Sunday, March 28, 2010

NASA, Girl Scouts and Girls With Wings

Last Saturday I went to space. See?

Ok, ok. I went to the Space Station Science Day at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, OH, that was put on for about 200 Girl Scouts. Close enough? Trust me, at the end of the day I FELT as if I had completed an intergalactic trip. These girls have serious energy! Girls With Wings was invited to teach the girls about becoming a pilot because one of the requirements of commanding the spacecraft is having experience piloting a jet.

Because of the set-up of the day, we did not do our usual presentation, shown here. Instead, we fell into the different stations that were set up around the room. This way, the 120 2nd and 3rd graders there from 9 am to 12 pm and the 80 4th and 5th graders from 1 pm to 4 pm could go around the room and visit the stations they found interesting.

I had the help of members from my Lake Erie 99s chapter, who are so supportive of Girls With Wings. (Thanks, ladies!) We set up our five stations to progressively teach the girls about being a pilot. It was amazing to see the looks on the Girl Scouts' faces as they were told that, yes, all of the women working at these tables were, in fact, pilots!

Alice had the first station. She explained to the girls why we were there and showed them some of the tools we use to get to where we are going. They got a kick out of looking at the VFR (visual) charts around Cleveland and tried to figure out where their house was on the map. Then we talked about the charts we used when we couldn't see the ground and how you would the charts to navigate from one point to the next using the instruments in the airplane until you got to your destination. [A station is tuned up into the navigation radios and directs an arrow for the pilots to follow.]

Nancy (wearing her Civil Air Patrol flight suit) then talked about the other instruments in the cockpit. We used a glass display for this one. I like to tell the girls that I have to ask them ONE question, and if they can get the one question right - I know they have the potential to become an pilot as well. I point out the display right in front of the pilot's yoke and ask them why that screen is colored blue on the top and brown on the bottom. They always get it (well, maybe with one more hint or so) and I congratulate them on their obvious intelligence. Then I ask them what it means if one of their wings is shown below the horizon and the other above? Usually at least one girl out of every crowd gets it, no problem. Some times I have to demonstrate with my wings, otherwise known as arms, to show them we'd be turning. We try to get the girls to talk as much as possible with us instead of just talking to them. This method allows them to figure concepts out, building their confidence, and keeps them engaged. You'd be surprised what a seven year old knows. Even if she doesn't know that she knows it.

At the next station, Meigs discussed with the girls about Air Traffic Controllers and how to talk to them on the radio. I'm telling you, the girls always love to learn the phonetic alphabet!

At each table the 99s also asked the girls whatever questions they might have, so a lot of other subjects were covered. I had the next station, where I tried to recap to the girls what all they had learned. As I did, I pointed to each station and asked them what was discussed. The answers were interesting, to say the least. You just never know what is going to make an impression on someone!

After we summarized the lessons from the previous stations, the girls got to put what they learned into practice. We filled their engine with fuel (otherwise known as a balloon with air) and sent their airplane down the course to Florida. Sarah took a break from helping the girls try on uniforms to help these girls take flight. One girl would act as the pilot while another was her Air Traffic Controller. I was the mechanic, attaching the "engine" to the "airplane" with scotch tape. I made sure to point out that this was not standard operating procedure on a real airplane, where duct tape was more often used. Good thing girls have already developed a sense of humor by this age.

As I was walking down the hallway during the lunch break I heard some girls asking each other what their favorite station was. The answer I heard was, "the one where you got to try all the clothes on!" The parents took pictures with cell phones and cameras - which I hope end up on their facebook pages and in the girls' photo albums (or whatever suffices for albums these days).

Whatever we can do to leave a lasting impression was well worth it. It's very inspiring to know that these girls got excited over trying on my old uniforms.... Trust me, I don't give the appeal of the uniforms themselves that much credit. As my five year old niece watched me put on my airline uniform one day, she laughed uproariously at my "dressing like a dad!"

Later in the day, Lori, an employee of NASA herself and a pilot, took over Alice's table. I just met Lori at this event but already she assures me that she can hook me up with an astronaut to be on the Girls With Wings role model page. Sweet!

