Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Training to standards

You would have to be hiding under a rock to not have heard about all of the fuss going on about flight training. Most notably, you've probably heard that the FAA's Aviation Safety Bill has been passed, dictating, among other things,  that First Officers for commercial airlines must have a minimum 1500 hours of flight time (in reaction to the horrific plane crash over Buffalo, NY, last year).

The problem is this flight time (logged as actual hours flying not just training and studying) is really hard to come by. For example, I spent 7 years in the military flying Hueys and King Airs and got barely over 1200 hours. I was "lucky" in the sense that I wasn't paying for my flight training (albeit the Army was squeezing work out of me in other ways). The estimated cost these days for a private pilot certificate is anywhere from $3000 to $10,000. [I only put the $3000 figure in there because I saw it advertised. If you believe that, I have heard you can make this amount in one week working part time at home on your computer. No, really, I just got emailed this information.] When one gets that private pilot designation, he or she may have approximately 100 hours. Only 1400 more to go.

But there's more training to do. After you get your private, there's the instrument, commercial ratings, and then, most likely, your flight instructor certificate, which is what I'm working on now. Pilots can work up to 1500 hours of flight time by buying it, if they have a trust fund, since hourly rentals of small single engine airplanes are at least $100/hr. Or by slowly working at it, instructing, banner towing, etc. Anything that doesn't involve flying passengers for money. Because I did all of my initial training in the Army, I went a little different route. I now have over 4000 hours of flight time (having left the military and flown for both the commercial and fractional airlines), but no instructor time.

So, did I feel that I was a competent enough fresh out of the military pilot with 1200 hours flying a Beech 1900 in the busy, weather intensive Northeast US? Well, not always, at first, but I flew for the most part with a heck of an awesome captain, Mike, who taught me a lot as did just flying the airplane getting more experience. After completing the airline's training course, I went to Michigan to fly routes into and out of Pittsburgh. The airline, which is out of business now (no fault of mine, I should state) ran a pretty shady operation, trying to patch things together with duct tape and super glue as much as possible to keep the planes going. However, they had some great pilots. You'd have to be, flying an old, beat-up turboprop through the weather to such small, out of the way airports. For all of these reasons, the eye of the FAA was upon us. Because the FAA is always watching...

The FAA can sit in on just about anything in the airlines, and that includes your jumpseat (usually an actual seat in the cockpit, but in a 1900 it was seat 1A which had a headphone jack). They're there to make sure the pilots are running a safe flight. They can also do a "ramp check" to make sure the airplane is airworthy and legal. I remember asking Mike that if, gasp, the FAA, who takes your license away first and then asks questions, came to inspect us what we should do differently (or what wasn't I doing that I should). And Mike confidently replied, "Nothing. Everything you're doing every day is exactly how it should be done."

That's what I liked about flying with Mike. Without being anal about it, he ran a by the book operation. Other captains, ones that were not so particular, might ignore regulations, or operate in "gray" areas or be a little more forgiving of potential safety issues. When a first officer flies with such a captain, they never know what they're going to get. Heck, I had flown with captains that refused to use the checklists (so I would read them to myself - I couldn't help it!).

My point to this post is that you fly the way that you're trained. IF you care enough to continue this training into the way you conduct yourself as a pilot. Does it take any longer to do things by the book? Not really. But when the eyes of the FAA are upon you, it sure makes it easier to have those good practices ingrained. Plus, as I'm sure I've mentioned before in this blog, I never want my actions to result in the loss of the lives of others.

This is the attitude I want to convey to my students as a flight instructor. There are tons of stories about "Never Again," "I Learned from This," and other lessons pilots have learned in hindsight (I've got quite a few of them myself), but we're better off limiting the number of errors we introduce into our flights.

By the way, the new legislation also:

• Requires the FAA to strengthen regulations governing pilot training programs at airlines. The NTSB has urged airlines to provide remedial training for pilots who make errors or have difficulty on tests of their flying.
• Gives the FAA three years to impose new regulations requiring airlines to establish pilot mentoring programs and professional development committees, as well as modify existing training programs to include leadership and command training.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Jet Age Book Review

One of the cool things about having a presence in the aviation world is that people are quite often willing to send me their books to review, as in the case of a book about Amelia Earhart or one on Flying Above the Glass Ceiling. These are two recent blog entries made easy by the fact that I liked the books. I don't usually say anything when I don't. Go ahead. Call me a wimp. But I'm a nice, non-confrontational wimp.

So I kind of figured when I got an email from a marketing agent within a publishing house asking me to review their newly released book that I wasn't going to be all that thrilled with it. Ok, first, it's kind of a stretch that as the founder and Executive Director of a non profit organization (that just received it's 501(c)(3) designation by the way, for any of you thinking about year end donations...) using aviation to inspire girls to achieve their full potential, that I would have a tie in to a book subtitled "The Comet, the 707, and the Race to Shrink the World."

Initially I viewed this request in the same light as vague requests from unknown persons suggesting they do guest posts on the blog about "how to travel with kids," or "how to develop online educational resources." I suppose those topics apply more than "how to drain spinach for a prize-winning veggie quiche," but I usually pass on such offers.

Additionally, the email emphasized, "Sam Verhovek’s Jet Age (on sale 10/14, $27) offers an intimate view into the minds of pioneer aviators – the men [my emphasis] who helped shrink and connect our global village. Jetsetters, pilots, and history buffs alike will receive an invaluable framework for evaluating the current airline industry and appreciating the evolution of astonishing commercial aircraft models."

Not exactly a Girls With Wings niche.

And of course, there's the time issue. Now that I'm simultaneously working on my CFI (Certified Flight Instructor) rating and GWW, there just isn't a lot of free time. Not that I'm complaining, thanks to the recent AOPA article on GWW and the subsequent VERY successful trip to the AOPA Aviation Summit. It's due to this lack of extra time that I haven't been promoting my own book, Penelope Pilot and her First Day as Captain, as much I should. Insert thought cloud above my head, "Oh, to have such an expert staff of people for Girls With Wings...."

And a book tagged with "How Boeing's Gamble Changed the World: Airline Triumphs and Challenges," sounded a bit like a text book.

How wrong I was.

I actually found a space to fit the book into my carry-on luggage to California for the Summit. I was able to crack it open on the trip back, hoping it would act as a sleep aid on my first leg to Charlotte. Well, I never did get to close my eyes, reading the book cover to cover on the four hour flight (I have always been quite the speed reader, too).

Far from a dry narrative of the scientific development of aircraft engine technology, the book is more of a social commentary into the transition from propeller driven passenger airplanes into the standard we hold now for our commercial airline conveyance: jet aircraft. Just ask anyone who finds themselves facing the set of stairs into a "puddle jumper."

Airline travel in its beginning stages was loud, bumpy and, um, prolonged. The airplanes utilized big heavy turbine or piston engines with propellers that caused noise and vibration in the cabin. Plus, un- or under-pressurized airplanes can only fly as high as the body can handle, leaving it down low in the turbulent air currents and often storms. The flights were also slow, taking quite often days to fly across the country, but, let it be said, faster than it took to drive. And there wasn't much in the way of regulating the environment for the passengers. Recommended items to pack were warm clothes, face-masks (no air purification) and sick sacks.

So the 1952 appearance of the de Havilland Comet was a welcome addition to the "glamorous" jetsetting life style - only now it was literally, "jet-setting." The British airplane featured a cabin for 36 passengers, "ensconsed in seats covered with a blue herringbone-weave, wool-faced tapestry," and a library, seperate bathrooms for men and women, and, most importantly, a special Comet Cocktail served only aboard the jetliner (presumably not served to the pilots, as well). The airplane's sleek design incorporated four engines enabled speeds of 500 miles per hour, seven miles above the earth, and a fuselage with a fatal flaw. No one at the time was able to determine why three Comets exploded while in flight. You could google the answer right now, but I would suggest that the process as laid out in Jet Age is much more interesting and detailed and worth the read.

