

Women in Aviation International members “seek to inspire and stand for encouragement, continued education, and a whole lot of fun!” If you’re a lover of all-things aviation and aerospace, and enjoy sharing your passion with others, WAI would love to have you as a member.

Once a year, WAI holds its annual convention which includes a Girls in Aviation component. Separately, all around the globe each year, WAI’s local chapters host “Girls in Aviation Day” https://www.wai.org/events/girls-aviation-day-2019. This year’s event will be held October 5, 2019. WAI also offers scholarships to girls and women of all ages to further their flight training and education.

Women in Aviation has a booth in Hangar B at EAA AirVenture with great merchandise and a friendly staff on hand ready to answer any questions and support girls and women on their journey to make aviation their career.

Ninety-Nines

Founded by Amelia Earhart and 98 other female aviators, the Ninety-Nines is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. The mission statement of the Ninety-Nines is as follows:

“The Ninety-Nines® is the International Organization of Women Pilots that promotes advancement of aviation through education, scholarships and mutual support while honoring our unique history and sharing our passion for flight.”

What this means in short is that the Ninety-Nines is an international membership organization of licensed female pilots and student pilots from 44 countries with thousands of members. The Ninety-Nines offers scholarships, instructor referrals, exclusive member benefits and career opportunities for women throughout the aviation industry.

On Thursday afternoon during the week of EAA AirVenture, the Ninety-Nines hosted a reception for its members at the Pilot Proficiency Center featuring SAFE Speaker Judy Phelps whose topic was “Loss of Control – Keeping the Sunny Side Up”. Later that afternoon Lightspeed Aviation hosted a celebration of the Ninety-Nines at a reception in their tent across from Hangar B.

The Ninety-Nines also has a booth in Hangar B and a friendly staff to answer questions, provide guidance and enroll or renew memberships on site.  The Ninety-Nines is conveniently located next to the booth for the Air Race Classic (https://www.ninety-nines.org/).

Air Race Classic

Another exciting opportunity for female pilots is the Air Race Classic https://www.airraceclassic.org/.

Women’s air racing started on August 18, 1929, when 19 female pilots bravely took off to race from Santa Monica, California to Cleveland, Ohio in what was then called the “Women’s Air Derby” and later dubbed the “Powder Puff Derby” by comedian Will Rogers.

At the time, there were only 70 licensed female pilots in the United States, and only 40 qualified to take part in this contest. Race rules stipulated that the aircraft must have horsepower “appropriate for a woman.” Women aviation pioneers, such as Amelia Earhart, Iris Lois Thaden, Phoebe Jane Fairfrave Omlie, Opal Kunz and “Attagirl” Edith Foltz, were all racers.

Today’s Air Race Classic is in keeping with the messages of the pioneering women in aviation who were passionate about encouraging current and future women pilots. One of the most notable ways that this is shown is the opportunity for student pilots to enter as “additional teammates” or crewmembers, as long as that student has logged 5 hours in an airplane. The Air Race Classic also hosts youth events, publishes books for kids and teachers about the race, and hosts a Collegiate Air Race Classic.

CAE

The world of aviation needs more women and CAE is ready to train them. Each year CAE (a worldwide leader in training for civil aviation, defense and security, and health care) offers five scholarships for young women interested in aviation careers: https://www.cae.com/civil-aviation/become-a-pilot/our-pilot-training-programmes/cae-women-in-flight-scholarship-program. CAE educates young women and then helps them on their way to finding a career in their chosen field.

GIFT Academy

Certified Flight Instructors Mary and Laurence Latimer, and their daughter, Tamara Latimer Griffith, founded “GIFT Academy” in 2011. Drawing on the premise of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II, they wondered what kind of success they might have if they could teach women pilots with an all-female staff during a week-long training event. The response was phenomenal and GIFT Academy was born.

GIFT, and its sister program LIFT, is a nonprofit program designed to help women get started in their flight training or tackle hurdles that may be hindering their progress. The week-long event also offers mentoring, peer-to-peer learning, and a variety of instructors with different teaching techniques and aircraft.

Mary Latimer stresses the importance of matching instructors with students when it comes to the process of flight training. She attributes the female instructor/female student pilot relationship to a better learning environment. One reason for this is that some female students have complained of being propositioned by male instructors in-flight. This can make an already nerve-wracking situation unbearable and cause a student to give up.

The cost of the event is $1,500, which includes 10 hours of dual instruction, lunches, and ground school. A $300 deposit is required to reserve a spot. Scholarships may also be available. Training takes place in Vernon, Elk City, and Justin, Texas, all conveniently located just outside the Dallas Ft. Worth metroplex. Mary, her daughter Tamara, and her granddaughter are all instructors, as well as other female volunteers.

Conclusion

EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is a great place to expose women – young and old – to aviation. It is an especially unique opportunity for young women who may be interested in a career in aviation. After all, they too are the future of aviation.

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