I didn't get a picture of the last volunteer, Darlene, but I will put up a picture that she took of this troop of girls sporting their GWW "Yes, Girls Can Fly!" tees available in the online GWW pilot shop.

All in all, as a first time attempt at setting up such tables, I think it went really well. I really appreciate the help from my fellow 99s and the effort that Dennis from NASA put into getting this event off the ground. I would also like to recognize the parents who made the effort to bring their girls to the Space Station event on a beautiful warm sunny Saturday in Cleveland (a pretty rare occurrence).

One note, though. Apparently the 2nd and 3rd grade slots were filled quickly, but the 4th and 5th graders took longer to register (and never made it up to the goal of 100 attendees). I wonder why that is? It seemed to me the older girls had just as much interest in the stations as the younger girls, so was it the parents who had lost interest in bringing their girls to such events? What do you think?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Acrocamp Airplanes

An obvious facet of this Acrocamp is the aerobatic airplanes, which I'll briefly explain in this post. [I'm going to pretend I'm educating you, but really I'm teaching myself. I told you I have like no small airplane experience! Just play along, ok?]

From the Acrocamp blog:
"Three aircraft will serve as the training platforms for the project. The first two, an American Champion Citabria and an American Champion Super Decathlon, are aerobatically-certified light aircraft that seat two pilots in tandem (the student in front and the instructor in back). Each is commonly used to teach basic aerobatics and to teach pilots how to fly a tailwheel airplane."

First, an American Champion Citabria:

The Citabria is a light single-engine, two-seat, fixed conventional gear airplane which entered production in the United States in 1964. Designed for flight training, utility, and personal use, it is capable of sustaining aerobatic stresses from +5g to -2g. Its name, "airbatic" spelled backward, reflects this.

If you're interested my google search for this airplane brought up a story in AOPA's Never Again. A good little read about checking the weather and how ATC can help a pilot out.

Next the American Champion Super Decathlon.

The Super Decathlon is a two-seat fixed conventional gear light airplanes designed for flight training and personal use and capable of sustaining aerobatic stresses between +6g and -5g. The Decathlon entered production in the United States in 1970 as a more powerful and stronger complement to the Citabria line of aircraft.

Interestingly enough, Steve Fossett was flying a Bellanca-built Super Decathlon when he went missing on September 3, 2007. He took off from an airstrip at William Barron Hilton's Flying-M Ranch, about 70 miles (110 km) southeast of Reno, Nevada. Remains of the plane were found 13 months later near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, just south of the original search area.

The Acrocamp blog continues:

Most small airplanes in use today are so-called “tricycle-gear” airplanes because they have two main wheels and the third wheel is on the nose, in front of the mains. Tailwheel airplanes have the third wheel far behind the mains, on the tail, and are often referred to as “taildraggers” for obvious reasons. It’s much harder to take off and land in a taildragger (in fact, the FAA requires that a pilot have a special endorsement in his or her logbook before acting as pilot in command of a taildragger). Most aerobatic airplanes are taildraggers.

The third aircraft is slated to be a Pitts S-2B normally operated by Berz Flight Training ( at Ray Community Airport west of New Haven. The Pitts is a taildragger like the Citabria and the Super Decathlon but, unlike the other two, it is a biplane that has two sets of wings – one on top and the other below. The Pitts is purpose-built for aerobatics, it can perform more extreme maneuvers, and it will serve as the advanced training platform beginning on the third day of the camp.

The Pitts Special is a light aerobatic biplane designed by Curtis Pitts. It has accumulated many competition wins since its first flight in 1944. The Pitts Special dominated world aerobatic competition in the 1960s and 1970s and, even today, remains a potent competition aircraft in the lower categories.
Specifically an S-2B is an Aerotek-built S-2A with a 260 hp (194 kW) Lycoming AEIO-540-D4A5 engine, and upper wing auxiliary fuel tank, the landing gear and upper wings were moved forward six inches; 196 built. The aircraft is out of production but is supported by Aviat Aircraft.

I found a YouTube video of Aerobatics in a Pitts S-2B to Pink Floyd's "Learning to Fly"

I've been joking about practicing for this Acrocamp by standing on my head. I think I might actually have to do it; couldn't hurt. We were told to read Basic Aerobatics by Geza Szurovy and Mike Goulian as homework. Maybe there will be tips in there that'll help... though I'm relatively sure you can't scream and throw up at the same time [I'm also sure which one will win out].