Far from shutting down the development of other jet airliners, the competition to build a better mousetrap led to the expansion of the R&D divisions at Boeing, Douglas, Lockheed, et al. And the procurement departments in the commercial airlines of the day, such as Pan Am, Trans World, and Eastern, among others who actually still remain in existence. I won't go into depth into these areas, nor with the insertions of historical factors (like, of all things, ballooning, and the Messerschmitt jet fighter built by the Germans in 1944), but know that the contributing facts put forth by the author seamlessly blend in to the comprehensive retelling of how the jet engine was conceived, built, refined, and then put into generally accepted practice, and the people, some quite famous, who made it possible.

I therefore can confidently recommend this book, especially because you won't learn just about the jet engine, but also the businesses and personalities of the day, how politics and finances have shaped the airline industry and how women have come to play a part in it. Ok, yeah, first as stewardesses but also, eventually, as pilots (there IS a Girls With Wings tie in!). Jet Age, by Sam Howe Verhovek, is really a educational and entertaining book telling the story behind the story in how airlines and their airplanes have evolved.

I'm so glad I was contacted by their "people."

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

My AOPA Summit '10 trip to CA

This November I left the weather in Northeast Ohio to almost the exact same weather in Southern California. No kidding, a solid week of sun and mid-60's in Cleveland, in November and I missed it? Yes, but what I got to experience in SoCal was SO much better!

I have to admit, however, I was totally dreading this trip on the airlines. I have not flown commercially since my furlough started in January, and given all of the bad press the TSA (short for Transportation Security Administration) has been receiving, I expected quite the molestation ritual. Surprisingly, at my airport it was like nothing had changed - when I flew back home out of LA, either.

I first visited a long time friend, Barbara, proprietor of Plane Mercantile, a wonderful eclectic store of antiques and nostalgic aviation items. We met at the first appearance of the Girls With Wings retail line at the Ninety-Nines International Conference in DC in 2006 when Barb walked up to me after a long day of driving from Cleveland and setting up tables to ask if I wanted to share dinner. Actually, I believe she called it "beer." She was a great source of information then and still is - about many things, but mostly about aviation. She has an encyclopedic memory of the growth of aviation over the last century, with several works including "Pancho: The Biography of Florence Lowe Barnes" an excellent and complete of the life and times of the famous society aviatrix and owner of the Happy Bottom Riding Club.

Barbara and I meet yearly at many aviation events, like Women in Aviation's annual conference. This year she also had a booth at EAA's AirVenture, or (Spl)Oshkosh. And, of course, we both had a presence at AOPA's Aviation Summit. More about that later. First, I wanted to also share with you that Barbara and her family have a love of all things aeronautical. Even her sons are pilots. Her husband, Philip, has had a career as an engineer and test pilot that a wall of citations and awards clearly demonstrate. So I was more than willing to go have a $100 hamburger (see previous blog entry) in their Beechcraft Model 18, or "Twin Beech", a 6-11 seat, twin-engine, low-wing, conventional-gear aircraft.

We flew to Mojave Airport, where we just happened to actually see a very famous aviation engineer with some serious mutton chops, not so coincidentally, in a restaurant named Voyager. Besides being the home of Mojave Air and Space Port, a world renowned flight research center hosting the latest and most advanced aeronautical designs, it is also a boneyard. Mojave's dry desert climate and acres of available open space makes this an ideal location for aircraft storage. Numerous large Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, Lockheed, and Airbus aircraft owned by major airlines are stored on site. Some aircraft reach the end of their useful lifetime and are scrapped at Mojave. Others are refurbished and returned to active service.

When we got back from this trip, Philip, also a A&P (airframe and powerplant mechanic) with IA (Inspection Authorization), offered to conduct a little ground school using their Cessna 150. So he removed the cowlings and proceed to point out all the parts of the engine, to which I was known to utter a few "Ooooh's" and "Ahhhhh's," and "Really's" and "No Kidding's." I'm a pretty visual learner, and all of this talk about fuel mixture and carb heat, etc., on a piston engine, no less, when I'm used to turbine engines, REALLY helped me to understand more about how the small engines work. He also walked around and demonstrated the angle of attack on the propeller and because of gyroscopic progression, makes the airplane yaw to the left, requiring right rudder on takeoff...  ok, I can see I'm losing you non-pilots. Here's some more information if you're interested. Anyway, I can tell you that two hours was priceless - and I'm hoping to be invited back out again for more (that's a hint, Barb and Phil!).

It was then time to travel to Long Beach to begin setting up the Girls With Wings booth at the AOPA Aviation Summit. After carrying my items in, box by box, from the farthest spot my car could have been parked, to the location of my booth (I can't afford to pay the people that provide logistical support for these events to move my things and so I therefore use my own muscles - it makes up for the overeating I usually do on such trips!), I had a Girls With Wings presentation to do! Again, I am so lucky to be meeting such great people promoting more girls' interest in aviation - and one of those people is Monika, the woman behind the documentary Flyabout. Monika and I had just participated in a joint event at Kent State University call Women Take Flight to interest young women to explore the many exciting opportunities for careers in journalism, aviation and filmmaking. Over 150 folks attended!

Monika also has a 7 year old daughter who's in Brownies, so I did a presentation for her troop and a group of older Girl Scouts. The girls were amazing - very interested and involved in this introduction to “everything” a pilot needs to know in order to complete a flight. This interactive presentation incorporates various aeronautical tools. My talk always begins by asking the girls if they think they could ever figure out what a pilot does, to which they invariably reply “no.” After showing them navigation charts, demonstrating the methods of communicating with ATC, and playing a game explaining what the flight instruments do, I remind them that they told me at the onset they never thought they would be able to figure out how to fly! See more about the presentation. [I tried to upload video here, unsuccessfully. You can go to the webpage to view three new videos!]

The next day the AOPA Aviation Summit kicked off. I could not have had such a successful booth there without the help of the aforementioned Monika, and Ceci, Adrienne, and Carole - among others. It was AMAZING how many visitors said the came there just to meet me after the article in the AOPA Magazine about GWW. Many folks brought their daughters by just to purchase their autographed copy of the Penelope Pilot book - like Cary here. I would also like to thank Rod of myTransponder for allowing me to participate on a panel "Making Aviation More Social," the video of which is now being shown on AOPA Live. I was able to meet with three CFI's of the Year on this panel, but I treasured the opportunity to meet all of the attendees of the event. Next year, Hartford, CT, September 22-24!

Break down of the booth after the event was much easier with the motivation of being done. Plus I had a good night's sleep to look forward to. Having a booth is hard work, but it's the best way for people to learn about Girls With Wings. Yes, we do also sell items here, but that helps us a little with fundraising. Plus, the more people sporting a "Yes, Girls Can Fly" message the more the word will be spread. Sunday we went to the Griffith's Observatory, a very famous landmark in LA that you might recognize, and Monday (after I took the boxes of remaining GWW stuff to the Post office), we visited Paramount studios. California, although quite smoggy, is really a beautiful place. I've flown over and into it plenty of times, but this was my first chance to see it from ground level.

If THAT wasn't enough, my fellow AcroCamper, Michelle, took me for a ride in her Super D to see it from the sky! We flew over to Camarillo, CA, for a bite to eat. Do I look a little green in this picture? It's not from the food. Nor did we do any aerobatics. No, I would like to have one of these in my hangar, but for now, I am so appreciative of friends that are willing to share! Michelle had been considering a Bonanza, but after AcroCamp, knew her future was in a taildragger. She actually picked it up from the factory and had it custom painted in her favorite color, orange. I'm telling you, the new paint was like satin. And the white interior, at least for now, was spotless. No, you local flight schools, Michelle will not be offering this airplane for you to lease quite yet!

