Flying is the best possible thing for women. — Baroness Raymonde de Laroche of France, first licensed woman pilot, regards receiving her license, 8 March 1910.
I participate in a closed Facebook group called The Landline. It is a forum for pilots and controllers to interact over questions about anything pilot-controller aviation system related. Recently a topic was presented: why there are not more women and minorities in aviation. It was a lively discussion!.
This has been a discussion point for a long as I can remember with little or no new information. When I was hired to become an air traffic controller, to be honest, the fact that I am female was never a factor in my mind. The real question was, could I learn and do the job? Yes or no.
The same applied when I decided to get my private pilot’s licence. So the idea that my anatomy had something to do with the ability to learn a skill in some folk’s thinking came as a shock.
That this was even a point of so much debate and discussion seemed silly and a waste of time and energy to me. Either I would learn or I wouldn’t. The fact is, I tested well for aptitude, so I have written proof that I was suited to be in this place.
What I came up against, were pre-set beliefs of some of those teaching me. That was a challenge and again, a surprise. Swimming against the stream did serve to make me stronger, but does not make it right.
Girls In Aviation Historically
The October 1994 issue of AOPA magazine featured an article by Amy Laboda “Why More Women Don’t Fly”. At that time the statistic was 6% of pilots were women. In fact that is the historical average. I was stunned at the time.
Today it has risen to a whopping 7%! I am again stunned. That is in spite of the fact that the military has lifted most, if not all, barricades against women flying in all aspects of aviation. In addition there are more women visible in commercial aviation.
Air traffic control has done better. When I was hired as part of a women and minority program in 1976, the percentage of women was less than 5%. It is now 26%. I am not one to look for equality in the numbers alone.
There are a lot of factors that go into this aviation choice beyond aptitude and ability. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if awareness, opportunity and support have risen to the level needed. Are we tapping into the female talent in these areas.
Being Intentional About Girls In Aviation
This is why I support Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) programs for young ladies. Although, Like the guys, not every girl is suited. We each have specific gifts and talents regardless of gender. I am simply for nurturing the gifts we all have to their fullest. Programs like Girls in Aviation Days (GIAD) and other STEM programs provide an opportunity, exposure for an informed choice.
Providence made a way for me. I knew, from the moment I stepped in the FAA academy I was made to “Tell pilots where to go….”, I just needed a place to grow the air traffic controller in me.
As a private pilot, there is no better place to reset, recalibrate and breathe than from several thousand feet in the air. A girl needs a place to decompress and more girls need to have access to this cool place to do so!
Each year, Women In Aviation Chapter hosts a Girls In Aviation Day. We take one short day to expose young women to some of the facets of aviation opportunities. The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) has a station to talk about building airplanes, several local aviation schools are present as are local aircraft companies. There is a lot more to aviation stuff than flying and controlling:
- tech support of all sorts
- maintenance of aircraft and navigational aids
- cabin crews
- engineering of all kinds
- aviation law
to name a few.
Bringing Girls In Aviation Home
This year, I will do a presentation at our local GIAD on a WAI Hall of Famer, Betty Greene, Mission Aviation Fellowship‘s first pilot. She served in the (WASP) as a target puller, ferry pilot and high altitude test pilot.
After the war she joined six men to form MAF. As such, not only did she fly MAFs first mission, she was also the first woman to cross the Andes in Peru in an airplane. She served in Africa, Mexico, Peru and Indonesia as a pilot. She moved effortlessly from pilot to office support to mechanic, using her gifts, training and talents to serve those in need.
These programs are not about making it easier. One must apply oneself in any endeavor. It is about providing opportunity. I tripped into this field, but surely this is better – adding aviation to the menu of choices for consideration.
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