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I'm going to Camp. Acrocamp.

I've been alluding to some the many great things on the horizon for Girls With Wings, and one of those things is Acrocamp. Although admittedly I'm the only GWW going, this event is going to be made into a documentary featuring yours truly, the Executive Director of GWW. So any publicity arising from my upside down exploits benefits the organization, no?

I know... you're confused. In the words of Inigo Montoya, "Let me 'splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up."

A couple of months ago I heard about a project a guy I had met at Sun n Fun was working on: Acrocamp. [I just love this name. It deserves to be said with the same kind of flair as Bond. James Bond. IMHO.] As it was announced, "Four pilots from different walks of life and around the country gather in Michigan in May or thereabouts to take over a Part 61 flight school for four days and fly aerobatics for the first time."

I was hoping I was a shoe in for several different reasons, not the least of which is that Steve Tupper, the man behind Acrocamp, has a beautiful daughter Ella who I also met last year in Sun n Fun. According to Dad, I am her second favorite person in the whole world - obviously the Girls With Wings tattoo made a great impression on her.

Steve also loves my sense of humor (which is a rare but admirable quality in a person) and thinks my enthusiasm will play well on the camera (I hope he feels the same way about my regurgitative abilities). Additionally, although I am a 5000 hr pilot, I have very little experience in small airplanes and other than my spin training for my initial fixed wing license - no aerobatic training.

A couple of definitions for you non-flyers. According to the FAA: a spin in a small airplane or glider is a controlled (recoverable) or uncontrolled (possibly unrecoverable) maneuver in which the airplane or glider descends in a helical path (shaped like a helix) while flying at an AOA (Angle of Attack) greater than the critical AOA. Spins result from aggravated stalls in either a slip or a skid.

Because that is such a convoluted definition, I'll give you the Wikipedia definition of a stall, which is a bit easier to understand. Stalls in fixed-wing flight are often experienced as a sudden reduction in lift as the pilot increases angle of attack and exceeds the critical angle of attack (which may be due to slowing down below stall speed in level flight).

And as long as I'm there:

Aerobatics is the practice of flying maneuvers involving aircraft attitudes that are not used in normal flight. Aerobatics are performed in airplanes and gliders for training, recreation, entertainment and sport. Most aerobatic maneuvers involve rotation of the aircraft about its longitudinal (roll) axis or lateral (pitch) axis. Other maneuvers, such as a spin, displace the aircraft about its vertical (yaw) axis. Aerobatic flying requires a broader set of piloting skills and exposes the aircraft to greater structural stress than for normal flight. In some countries, the pilot must wear a parachute when performing aerobatics.

I know, sounds like fun, right?

Well, heck, I'm not doing this for the fun of it. No, I'm doing this for three reasons.

1. I'm 41 years old and haven't lived life on the edge for a while (some might say dedicating yourself to running a nonprofit when furloughed from your job is pretty risky, however). I have been known to skydive, rappel, etc., but not for some time. This is a great way to get my hair to stand on end again (literally). This is the kind of stuff that keeps us young!

2. I'm scared. Oh, heck, yes, I'm scared. When I did my spin training referenced above for the first time I scuh-reeeamed the whole way. And not just the first time. I'm pretty sure my instructor and I were on our fourth iteration before I could calm my vocal cords (hyperventilation ceased to be an issue on the second). Of course, we did them until I could enter and recover on my own, but still. And as I referenced in my post about Going Flyin' I'm going to be a flight instructor to some folks that just might try to kill me. I need the confidence of knowing I can recover from any, ahem, unusual maneuvers the students might attempt.

Which leads me to 3. Promoting Girls With Wings. I want to be able to show people who are considering getting into aviation that even though I'm scared (did I mention I am afraid of heights, too? Most pilots are.), I'm going to do this anyway. GWW is all about inspiring girls to reach their full potential and I want people to know that even if they're scared they should give it a go anyway. You might not succeed, but at least you you gave it a shot.