And the next morning's two hour drive to cover less than 20 miles to get to LAX nearly concluded my California trip (I had to pull an OJ Simpson in CLT to make my connection). Big thanks to all mentioned above for their willingness to volunteer, extend their hospitality, stop by and say hello, etc. It was a trip I will never forget!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

$100 Hamburgers

This Halloween weekend I enjoyed my first $100 hamburger. No, thank goodness, my lunch was not actually $100. This is a catch phrase for the practice, a long standing tradition (defined), of flying to another general aviation airport in a general aviation airplane just to go to lunch (or golf or shop, etc.) at another airport. Many of the 5300 or so "General Aviation" or GA airports (compared to about 600 "commercial" airports) are co-located with some fabulous restaurants celebrated by both pilots and the local general public alike. It’s unfortunately getting so expensive for this hobby that they’re now calling this the $200 or $300 hamburger. Those brave enough, of course, of actually figuring the actual cost of operating their own airplane.

My pilot for the day (since I am still doing some CFI training and cannot yet afford to rent an airplane for such a pleasure trip) was Nancy, a fellow Lake Erie 99 (The Ninety-Nines was the first organization of Women Pilots). Along for a ride was Nancy’s husband, Jim, and another 99, Meigs. There are 231,607 airplanes classified as "GA" and Nancy and Jim are part owners in one of them.

They use a timeshare to have access to an airplane, which many people do if they cannot afford or wish to take on the responsibility of buying one outright. They signed a lease in a Cirrus 22 making a monthly payment of less than $1000/mo with two other owners to covering operating expenses. Additionally, they pay an $90 hourly wet rate with covers their maintenance and upgrades. Really, not a bad way to go if you can afford it. See if you should rent or buy an airplane.

So, we all met at Summit Air at Akron’s Fulton Airport, where they keep the Goodyear Blimps (HUGE hangar to left), to prepare for the flight early on this chilly Saturday morning. I have told my fellow 99s, Nancy included, that I was so interested in getting a ride anytime they went flying. Yes, I’ve been a pilot for 17 years, but although it’s been a blast, my flight time hasn't been logged for my pleasure alone. I have been the type of pilot most people think of when they think pilot: someone who flies for the airline or the military. Never a pilot that flies mostly for fun, like many general aviation pilots. By the way, I can't tell you how many pilots are GA pilots because there's not any such category. There are pilots with their private pilot certification that can't fly "for hire" but many pilots with their commercial rating that can do both.

Nancy has been, shall we say?, reluctant to take me flying since I met her. She's got this crazy notion that because I fly professionally that I know everything there is to know about flying. Yes, I know about my airplane, and the kinds of flying that I've done, but not about flying around for hamburgers (peanuts, yes. Colgan Pilots, btw, are understandably a little riled because their new contract will have 6 year captains making less than $40k/yr). So I told Nancy that I wanted to learn from her watching get ready for the flight. I’ve never seen someone so nervous! I was nervous as well, you know, since I'm supposed to be getting ready to teach people how to do this as a flight instructor. I was quite reassured to see watching her that I remember a great deal from my training - such things as calling flight service, for example, as Nancy is doing here.

The truth is, I think Nancy makes a perfect poster child for folks everywhere that are interested in being a pilot but not a career pilot. Nancy flies, just for fun. And fun she is. Always has a smile on her face and a great attitude. This whole flying thing is still pretty new to her. Not the flying thing, per se, because she spent many years as a “stewardess.” Nancy looks 50, though is a smidge older than that; that’s what she was called when she worked for the airlines. I figured that’s where she got the bug. She also had a brother who flew for the Navy and has 360 carrier landings. 

But no, that wasn't it.

FYI, according to the Airplane Pilots and Owners Association, the average student pilot today is in his 30s, and the typical average active pilot is a decade older. In addition, more than 25 percent of all U.S. pilots with current medical certificates are in their 50s. And some pilots learn to fly after they retire.

Perhaps it was her husband, Jim, along for the flight, that encouraged her to get her license. See Pinch-hitter Course article.

Nope, Jim isn't a pilot.

I've seen Jim around a few 99s events and have to admit, I just assumed he was. I was quite surprised when I asked him outright and he said no. So I asked him for a few words for the blog. Jim says, “I’m in safe hands on this flight with 3 women pilots. Nancy took up flying as a hobby at age 60. Her first instructor was a woman who encouraged her to go for her instrument rating which was also strongly encouraged by her brother. In the middle of that training, she decided to re-start the effort on a high performance single engine Cirrus 22 all glass cockpit. I am very proud of her determination to master that complex rating and fly the Cirrus 22.” 

Well, then, what inspired her to pick up flying? If not a career in aviation, a family history of flying, a supportive husband, what?

The answer may be seen in photo to right. The influence of/inspiration from another woman pilot.

Nancy was finally inspired to start flying by the other woman pilot in our group, Meigs. They were both members in another group, the Questers, and Meigs had come in to talk to that group about the 99s, a kind of walking/talking show and tell about women pilots. After the talk, Nancy apparently disappeared, not seen by Meigs until she joined the 99s about two years later. As a pilot. (From right, me, Nancy, Meigs, Deb, and Helen, all Lake Erie 99s).

Meigs is a pretty impressive woman herself. Her father was George W. Kirkendall, who worked for Taylor Aircraft, which produced the 1st Piper Cub on which he was the test pilot for its first flight September 12, 1930. Meig's husband wasn't a pilot either, but he talked her into getting a license so they could enjoy more time at their vacation destination by flying together instead of driving! Meigs ended up making 28 cross country trips and joined the Civil Air Patrol flying rescue missions and cadets – amassing over 2700 hours! (To left, Nancy and Meigs finish their post-flight.)

So everyone admires the airline and the military hotshots in their uniforms, leading a cushy life and making the big bucks (cough, cough), but you might walk right past a group of pilots who fly the general aviation airplanes and you wouldn’t even know it. Unless you see the smiles on their faces (and the smears of hamburger grease on their chins). Most people who fly do it because they love it. These are the people who fly for the fun of it. I love it. And I can’t wait to be right into the middle of it.

And for the record, I actually had a $100 pizza. The gorgonzola pizza at the Primo Barone’s Restaurant & Lounge at Venango Airport in Franklin County, PA, is very nearly worth that much.

Friday, September 17, 2010

My CFI to CFI Article: Mars Teaching Venus

"Mars teaching Venus," my article published in the CFI to CFI Newsletter
Reprinted with permission from AOPA Air Safety Foundation copyright CFI to CFI Newsletter.

Aviation has always been a male dominated industry, and although women have played important roles within aviation, they have had to adapt to a man's world.  Women have been a minority in all aviation fields except flight attendant, according to FAA statistics.

The oft-quoted statistic that 6 percent of certificated pilots are women has not changed in the past 100 years, so we have to ask ourselves why? Why has this number not increased, since in the past 10 years the ratio of female to male flight students has been at 11 percent? Why are we not turning these female flight students into pilots?

I believe that women and men are equally able to be successful pilots. But with a caveat: they learn differently. There are 5,500 women ground instructors compared to 75,000 overall, so let's address the more common male instructor-female student scenario.

Many women feel a need to understand everything before they feel comfortable doing it. A male flight instructor should allow a female student pilot the chance to ask questions, be prepared to try a couple different methods of explaining it to her, and say, “You don’t need to understand that quite yet,” if she doesn’t. Feeling like she’s missing a crucial nugget of information will cause your student to be distracted and lose confidence in her ability to successfully complete her training.

I remember when I went off to the U.S. Army’s Initial Entry Rotary Wing Training. On about day two of our helicopter training the instructor read through the Huey's start up checklist: Generator - On.

It could have been so much easier if I would have just flipped the switch on. But, no, I had to ask what a generator was. “It’s just like the alternator in your car,” the instructor says. Perhaps it was my blank stare that gave me away.

I am nothing if not tenacious though, and that was just the first of many episodes throughout flight school of me seeking to get the minimal amount of knowledge to comprehend the subject at hand. "Why does this happen? Why do we have to do it this way? Why am I just not getting this? What happens if - gasp - I do it wrong?"

