Published in Midwest Flyer – December 2019/January 2020 issue
Hands shoot to the air when a group of girls is asked who would like to present the panel with the next question. The selected girl walks to the front of the hangar and reads from an index card, “Why did you want to be a pilot?”
The panelists, gathered for Madison, Wisconsin’s first-ever “Girls in Aviation Day” event, consist of four women, all members of the newly formed Four Lakes Chapter of Women in Aviation International (WAI). One is an air traffic controller; the others include a retired United 777 Captain, a student pilot who will become a private pilot very soon, and a newly certificated flight instructor.
Through the question and answer session, it is discovered that two of the women have safely landed an airplane in a cornfield. This surprises even the panelists, who have worked together on aviation activities in the area. “I didn’t know you had done that!” commented one of the ladies afterward.
Meanwhile, more than 40 girls, between ages 8 and 11, and their chaperones, are off to the first of a series of hands-on activity stations designed to present the world of aviation to the girls.
This inaugural event took place at Wisconsin Aviation at Dane County Regional Airport KMSN) on October 5th, 2019. The newly formed WAI Milwaukee Chapter, also held its first event, as part of a worldwide effort designed to introduce girls to aviation opportunities. This year, over 118 events were held in 18 countries, reaching approximately 20,000 attendees.
In Milwaukee, approximately 50 girls, between ages 8 and 17, took part in unique activities arranged by the WAI Southeastern Chapter at the Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport. Participants heard from a panel of women aviators, visited the air traffic control tower, tried out flying on flight simulators, and participated in a scavenger hunt at the airport. In addition, they boarded a plane and met the crew of a regional jet (CRJ-200) that Air Wisconsin brought in for the event.
In Madison, the girls participated in activities in a large hangar at Wisconsin Aviation. Stations with names like “She’s So Fly” and “Chart Your Course” taught girls about navigation, communications with air traffic controllers, aerodynamics, and other aspects of aviation. Pilots also helped girls climb inside several small planes on display in the hangar. Toward the end of the event, the girls were told there was a surprise opportunity to board a Sun Country 737 chartered aircraft, if they were interested.
Despite the pouring rain outside the hangar, the girls ran to the entrance of the hangar and lined up with umbrellas to board the plane.
“This is so cool!” one girl commented, as they took turns sitting in the cockpit, talking with the pilot.
In an industry in which only seven percent of pilots are women, and women continue to be underrepresented across many positions, the WAI coordinators hope these events help girls see themselves as future aviators, scientists, and anything else they would like to be.
The President of the Southeastern Chapter, Joan Kelnhofer, notes: “We want girls to see that there are exciting careers available to them as engineers, astronauts, pilots, dispatchers, air traffic controllers, and dozens of other jobs within the aviation community.” And private pilots in both chapters pointed out, the girls could otherwise just fly for fun!
Representatives of both WAI chapters were thrilled with the response to the events, with registration full. Both chapters plan to hold events again next year.
If you would like to get involved in future Women in Aviation International events in Wisconsin, visit the WAI website for contact information: https://www.wai.org/