I am hoping not to fail during my aerobatics training, but just in case, they assure me I'll have a parachute.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Women Fly (Guest Blog)


This Girls with Wings Guest Blog: Women Fly, comes from GWW Role Model and Scholarship winner, Kam!

On March 6, I attended Women Fly at The Museum of Flight in Seattle’s “annual special event for young women interested in aviation and aerospace careers. Girls are invited to participate in a day of motivational and career-oriented activities that will allow them to meet and learn from professional women working in a variety of flight-related careers.”

How the day works out:

Dozens of middle and high school aged girls spend the day at the museum first attending, hour long career oriented workshops in the morning. Topics range from Boeing Field tour, FAA accident investigation, to helicopters. Followed by a panel discussion, lunch with mentors, small career and college fair, and an optional tour of the museum.

Facets of Aviation:

This year’s theme is international women pilot. The capstone of the event was a 6 person panel discussion:

Michelle Bassanesi (Italy) – Bassanesi is the founder of Aviation and Women in Europe. Bassanesi is a flight instructor with experience flying paragliders, hang gliders and airplanes.

Kajuju Laiboni (Kenya) - Co -founder of Women Aviators in Africa

Refilwe Ledwaba (South Africa) – A co-founder of Women Aviators in Africa, in 2006 Ledwaba became the first black woman helicopter pilot for the South African Police Service Air Wing.

Harumi Sato (Japan) – Sato is a flight instructor and has flown as a commercial pilot in the United States and as an airline pilot in Japan.

Fran West (Australia) – West is the first woman pilot to circumnavigate mainland Australia in a light aircraft. She is also an author, photographer and motivational speaker.

Jennie Steldt (United States) – Capt. Steldt is a United States Air Force pilot who flew the first C-17 Globemaster airdrop on Antarctica.

Karina Miranda (Chile) - Lt. Miranda is the first woman to fly for the Chilean Air Force. (Karina was unable to attend due to difficulty leaving Chili after the recent earthquake.)

The panel included young women in their 20’s and 30’s at the beginning of their aviation life, which surprised me. A younger crowd was a refreshing change, most panels I’ve attended have participants with decades of experience. No offense to our “mature” mentors, I’m simply jazzed at concept that one does not need decades of flying experience before being valued enough to share wisdom. Student pilot Kajuju Laiboni hails from Kenya and South African Police Service helicopter pilot, Refilwe Ledwaba , showed much enthusiasm over the budding organization, Women Aviators in Africa. Learn more about them at

The panel represented a wide range of pilots, from general aviation to military, to civilian commercial pilot, displaying a colorful array of women aviators in various roles. I can tell you that as a teenager, I did not know that flying is available to anyone outside the military. Common misconception.

*As a side note, my opinion is that panel discussions should never exceed 4 guests, ideally there should be 3. With six people plus a moderator, even with abbreviated introductions, there left little time for individual questions. I would have loved to hear more about each pilot, 6 minutes each was not enough to explore such a distinguished group of women. Group dynamics naturally defaults to one or two vocal speakers who field all the incoming inquiries.

New Role for Me

As a past employee and continuing volunteer at The Museum of Flight, I’ve worn many hats at Women Fly through the last decade. Registration table staff, workshop facilitator, Xerox girl, “next slide, please” girl, you name it, I’ve done it. 2010 marks my first year as a mentor. Even as a student pilot, I have a way to give back to my community. I’m glad I didn’t fall into the thinking that I need to be “accomplished” before becoming a mentor.

During the lunch portion, girls and mentors are assigned to tables. My table had three mentors, two seven graders, one freshmen, two college students. It was awkward at first, trying to draw out reserve young women into conversation. It took a bit of work to break the ice, but eventually they opened up and our table stayed together well after lunch in deep conversation, giving guidance to the girls with their dreams. The general theme I felt from the middle and high school crowd was their strong drive and desire for science and aviation, but lack of direction in applying their energy. They all wanted to “do something” but don’t know how to start. We were able to point them to opportunities in Young Eagles, local internships, job shadows, and NASA programs. We shared an empowering day inspiring one another. I treasured my chance to assist girls who mirrored my younger self, passing on the words of encouragements that I received from members of my community.

I look forward to next year’s Women Fly when I can return as a certified private pilot (fingers crossed!) If you have a chance to attend Women Fly, I highly recommend it. Please see The Museum of Flight’s website for more information.