My first few months in flight school were a struggle. I had a flight instructor who would bark orders and scream at me when I couldn’t do something right. In the midst of yet another episode crying on the shoulder of a friend who also happened to be an Army flight instructor, he confided, “You don’t have to understand it all now, just memorize what you need to in order to get through training.” "Really? I said. "You mean all of the guys in my class don’t understand it either? They’re just acting like they do?" So as hard as this was, I follwed his advice.

One of the things I didn’t understand (and was too afraid to ask about) was crucial to consistently flying stabilized visual approaches. Even to this day I can't remember what the name is for this technique, but it was some kind of "cone of action."  You were supposed to look at your intended landing point and see no movement at that point. However, everything around the point should be moving.Things in front would move forward, things to the side should move farther out, and things behind would move backward. If you got this concept, which I hadn't, you would be able to maintain a constant descent angle throughout your approach and landing, preventing you from under- or over-arcing from the straight line that could ideally be drawn from your point of initial descent to your touchdown point (add power for under arcing, subtract power for over arcing). Of course, this concept was never explained to me this way.

These gaps in my knowledge bothered me. I was obviously missing out on a good technique to fly a consistent approach, so my landings were continuously criticized for being imperfect. I wanted to understand, and not understanding made me lose confidence. Eventually, concepts I didn’t completely “get” at first started to fall into place. However, this learning process was a whole lot more stressful than it needed to be.

My experience is that men are less discomfited with gaps in their knowledge. They are more comfortable with figuring it out as they go along, jumping in feet first, hoping they keep it greasy side down. In all my training over the years I have had male instructors, and I have learned not to ask questions in class. Why? Because too many instructors read into my asking that that I can’t understand.

I remember in my initial Beechjet training discussing the electrical system. At some point I looked around and saw the same blank stare on every guy in the class. I whispered to the guy on my right, “Do you understand what he’s saying?” “Nope.” Same answer from the guy on my left. So I asked the instructor to clarify, which he did, albeit unsuccessfully. The worst part was the whole rest of the training he kept stopping after every block of instruction to ask me, “Did you get that, Lynda?” He was certainly just trying to be helpful, but man, was I embarrassed by the extra attention.

Eventually I realized that the guys in class weren’t worried. They were able to memorize what would be asked of them to pass their checkride, they were OK with knowing that, with time, they would come to understand through osmosis.

I have only had one simulator session with a female instructor. During the prebrief she mentioned a system on the Cessna Citation X that I was having the hardest time memorizing the limitations for because I didn’t understand the system. What did she do? She opened the systems manual to a picture of the system and said about 10 words on the subject and my understanding just fell into place. I think she was able to explain the matter so that I understood because as women we spoke the same language.

In my training to become a CFI while on furlough from my fractional airline job I hope to put my theories into practice and share with you the insight I gain.

--Lynda Meeks, a former U.S. Army helicopter and fixed-wing pilot, has also flown for regional and fractional airlines. She has more than 5,000 hours and is the founder of the nonprofit organization Girls With Wings, Inc. (

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Amelia Earhart Book Review

You can't say that you don't get a wide variety of topics covered in this blog. I'm going to change things up a bit with a book review featuring Amelia Earhart: The Sky’s no Limit, by Lori Van Pelt. A Young Adult Novel in the American Heroes series.

Often when I am speaking to an audience, I joke about how people respond when I say that I’m a pilot. Sometimes, but thankfully not too often, someone will remark, “Huh. I didn’t know there were any girl pilots.” To which I respond, sometimes out loud, “Well, surely you’ve heard of Amelia Earhart. There’s one.”

The problem is that Amelia Earhart has become so well known for her tragic end instead of her many accomplishments. Not only was she the 16th woman to earn her pilot’s license, she was also instrumental in forming the Ninety-nines, the Organization of Women Pilots and served as its first president. This book chronicles her many feats of “firsts” (most of which I was completely unaware) without sounding like a textbook making it appropriate for pre-teens on up and I heartily recommend it.

Lori Van Pelt’s retelling of the challenges the racers endured during first Women’s Air Derby is riveting, as well as her other flights in sometimes minimally engineered or maintained airplanes long before the technological advances that have made pilot tasks today center around an autopilot and a flight management system. In my earliest days of flying, I remember hearing, and much to my great chagrin, repeating, that Amelia was not “a very good pilot.” This book relates those retold incidents that might have led to this criticism, and explains the certainly justifiable and understandable circumstances of many of them. As accounts from that time relate, in the early days of aviation the odds against the pilots and the risks of catastrophic outcomes were much greater. These were the days were not too far away from the old adage of “a good landing is one you walk away from, a great landing is one after which you can use the airplane again.”

So what I love about this book is that it is such a warm, affectionate biography of who Amelia was and how it formed her personality and led her to achieve so many things in a flying career cut much too short. The story begins during her tomboy childhood and youth, relating a less than stellar family life that caused her to become more independent than the other women of her day. Though trained in nursing and social work, she was determined to become a pilot and was fortunate to be launched into the public eye by riding, not flying, as the first woman on a transatlantic flight (later successfully piloting herself I might add – and setting a speed record). As Van Pelt relates, for this girl who was captioned in her yearbook as “the girl in brown who walks alone,” her determination in getting her license strengthened her for the notoriety she was about to endure.

This book brings a depth to the legend that is Amelia Earhart. Although written for a young adult audience, I found it completely enjoyable as a light and informative read. Amelia was a tireless advocate for women in aviation, devoting every spare minute to speeches, lectures, and articles, all the while flying test and demonstration flights, breaking speed records, promoting women’s interest in aviation, becoming a VP for a commuter airline, advocating women’s rights, etc. And to be able to give her the respect she deserves as a pilot as well, you need the ability to see her at work in the cockpit that Van Pelt provides in her narratives.

The drama which unfolds during the preparations for her round the world record setting flight would have broken a weaker constitution. I was humbled by her seemingly inexhaustible energy. As Van Pelt describes, “…she continued her lecture schedule, took on additional work helping [her husband and manager] with preflight tour details, studied geography and weather throughout the world to better acquaint herself with the countries she would fly to, and even made time to engage in some campaigning for the Democrats during the presidential election year.” I doubt most people would have remained as poised and composed under the multitude of delays and mechanical difficulties.

Though there are more in-depth, comprehensive biographies of Amelia, this provides a well balanced overview of her life and her accomplishments. And is much more informative than the movie, “Amelia,” which scarcely touched on the numerous aspects to her life. Really, to understand Amelia, you have to read more about her and I suggest you start with reading this book. She gained the admiration of many with her flying skills, of the world with her feats, but remained modest and privately conscious of the limitations of her abilities and worked to overcome them. As she herself said, “Please know that I am aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.” Amelia did in fact achieve what most of us can only wish to do, to serve as a role model and inspire countless of pilots in the eighty three years since her brave attempt to do no less than circumnavigate the entire world.

 Please visit Lori Van Pelt's website to order the book. Other photos from Wikipedia.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Final Episode of AcroCamp

May 17th. The last day of AcroCamp. Thinking about going home, I posted, It's the last day of AcroCamp. NOW what will I do?

To continue the solo discussion from the last post: I also achieved a measure of proficiency in the Citabria, and so I tweeted, “If the winds cooperate I may get to solo the Citabria at #AcroCamp too.” Like the other campers, I spent a session doing some traffic patterns and getting comfortable landing the taildragger. Barry and I decided to take a break and get back in the air – at which time he hoped to get out and let me go it alone. I even wore my AcroCamp polo for the occasion, excited because technically I had never actually had a solo ride that would qualify me for the shirt ceremony.

Good news: I got the skills and the confidence to solo the Citabria. Bad news: Mother Nature decided to kick up the wind.

Well, the second flight was a mess. First, I guess I was back to being a bit nervous. As I taxied up and held short of the runway, I attempted to call tower and state my intentions to do closed traffic. I keyed the mike to identify myself (with my type airplane and the tail number) and said, “Sigh-, Sigh-Sigh…” I was literally staring at the placard in the airplane that said Citabria and tried to get out “Sit” for “Si-Tah-Bree-Ah.” No, instead all I could do was start to say, “Sigh-Tay-Shun” my most recent airplane. Of course everything we said was being recorded because of the documentary, but all transmissions with ATC are not only recorded, they are broadcast. So Kent, or @ flyingcheezhead tweeted, “Funny moment departing #AcroCamp: listening to @GirlsWithWings call tower and not be able to say "Citabria" instead of "Citation." ;-) ROFL”

Alas, now the winds were picking up and were not right down the runway, much less light and variable. No, they were pretty much kicking the left side of my butt. This was fine under normal circumstances, since you need to be able to land the airplane no matter what the weather, but we were short on time and I was not going to get proficient in the time left. “Completely bummed. The wind has cursed my plans for soloing the Citabria.”

So I got the spin endorsement, but not the tailwheel endorsement. There was one more thing I had to do. My two Pitts rides were less than spectacular. I wanted to have at least one amazing ride in this thing. Don talked to me a bit about recognizing what I needed in my instruction, “Tell, Show, DO” and so we went up to finish AcroCamp with a bang. As a future flight instructor, I need to learn from Don and Barry and be able also to recognize how best to instruct each student – because not everyone learns the same way. I finally learned my lesson about getting situated in the front seat, too. I not only was sitting on about a foot and a half of cushions (so I could see) I was also wearing some Nike sneakers Ben had outfitted with lifts. They're on my feet, but I'm kind of hiding them. Surprisingly, they're not that hard to walk in. One just feels a bit like Lady Gaga. Or Lady LaLa, as it were.

Here’s a list of what we did on that last flight (in no particular order, for those of you who are checking for “energy management” compliance):
Half Cubans
Reverse Half Cubans
Hammerheads with roll spins (at least I think this is what Don wrote in my logbook) such as the one shown here:

Flat Spins and recovery
Aileron rolls
Barrel rolls
Inverted flight and turns
Point rolls
Outside ½ loop and tail slides
Torque rolls
Pull Pull Pull and a Pull Push Pull Humpty.

See it under the wing in this picture?
Obviously a couple of those require explanation. First, a tail slide. No, first let me tell you about something on the Pitts (and most other aerobatic airplanes). On the left wing (remember how I mentioned you look at the relationship of the left wing to the horizon to level the airplane?) there is a protrusion designed to allow the pilot to recognize what angle to the horizon they’re in. For example, a Cuban requires to be 5/8ths into a loop. How are you gonna know that? The Citabria’s indicator was pretty simple, just a rod with the end bent a bit. The Pitt’s one had probably 6 or 8 spokes on it. The Pitts one also had a 6 inch length of string tied on it. This was so (I can’t imagine any aerodynamic need for it) the pilots could go vertical and see the string streamlining straight down. I suppose there was an instant at the top of the vertical climb when the airplane was just hanging there that the string stayed straight down because of gravity. But then, the string bent. And then folded back on itself. And then, as the airplane descended vertically backwards, the string completely reversed directions!
Finally, a picture of my G Meter Hair!

And the humpties. You can refer to for a description of all of these maneuvers, but I’ll try my best to explain. The Pull Pull Pull means you pull back on the stick to go straight up. Pull again, to go over the top and straight down, then pull back to level flight. The Pull Push Pull means you pull back on the stick to go vertical, then PUSH to come over the top and head straight down toward the ground – kind of like being in a roller coaster. This was a great way to conclude this camp, because this was my nightmare scenario. I couldn’t imagine having that view – but again, by the end of training, it was a BLAST. (Note: I’m definitely not saying I’d ever go rent an airplane and do this myself – my confidence came from knowing Don OWNED the Pitts, if you know what I mean.)

After the flight, I was wrung out. But because I skipped out on an earlier dinner, I stuck around to have dinner with #AcroCamp crew before I had to drive back to CLE.  I wasn’t much fun, I admit. I ordered a huge steak to celebrate my huge achievements, then got in the car to return home. It was definitely time to wake up in my own bed. My next tweet: "CLE arrival 2am post #AcroCamp. Despite my best efforts on trip home, the Honda couldn't execute maneuvers nearly as well as the Pitts.”

Well, that's my adventures at AcroCamp. I hope you enjoyed reading about them as much as I enjoyed having them (fat chance!). Please stay tuned to the AcroCamp blog to find out when the documentary will be released.  Check out more pictures at

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Day 3 of AcroCamp (Callsign spoilers!)

The next morning, I got up early to study. Perhaps you’ve heard me mention that I think that women need to feel like they understand something to feel comfortable doing it. This is me to a T. Me being me, I tweeted, “I have the takeoffs and landings down in the Pitts, but I still need to master that part in the middle.” Master. As if I ever could in a four day "Camp."

Day 3 (May 16th). We got back up into the Pitts in the morning, which I was kind of dreading because I felt I had showed Don the day before that I wasn’t getting this. Now my problem was that reading it in a book and doing it in an airplane (at least for me) were two different things. I am very visual, and needed to see what I need to do before I can do it. For example, the ½ Cuban dictates that you transition from level flight into 5/8s of a loop to the inverted 45° line, 1/2 roll to erect down 45° line, pull to level flight. Makes perfect sense, right? So having barely been there to do it the day before, I tried to put into practice what I had read in the book. As well as reverse ½ Cubans, which I prefer, inverted spin recoveries, loops, slow rolls etc. But by this time they had plugged the leak between the canopy and the airframe (if not the one in my head), so I could hear and I wasn’t freezing! And I got to tweet, “I made the mistake of sticking my tongue out during a reverse cuban. I had to wait til we pulled out to pick it up from the floor.” I am now scared to see the footage from the cameras. I can only imagine what funny faces were captured.

The rest of the day I spent entirely in the Decathlon and worked on my spins. The last time I had done any spins was during my transition from helicopters to fixed wing 15 years ago. During which I screamed. A lot. So Barry and I went out and talked about energy management and spins so he could give me my spin endorsement in preparation for my CFI training, which attests that I received “flight training in stall awareness, spin entry, spins and spin recover procedures…and find her to possess instructional proficiency and competency in these areas.” Posted “Sweet. Just got my spin endorsement. After all this training, those are such a non-event!” on twitter.

We all have our fears, though, don’t we? For one of the other campers, Paul, or “Gump” - you should hear his Forrest impression - it was formation flying. A good number of pilots have a fear of heights, me among them. But for Paul, he was really freaked out by flying side by side with another plane. I thought this was going to weird for me too when Don and Paul wanted to give it another shot, this time flying in formation with me and Barry. For whatever reason, it didn’t bother me at all. Even when Don pulled away in the Pitts and did some amazing rolls as he was flying away. It was like being IN an airshow as opposed to AT an airshow.

[P.S. The explanation for this picture, as given by Steve Tupper, the director of the documentary: Don told me during the camp that he had discovered some FOD (short for foreign object damage or stuff that can cause it - usually pocket change, the occasional mobile phone, etc.) in the cockpit during a flight with Paul on Day 3. I just happened upon the footage about 14:00 into the flight. Don rolls inverted and sees the FOD just above Paul's head. He taps Paul on the head to get him to move a little and then snatches it in this frame grab.]

During the down times we all mostly hung out in the lobby of the flight school, melting into the cushions of the couch. And what a comfortable couch it was. I posted, “I just had to take my first nap here at AcroCamp. This is a workout.” Sleeping at camp wasn’t the same, either. The hotel bed seemed to go inverted and executed up to and including steep turns at will. Picture taken by ISUHawkeye.