Picture of Kam with her daughter, India.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Gone Flyin'

Yesterday was another painfully beautiful day in Cleveland. I say "painful" because we Clevelanders are used to cold, gray, miserable weather [How miserable? We made #1 on Forbes Most Miserable City list. Go CLE!]. The sun forces us to come out from underneath our rocks, squinting at its brightness, delaying the evolutionary eventuality that we will soon breed offspring here with no eyes at all.

However, I have a friend with an airplane. [If you have not invested any time in doing the same, I suggest you block off time in your calendar to cultivate such a friendship.] She is studying for her CFI (Certified Flight Instructor) and is ready to take the test, but the poor weather, referenced above, keeps causing her to put it off. I also want to get my CFI, so I told her anytime she goes to fly to please call me so I can ride along.

I've received to invitations to drag myself away from my rock (which curiously resembles a desk) to fly with her in her (dad's) Mooney. It's parked on the other side of Cleveland at Cuyahoga County airport, the headquarters of my previous employer, Flight Options. The first time I drove out there to meet her I hadn't realized there was even another side to the field!

Again, my aviation background has been military to the airlines, so all of this GA (or General Aviation) flying is completely new to me. I had about 30 hours in a single engine airplane to transition from rotor to fixed wing aircraft with a few flights I had taken on my own in the interim. However, I do not consider myself a proficient GA pilot. But I'm working on changing that. To the left is the hangar where we've parked our cars after getting the airplane out.

My airplane of choice recently has been the Citation X (I mean, I would choose to fly the X if I hadn't been furloughed), the cockpit of which is pictured at right.

Compare and contrast to the cockpit of the Mooney, at left. It's hard to say which one looks more complicated. However, I am used to the X, so it is going "back to basics" to see the steam gauges on the Mooney. My friend Jenn let me sit left seat, the PIC (Pilot in Command) seat, for the first leg of the trip. It took me a long while to get my "crosscheck" back.

From Cross-checking, sometimes referred to as scanning, is the continuous and logical observation of instruments for attitude and performance information. In attitude instrument flying, an attitude is maintained by reference to the instruments, which produces the desired result in performance.

After I taxied the airplane out to the runway, Jenn handled all of the radios. I was concentrating on getting a feel for the airplane (note my death grip on the controls). Jenn allowed me to do the takeoff (while I'm sure sitting at the ready to take the controls if needed). This brings up an interesting point. I am a very experienced pilot, and though I may not be familiar with this airplane I am familiar with airplanes in general and know how they work (basically). I kept reminding myself that soon I will be allowing someone with no experience to fly (as a CFI). Just something to keep in mind. And to keep me up at night.

The takeoff was different than what I'm used to. Took us almost no runway, and the takeoff rotation speed of 71mph came really quickly. Leaving the ground was accompanied by a couple of burbles (the ones in the airplane were matched by the ones in my stomach - but I have a plan to fix that nervousness) and I had a heck of a time keeping my heading and desired airspeed. Jenn reassures me that the Mooney just wants to fly fast and it's my job to make it do what I want. This reminds me of occasions in my flight training where my training partner would complain the airplane wasn't doing as they wanted. Well, if it's not, make it. Who's in charge here?

We didn't fly too far away, in fact to an airport that I used to do training flights to in the Huey when I was in the National Guard. I, of course, wanted to fly the landing like I did in the jet. Wrong. Jenn kept warning me that my speed was too high. The principals in landing were the same, though, so I kept the greasy side down (Jenn handled all of the flaps, gear and power controls for me). It was all quite a blur, to be honest with you. I was glad to move into the backseat for the ride home.

On the way back, Jenn had a friend newer to flying at the controls. It was interesting to watch her play CFI. Each of us learned something from each other. I learned that a good reason to insist that people taxi at a reasonable speed (which I had always done additionally for passenger comfort) was the important safety factor of leaving yourself options if the brakes failed. There are often dropoffs at the end of the taxiways and if you're going too fast too make a turn you better be going fast enough to takeoff. I told her something that I had been taught. When you rotate the yoke to check the flight controls, your thumbs should be pointing in the direction of the "up" aileron.