Don’s wife is a massage therapist, and she undid the damage from compressing our spines during the maneuvers. Oh, right, I forgot to tell you about the Gs, which are measured in the airplane on an accelerometer. The trick with aerobatics is actually to keep the G's as low as possible, so that the maneuvers are planned, smooth and under control. Positive, or "upward" g, drives blood downward to the feet of a seated or standing person (more naturally, the feet and body may be seen as being driven by the upward force of the floor and seat, upward around the blood). Resistance to positive g varies. A typical person can handle about 5 g before G- LOC (or Loss of Consciousness), but through the combination of special g-suits and efforts to strain muscles—both of which act to force blood back into the brain—modern pilots can typically handle 9 g sustained (for a period of time) or more (this is how Michele became 6G – almost forcing Don into G-LOC – which eventually became her call sign “G.”). BTW Resistance to "negative" or "downward" g, which drives blood to the head, is much lower. This limit is typically in the −2 to −3 g range.

So on this, the third day of AcroCamp, folks were coming in, like Rod, of myTransponder, who brought snacks (!), and Kent, another twitter friend who was returning from an aerial tour of Niagara Falls. Unfortunately, friends were also leaving. We said goodbye to Dave and then to fellow camper, Jim. Although Jim earned the callsign “Flubber” at the beginning of camp, he didn’t deserve it by the end of camp. Jim found a home in taildraggers and was able to solo the Citabria before he left. “G” soloed both the Citabria and the Super D! I was also hoping to solo an airplane and get the back cut out of my shirt.

Wait. What? Get the back cut out of my shirt?

In American aviation lore, the traditional removal of a new pilot's shirt tail is a sign of the instructor's new confidence in his student after successful completion of the 1st solo flight. In the days of tandem trainers, the student sat in the front seat, with the instructor behind. As there were often no radios in these early days of aviation, the instructor would tug on the student pilot's shirttail to get his attention, and then yell in his ear. A successful first solo flight is an indication that the student can fly without the instructor ("instructor-less" flight). Hence, there is no longer a need for the shirt tail, and it is cut off by the (often) proud instructor, and sometimes displayed as a trophy.

Stay tuned for the next edition of my AcroCamp journal to find out if I my shirt stayed intact...

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Tips on Funding Flight Training

I was doing a little website maintenance (I tell myself to do only a little at a time, or I tend to get overwhelmed - there's six years worth of work there on and came across a page I wrote with advice for people looking for scholarships. Since we are now in the application window for the GWW Scholarship, it seemed a timely coincidence. I wrote this a couple of years ago after being frustrated yet again for getting an email that said something like, "I am very interested in your scholarship. Can you tell me if I'm eligible?" And I am so tempted to tell the person to go to the website and click on that little button on the navigation bar that says simply SCHOLARSHIP and start reading, for the love of all things obvious. And simple. Deep breath. I get enough of the emails that I thought a longer response necessary and so wrote the following webpage:

Scholarships and Financial Aid

(This is long, but "required reading." Please do not send an email to Girls With Wings asking about the scholarship before you read this information.)

So you want to fly (or dispatch or maintain, etc.) airplanes? Great! Aviation professionals are a special bunch and we usually have a lot of energy and enthusiasm for our pursuits. Well, you’re going to need it. Nothing in life is easy (how many times have you heard that before?), but more importantly, nothing in life worth anything is easy! So, it is time to hunker down and get to work on making your dream a reality. Feel free to take notes.

Funding a career in aviation can be quite intimidating (the necessary amount does, after all, involve a lot of digits). But just as we must do a lot of research and study before jumping in an airplane to go fly, we must also do our homework on scholarships, schools, instructors, etc. First, the bad news: there is no easy solution to getting money for training. Wouldn't it be great if we could send a message to a rich person or organization just informing them that we want to fly and get a check in the mail? Ha. You wouldn’t believe how many emails I receive from people thinking I am willing and able to do this just because they drop a quick email. You may be the most amazing person in the world, but it is not that effortless - unless you have a trust fund, and that still jumps only ONE of the many hurdles you’ll have to go through. From day one, the decision to learn to fly (or dispatch or maintain, etc.) is going to be a journey.

Write at the top of your notepaper what you want to do. “I want to be a Commercial Airline Pilot.” “I want to be launched into space by 2020” (hopefully you'll be an astronaut). And so on. There. That is your goal. Now everything you do from this point forward should move you toward this goal. This is your Mission in Life. The earlier you set yourself up in the beginning to achieve this, the more successful you’ll be. Get your Googler ready.  Now, start typing and try to find people that have been successful doing this – read their memoirs, send them emails, etc. Use the Girls With Wings role model page too! Learn from their experiences. You may even discover that you’ll change your mind and head towards a different goal.

So now, start figuring out where you’re going to get your training for your dream job. College? Flight School? Military? Post a message on the Girls With Wings message board so you can find out how it’s working for other people: the reality of it for people in every stage of their training. Sound like too much work? It may be a small investment of your time to avoid some major goofs later (just ask my friend who paid a lot of money to go to a flight school where half of his flight time could not be logged – wasted coinage, people!). Got your flight plan - your destination and your route - planned out? Good, let’s crank ‘er up and take off. Oh wait; we forgot to add the fuel: the funds, the moolah, the cold hard cash….

Unless you have the aforementioned trust fund, this is going to be expensive. Estimates on the cost of a private pilots license is anywhere from $7000 to $10,000. Yup, there it is in black and white (or rather navy and white). You can use grants (usually through the government), loans, an earned income (that’s another way of saying a job), or scholarships, to help you on your way. Of course, we would love the kinds of money that don’t have to be paid back later. For instance, FastWeb offers a free scholarship search. (Registration is required.) This resource will also help you search and compare colleges, as well as find jobs and internships. For the most part, I advise using loans as a last resort, since it will be a long time til you are making a decent living in aviation – and compounding interest is expensive.

Grants: The Federal Student Aid program awards billions of dollars in grants, work-study, and low-interest loans to students and their families. You apply for these with one form, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which is available in January of the year you plan to enroll in college. Talk to your school counselor and teachers for ideas. In addition to helping you acquire federal student aid, many colleges offer grants, scholarships, and other aid packages of their own. There are many resource centers dedicated to helping students obtain information that will help you plan and finance a college education. A great example is TERI, whose Web site offers valuable college planning resources and information. TERI manages college-planning centers that offer one-on-one student guidance. You can find similar access programs in your state by visiting the National College Access Program Directory.

You may not be going to college because you’ve already graduated, or don’t feel it’s right for you, etc., so then what? Are you a lost cause if you don’t go to study Aviation Operations at a University? ...Have I convinced you to visit the message board yet? There are special sections that address other ways of pursuing your dream. We try to post on there as soon as we hear about any new aviation opportunity. Also, consider asking the Girls With Wings role models featured on the website individually to ask how they researched, worked at and financed their goals. They might be able to direct you to industry specific assistance currently available. They may have even gone the “easy” route and had the military pay for their training. Is this for you? That’s a personal decision and it’s tough to get one of those rare flying slots in the military. Plus, you then have to WORK for the military, and this may be your job for years! And the work is not easy, take it from me. But this is an option to research.

So now to the most popular way of paying for training: Scholarships! Yes, just stand under the wealth-erfall with a bucket and catch all that money spouting out all over the place… Bzzz (that’s an alarm clock awaking you from that dream). Got your Google on yet? - Use the internet find scholarships! As silly as it sounds, there are so many scholarships out there that just go unused. Not only to organizations like Women in Aviation, International, have flight training and other scholarships, but also non-aviation organizations such as those for just women in general, or local scholarships, such as through your Rotary or Kiwanis because people either don’t find out about them or never get around to filling out the application. A good place to start is or [p.s. The Wolf Aviation Fund made a contribution to Girls With Wings as we were getting started. This, as I will talk about in a sec, involved a thorough application process….]