So it was a rather quick re-introduction to single engine flying which has illustrated that although it will take some time for me to get back into it, I'm not a lost cause. My "cone of understanding" or the extraneous items that get included into my crosscheck, increased by the minute. I especially noticed this on the second flight yesterday. I had the presence of mind to bring reinforcements in the shape of a pillow to get my feet closer to the pedals. Remind me never to complain about how small the X cockpit is (if I ever get back into it).

This second time I asked a lot of questions because, as you may know, we women like to understand everything! What is carb heat? What's the reason for exercising the prop in that manner? My takeoff was smoother, I was more forceful on the controls to get the pitch attitude I needed on climbout. I still went off course a little - probably because I'm so used to having the autopilot do it for me, but I also held my altitude spot on, instead of holding twenty feet off my altitude like I did the first flight.

So a wonderful way to spend the rare sunny day in Cleveland. Still Jenn stated the mantra of all of us cave-dwelling Clevelanders: "I hate the sun." Only she was referring to how it got in her eyes during her maneuvers. Trust me, we'll take it over the clouds any day.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sharing the dream of flight

We bring you another guest post, this time by Monika Petrillo. Enjoy! I know I did.

Sharing the dream of flight with the next generation By Monika Petrillo

When I was 24, I decided to get a pilot's license. Inspired by that, my father followed suit a year later, getting his license at age 58.

Together, we went on to fly a single-engine plane around the continent of Australia, a journey I documented with my film "FLYABOUT" which has been showing at AirVenture in Oshkosh for the past two years.

For those of you who haven't seen the film, let me tell you that the relationship between my father and me became one of the main challenges on that journey. The unavoidable "switch of generations" plays an important role in the movie.

I'm happy to add that my father and I have safely made it to "the other side". But it wasn't easy. Now, eleven years later, I have two children myself. With all the "Flyabout" screenings in the past months, they have become aware of the fact that their mommy is a pilot, and my six-year-old daughter is now constantly begging me to take her up in a plane.

I wasn’t quite sure when I would be ready. And then I heard about this worldwide record-setting event in celebration of the 100 year anniversary of the first woman pilot. The goal was to introduce as many women as possible to aviation in one single day. As soon as I learned about this fantastic idea, I knew: This was the time to pass on my dream of flying to my own daughter.

I ended up introducing a total of three "women" to flying today. Two of them were six years old and VERY excited about the experience of flying in a small airplane over their own house, school and past the Hollywood sign. But they were probably most excited when I handed them their certificate and told them that they had just contributed to setting the "World Record of Most Women Introduced To Flying In A Single Day".

When I asked them what their favorite part was about the flight, my daughter’s friend said: "The landing!". My own daughter smiled and said: "The moment when the plane went up and then down. That felt a little bit like being in a roller coaster."

My own favorite part? - Finally being able to share my dream of flying with my daughter.

… And who knows, maybe in another few years, my daughter and I will circumnavigate Africa together and produce the sequel to “Flyabout”.

Thanks, Monika, for your guest post! I'd like to emphasize three things in her post. 1st, Flyabout is an amazing film and I cannot say enough good things about it. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did my 6 year old niece. Yes, six years old. If anyone can get a six year old to watch a beautiful, educational and inspiring hour-plus long documentary, it's Monika. It is available for sale on her website, as well as the Girls With Wings store. Which brings me to point number two. If you like her daughter's tee, that is also available in the GWW store.

Thirdly, the event Monika refers to is still going on! To celebrate the Centennial of Licensed Women Pilots and Women’s Day, women pilots from around the world will attempt to set a new worldwide flying record: the most women introduced to flying by women pilots in one single day, March 8, and in one single week, March 6 to March 12. Visit their website for more information.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Air Racing: by guest contributor, Linda Street-Ely

Intro from Lynda: I've gotten quite a few questions about Air Racing and I usually have to respond "I don't know. Let me go check Wikipedia...." Of course, this completely disregards the wealth of information within the Girls With Wings community. For example, I met a Air Racing aficionado at last year's Air Race Classic and I thought she might be willing to do a guest post for the GWW blog. I was right. So here is her post. I know I'll learn a lot!