Now all you have to do is send them an email – proper spelling, punctuation, capitalization and grammar optional. Just fire them off a fragment of a sentence (don’t even waste your time with a whole one), just telling them to send you a full bucket. By overnight delivery. Include a smiley face. Woo-hoo, that was easy.  Yeah, right. I assure you I take into consideration scholarship applications that are sent to me that I have to spell check before I can even comprehend them! It appears that the applicant doesn't care about the little things, and yes, as a pilot, it's those little things that can lead to big mistakes.

You have a choice to make here, people! Take the high road or the low lazy road. Invest some time and energy now and it will pay off later! What do I mean? Make yourself irresistible. Show your worth, your potential, and your strengths from Day 1.  What does your resume look like? Were you a Girl Scout? Were you in the Civil Air Patrol? Have you received any awards? What have your various jobs taught you? Aww, nothing, you say, nothing I can put on a resume….  I disagree (and I don’t even know you!). If you have the drive to get into aviation, you surely have accomplished other things in your life. That job working the counter at the fast food joint – wasn’t that “customer service?” Didn’t that teach you to deal with unhappy clients and resolve conflict (a very good skill to have in a two person cockpit)? Here is a link to a very basic resume starter. But don’t stop there.  Keep updating and improving your resume – the easiest and most professional way to inform a potential financial supporter of your worth (and why they should invest in you). Add a cover letter to it; explaining in paragraph form what you are seeking by sending your resume…  aw, you’re golden!

And to whom do you send this golden resume? I found information on and links to numerous scholarships by typing in a search for, you guessed it, “Aviation Scholarships.” Some of them are posted on message boards. An online search is always a useful place to start. Aviation Societies and Associations offer scholarship and other aid programs. Some may focus on a particular field or on a particular group of applicants (e.g., women or minorities). You can locate organizations by doing a Web search and by checking out the Sloan Career Cornerstone Center, which offers a comprehensive list of math, science, and engineering societies and associations.

But wait. Don’t just fire off that application until you search for and READ THE REQUIREMENTS! That’s in capitals because it’s important. I’ll even yell it out again. READ THE REQUIREMENTS!  What good will it do to send off a perfect resume if it's received two days past the deadline? What if you fax it and it was supposed to be mailed? Or mailed instead of faxed? What if the scholarship was for Inuits in Alaska and you’re a Southern girl, born and bred? Not only are you wasting your time, you’re wasting the organization’s time (aviation is a small community – and you don’t want to burn any bridges you might have to cross later on. Swimming tends to wrinkle our interview suits *hint-hint*). For example, why send an email to ask about a scholarship in March when the scholarship has been clearly defined as being announced in July (yes, I’m referring to the GWW scholarship, btw, but still people call and email anyway – renew my faith in my sisters, please!). READ the scholarship guidelines, look for a FAQ page, and if you still have a question, send a clear, professional, polite email to them (illustrating you read the information, but still have a point to clarify). The assumed faceless board of scholarship-awarding-people may be just one decision-making-person that appreciated/ remembered the email you sent (ah-ha, you made a good first impression!).

Uggh, you say. That’s a lot of work. I might get the scholarship anyway with little to zero effort, wouldn’t that be great? Yes, if you believe luck is going to get you what you want out of life. You buy lottery tickets, don’t you? Take ten minutes to scribble out an essay and it will take the scholarship evaluation board ten seconds to disregard your application (you will clearly convey that you don’t care all that much – and why would they give their money to someone who will fritter it away?). The first scholarship applications (like your college entrance apps, if you went that route) are tough. But then you learn the tricks of the trade, and get into the groove, and, hey, this is kind of fun (since it’s reminding me to keep my grades up, and do a little volunteer work, and do a better job of keeping my logbook up to date, etc.).

Finally, I wish I had an easy answer for you. I joke around a lot because if all I did was tell you it was tough, you’d stop reading and go get your bucket and wait for pennies from heaven. The scholarship process has been made a bit easier by the internet; now you can find out just how many there are available to you. What hasn’t - and will never change - is that the process is just as long as it’s ever been. Once you find out about an available scholarship, you still have to apply by the deadline and sit and wait to find out if you’ve won.

Did you read this whole thing? Awesome. See, you’re already willing to invest what it will take to be successful. Now, just keep it going! If you ever need any encouragement from Girls With Wings, get on the message board and let us know. We want to see you succeed, that’s why we’re here. Good luck to you and keep us posted on your progress!

Ok, now read the requirements for the Girls With Wings Scholarship!

...Sadly, I don't think this often gets read because I still get emails asking the same questions time and again. You can lead a horse to water and all that. Thankfully, the vast majority of the scholarship applicants and, of course, winners, are truly gems. I only wish I could offer more scholarships.... Wait, we did go from one $1000 award to TWO this year... so maybe we can keep increasing the number of deserving applicants. With help from people like you. Donate to next year's scholarship here. Thank you.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Post Oshkosh Recap

Or should we call it Splosh-Kosh? Yes, this year's EAA AirVenture was a mire of muck and mud for the first few days, necessitating my car's rescue from my new best friend, John Deere. I wasn't the only one needing a tug, however, so bravo to those who made it in to Camp Scholler and, for the most part, kept their spirits up (and stayed civil) despite permanent dirt stains on everything from feet to tarp. We arrived on Friday evening, but within two days new arrivals were being turned away from Scholler and sent to stay in parking lots around Oshkosh until things dried out - which, thankfully, they eventually did. The mosquitoes didn't receive this message to stay away, and in fact invited all of their friends to come on by as well, so for the first time at an Oshkosh I leaked like a sieve every time I drank too much water. The officials at EAA say that attendance was down only 7%, but given the desolation of the North 40 - where people who fly in to KOSH stay under the wing of their plane - I would have thought the percentage would have been higher. However, people who have decided to visit the Mecca of Aviation Enthusiasts will find a way and so perhaps they walked, thumbed a ride or pedaled their bikes instead.

You can see my sister in the picture above - she lives about an hour away from Oshkosh and has come nearly all of the five times we've had a booth to help set up (you'd think she'd learn to lock the doors and turn off the phone by mid July). Her one week short of 13 year old son, Emmett, also helped to set up and "man" the booth on Monday. I was really quite proud of him. He jumped in with both feet to learn the pitch to tell people about Girls With Wings - so visitors know that we are a non-profit organization selling items for fundraising, not to pad our pockets (note my 12 year old car in photo above...). After setting up the booth on Saturday, helping Grandpa on Sunday and then working the booth on opening day, Em was wiped out and was rescued again by mom on Monday afternoon. We hope to have him back next year - he said he's willing, now that he know the ropes.

I personally spent a few days at the beginning of Osh helping out with Women Soar You Soar -
"Now in its 6th year, the Women Soar You Soar program is shaping up to be one of the best thanks to the number of quality applications pouring in from young women and the generosity shown through scholarship contributions. A 3-day event at the EAA Aviation Center, is designed to engage, inspire, and educate young women from grades 9-12 to pursue their dreams in aviation and beyond. The program includes activities such as flight simulation, workshops, career exploration, and more." 
Shown in the picture to the right is Jill Long, a Girls With Wings Role Model, USAF Squadron Commander and Airshow Pilot, taking a few minutes to tell the girls how she caught the bug to start flying. This was a wonderful event - and in my informal polling of the girls the only criticism was that the program wasn't LONGER!

In between Women Soar events, I was running back and forth to the GWW booth to sign copies of our new book, Penelope Pilot and her First Day as Captain (you can purchase a copy online and get one signed as well). Despite attempting to have specific times to do author's signings, many folks wander the AirVenture grounds with no particular schedule so I put myself on a short leash to always be available to personalize the book especially for its eventual recipient. As far as I can tell, the book was purchased for a wide range of reasons - a keepsake for the airline pilot who had just become a Captain, for the kids of the family that the Oshkosh attendee rented a house from, for a daughter, granddaughter, niece, sister, etc., etc., etc., or other young girl in someone's life who could use an inspirational story with lessons in teamwork and responsibility.... But people also bought this book for the male equivalents in the list above. First, because this is not a book just for girls - though it does feature one as its main character, but also because BOYS also need to understand that "Yes, Girls Can Fly!" We sold hundreds of books onsite in one week! Alas, we should have thought to bring more of the matching Penelope Pilot t-shirt....  And our new Girls Need Flight Plans, Not Fairy Tales! dress.... But we're always learning how to do things better.