Air Racing
By guest contributor, Linda Street-Ely

Eight years after my grandfather’s third place finish in the Indy 500 (he is pictured at left), twenty chick pilots with a sense of adventure challenged each other in what was dubbed the “First Women’s Air Derby,” and became affectionately known as the “Powder Puff Derby” when Will Rogers saw lady pilots powdering their collective noses prior to starting up the props.

Taking off from Santa Monica, California, they raced their fabulous flying machines to the site of the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio. The year was 1929 and the races continued each year until WWII, when both Indy and the Women’s Air Derby were put on hold. Post-war, the name was changed to “All Women’s Transcontinental Air Race.” Today’s Air Race Classic picked up after AWTAR was discontinued in 1977, continuing that traditional transcontinental speed competition.

Air Race Classic, Inc., is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization with a purpose to ignite that spirit of competition and camaraderie that is a boon to aviation. The race tends to spur dreamers on to pursue personal goals. The general public is drawn to the cities participating in the start, fuel stops, and finish, as well as home towns of pilots. Many people join the excitement through sponsorship, ground-air assistance, timing and officiating, and as spectators and supporters. Overall, each summer brings the spirit of the race to advance aviation through education, competition, careers, and fun.

Teams work with weather, aircraft performance at different altitudes, and air traffic conditions. They spend hours pouring over charts and weather forecasts to formulate race strategies. Even though there is competitiveness, there is a strong sense of camaraderie among racers. Pre- and post-race activities develop strong bonds of friendship and respect. Safety is always a priority.

In my first cross-country air race, 2008, 34 teams were given four days to complete a route approximately 2,400 miles starting in Bozeman, Montana and ending in Mansfield, Massachusetts. While it used to be that the fastest airplane won the race, now all airplanes are handicapped – meaning each plane is flying against its own target speed, so every entry has an equal chance of victory. Handicapping encourages competitors to play the elements; weather, winds, etc. Flying is restricted to Visual Flight Rules conditions in daylight hours only, but at least one of the two pilots on each team must have either an Instrument Rating or 500 hours as Pilot in Command. This race is open to female pilots, and airplanes from 145 to 600 horsepower.

Each of the eight race legs, between 280-320 miles, is timed and with handicapping that means that it’s possible for the last arrival to be the winner. Reaching each leg, the pilots must fly by a timer and then either land or continue on in the next leg.

Transcontinental air racing requires endurance and patience. Waiting out bad weather (we had plenty of that), choosing the best time of day and altitude to fly each leg of the race to find the optimal atmospheric conditions, i.e., best tailwinds or least head winds, trying to stay on course with not even a degree of change in the heading, presented challenges to staying focused while encouraging that part of me that is persistent and competitive.

My 2008 teammate, Caroline Baldwin, and I placed 18th in her airplane, a Piper Cherokee 180. Not what we hoped for, but we incurred no penalties, did not have to deviate for weather, had a positive score on each leg, and finished the race without being disqualified. I learned how to do a fly-by for a timer and how to build a race strategy. I met some incredible women, some who fly professionally, or are retired professional pilots, others who do this for fun; a song-writer, a few engineers, a retired federal judge, a farmer, a few teachers, and many more with interesting backgrounds. Every racer was treated to the most hospitable, friendly folks in every town where the race touched down.

Caroline and I received a “Leg Prize” which is awarded to racers with the three fastest times for each leg of the race. We earned the third-place prize on that last leg into Mansfield. Most importantly, we had a fun and safe race.

What could we have done differently to place higher? Well I thought of a few things. There are areas in the atmosphere where one may find the optimum tailwind, and knowing how to find that takes some practice. I think I was finally getting it toward the end of the race. Flying straight is important too. Drifting off course by just one degree means you will have to adjust later to get back on course and just one degree can cost valuable seconds. It takes a lot of concentration to fly a consistent heading, and when the wind isn’t a perfect tailwind, when it’s a quartering tailwind, coming from an angle behind us right or left, a certain amount of it is a crosswind, keeping a heading is difficult while we’re being blown in the direction of the wind. Another factor was that the cowling on Caroline’s airplane didn’t rest exactly aerodynamically symmetrical atop the engine, undoubtedly, that cost us airspeed by creating more drag on the airframe.