P.s. if you are looking for a way to schedule your time at Oshkosh, consider using OSHplanner. This is a wonderful tool to bookmark all of the events you would like to attend while at AirVenture.

Speaking of events, the guys from Youth Aviation Adventure and I again put on our popular seminar that we first presented at the Women in Aviation 2010 conference.
7/31/2010 - 8:30 AM - 9:45 AM - Forum Pavilion 11: Starting an Aviation Outreach Program for Kids - Love aviation? Like working with kids? Worried about the decline in the pilot population? Then start an outreach program to get kids excited about aviation. It's not that hard to do and it's fun. You'll find plenty of volunteer help with your fellow pilots. Come hear how two organizations started their programs from scratch. Learn not only how to do it, but how to avoid problems along the way. 
I will be honest with you here,  our talk on attracting kids into aviation was not well attended (thought several representatives from the FAA were there, a good sign). Maybe it was because it was held at 8:30 am on a hot, muggy, buggy, cloudy morning, but, as one of the people who did attend mention: the room should have been packed. Not because they should come see me (though I think that would be reason enough, no?) but because the future in aviation depends on getting the next generation(s) hyped up about it as much as we are!

Case in point, one of my honorary Dudes With Wings, Aiden, who came with his dad, Keith to Oshkosh for the first time. These two aviation fanatics spent a full week together exploring Oshkosh and helping out with the booth. Aiden also celebrated his 7th birthday there with a helicopter ride. How cool is that? [Note this DWW's super sweet unisex "Pi-let" t-shirt. The guy knows how to represent.]

Besides these two and my nephew, my Dad also (and always) helps getting ready, staffing and tearing down the booth. What a trooper! And Honorary Girl With Wings, Erika (Callsign Egg) helped for a second year. This was Blackhawk pilot Jacqui's first year working at the booth and she did so with a broken foot! Besides this core of volunteers, we also had, and I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart: Brenda S., Courtney G., Danika M., Barbara M., Carol S., Cindy H., Kate Z. and Lin C., another GWW Role Model. If I have forgotten to put your name here, I apologize. Commence berating.

As far as spreading the word about Girls With Wings, I partook (partaked?) in quite a few interviews, like this one for Aero News: "What if Little Girls Played with Airplanes?" [Several people rightly answered that they DID know some girls that played with airplanes... Fair enough. I didn't choose the title for the article and wasn't asserting they didn't. In fact, the homepage of GWW currently features my niece having a pretty good time with one.]  MySkyMom also published this great picture on her blog after we spoke (story forthcoming). We'll also soon be on Pilots Journey Podcast and FlightTime Radio. Who else did I miss? Oh, I also was interviewed on EAA Radio! Having attempted for over an hour to embed the mp3 file rather unsuccessfully, I'll have to ask you to jump on over to this page to listen to the interview. Sorry and thanks. I'm sure I've forgotten something - I should learn to take notes during this week as some information always gets lost in the melee. There's just always so much going on!

Amid all of this, we still found time (energy?) for some tweetups, like myTransponder's, some beer-and-brat-ing, and visiting with new and old friends - some of whom we'd never met, other than in cyberspace, but unfortunately too numerous to mention. It was, again, a whirlwind, exhausting experience for us all. And therefore I can't wait til Oshkosh 2011. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 2 of AcroCamp

Day 2. I think that Don and Barry really know what they’re doing. Instead of going right back into more advanced maneuvers, we had a little warmup session (remember, this was WAY out of my comfort zone and I needed to get back in the groove). I can’t read Barry’s writing of what we did that morning, but I tweeted, “Is it really only day 2 of #AcroCamp? Feels like longer, 'cause I feel like I'm getting the hang of it (hanging from my straps, that is).”

We campers were also having the time of our lives hanging out with some VIPs in the aviation world. Besides Steven Tupper, of Airspeed Online and the creator of this project, we had other folks you might have seen around twitter. The filming was being done by Will Hawkins, of A Pilot’s Story documentary, and David Allen, social networking extraordinaire, whose dream job is to be Ubiquitous Super-Plantery Test Pilot (the guy who flies anything and everything, anytime, anywhere, because he can). Together they do the Pilots Flight PodLog. We were visited by Roger Bishop, of IndyTransponder, who gave us some teaser videos for this year’s airshow in Indiana on June 11-13. Another podcaster, Jack Hodgson, of Uncontrolled Airspace, was there interviewing us for a yet-to-be-named-project featuring AcroCampers (I’ll let you know when he knows). We also saw Rod Rakic, of myTransponder: Making Aviation more Social. Ben Phillips, a photographer, was there as well. I know he got some great pictures of Michele, or “G”, so I’m hoping I’ll see more soon.

Oh, did I not mention MY call sign from the camp? Well, it became “La-La” because of the tendency to put my fingers in my ears and chant La La La La La when I think I’ma gonna hear something I won’t like. For example, when others were coming back from their flights raving about what they had done, I didn’t want to hear something I’d dread doing. Ignorant bliss.

Anyway, it didn’t seem to be necessary. This was May 15th, btw, so I tweeted, “I'm celebrating International Learn to Fly day by learning to feel comfortable upside down. It DOES get easier.” But then I got a ride in the Pitts. If you don’t know what a Pitts is, you probably would picture it exactly if someone were to say to you, “aerobatic airplane.” It’s smallish, with two stubby wings, and two small seats. Yes, the seat is small, but my legs are short. These airplanes were not made for us vertically challenged gals. My first ride in the Pitts had three major issues. One, I could barely reach the pedals or see over the dash. So I had to ..s..t..r..e..t..c..h.. to see to taxi the darn thing. The nose is up so high on this airplane on the ground that you have to point the aircraft toward one side of the taxiway, look ahead of you, then do nearly a 90 degree turn toward the other side of the taxiway, and look out the other side of the canopy to see that no one is in your way. By this time they were using the opposite end of the runway so this made for a very long taxi!

Two, there was a gap between the canopy and the airframe. May in Michigan is considered winter anywhere else and this made for a very cold bite at my neck and had me shivering (but only til we turned upside down again). The wind also caused problem three, because it was hitting the mike and breaking squelch. I had the volume up to try to hear Don over the noise, but the whole flight sounded as if I was in a metal box full of ball bearings! We soldiered on anyway and did some upright spins, aileron rolls, loops, inverted flight, hammerheads, ½ Cubans and reverse ½ Cubans, and Immelmans. I posted “Quick update: I did two flights in the Citabria... and then one in the Pitts! Yeah, buddy. You name a maneuver, and I most likely did it.”

What I learned from this flight was… don’t do “good enough” in getting ready to go fly an airplane. The above problems which distracted me from the training. I kept forgetting to look left. When Don said, “do a loop,” I couldn’t really hear him. Did he say, “do a loop?” “Did he mean now?” Which made me very hesitant in doing the maneuvers – which somewhat decreased the confidence I had built up, even though I was able to at least land the thing myself. I posted, “My dream airplane has always been a Pitts and it's exactly as I imagined. SO responsive and crisp. Immelmans, Hammerheads, Cubans, Spins. Landing the thing is interesting; you have to listen for the runway because you sure as heck can't see it.”

Before I went back to the hotel room, I celebrated a first with Don’s son, Andrew: “I also was the first passenger for the 17 year old son of one of the instructors. Guy doesn't even have his driver's license but he OWNS that Archer.” He’d been in that airplane since he was 2 months old, and was so completely comfortable in it. Truly impressive. Wish I had been able to come close to that kind of proficiency in two days!