Just knowing this air race is something not many people have done, even those with extensive aviation backgrounds, the challenge that it offers, is enticing. My mom and my husband were two of our biggest fans. Mom had team t-shirts made for us and my husband, Mike, was there at the finish line in Mansfield, cheering us on to that final timing line and for all the celebration and activities over the next two days. I had become a veteran of air racing, another Air Race Classic in the history books, and I had the fresh perspective of a new racer, already looking forward to 2009.

I raced again in 2009, with race partner Jodie Perry, of Austin, Texas. We finished 17th in Jodie’s Piper Archer. This year will be the first year I will race my own airplane, a Grumman Cheetah (pictured at right), and the first race for my race partner, Dr. Elizabeth Kummer, of Dallas. We are truly excited about the adventures that await, and are honored to be flying in support of, a wonderful non-profit organization that helps families and friends of ill people keep in touch during the most difficult times by providing a free personal website.

Photos and articles from around the country are posted on the Air Race Classic web site:, along with the 2010 route: Fort Meyers, Florida to Frederick, Maryland. Our team blog will be at We hope you’ll check in during the race and cheer on all the racers to an exciting and fun finish.

Wishing Linda and all of the racers a fabulous time this year. I raced last year but not this year, though I intend to be at the terminus to see them all arrive safely. Please let me know if you have a special area of interest - so you can do a guest post on the GWW blog too! - Lynda

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Be a GWW Crewmember!

Did you know you can show your support for Girls With Wings by joining our crew? No, you can't log flight time with us, but it's a great way to climb on board to join others whose dreams are taking flight.

Currently we have nearly 300 registered members, which allows us to track how many people we're reaching with GWW. Trust me, grant applications want to know what kind of reach we have. There are three levels of support, Support/Flight/ATC Crewmember, all defined on our website page here. All three levels get you a membership card and signed up for our monthly newsletter (latest issue here).

Support Crewmember is free, and the Flight Crewmember level is only $12/year - but it comes with a 10% discount code for use in our GWW online pilot shop. The Flight Crewmembers also receive either a pink or purple luggage handle wrap. Trust me, when you unload with a bunch of flight crews off the hotel shuttle, none of the guys are going to mistake your bag for theirs. It also makes your bags a lot more comfortable to carry.

The highest level of support for GWW is our ATC Crewmember. Air Traffic Control Crew is the membership option for families, companies, or other organizations to show their support for the mission of Girls With Wings. ATC's responsibility in the aviation world is to ensure safety, organize and expedite the flow of traffic, and to provide information and other support for pilots. The ability to offer these services for our Girls With Wings is $50 per year - and every cent of this payment will go to the scholarship fund. You will be specifically recognized in conjunction with the annual scholarship award detailed here. In addition, you will receive a letter of appreciation, newsletter registration AND 10% discount in the GWW online store. You will also receive a free Girls With Wings license plate frame! That is going to make your car look GOoood.

So why is this so important? Lynda, why you gotta take my time trying to sell me a membership??

Because on the application form I have people fill out a block for "How do you support the Girls With Wings Flight Plan?" I get such great answers, like:

This website took my breath away =] I only wish i knew about it earlier. I'm an aspiring 18 year old student pilot and i hope this website can help me as well as vice versa!


I think that the Flight Plan Girls With Wings created is a great way to spread the word about flying made available for everyone. I am only a high school sophomore and if I had known about the chance to fly earlier, it would have made me even more excited and ready to fly by the time I come of age. I hope that as I grow older, I can help show other young girls that they can have the same opportunities as I will be having in the near future. Hopefully more girls will know about flying and the number of girls who actually do fly and not just the boys who fly.

And this woman who signed up just recently:
Well, I actually only heard about this website a couple of days ago. I work at an FBO and a pilot came in and asked if I knew any little girls who would be interested in flying. I told him that I have a six year old daughter and he gave me the flyer and two little tattoos for her. He also showed me the picture of his granddaughter in the flyer. I thought that was really neat. I thought what he was doing was great, giving out flyers and letting people know about the website. So since I work at an FBO and have access to a lot of pilots and passengers coming through, I am going to hand out flyers and let them know about the website. This is going to be how I support the flight plan and let other little girls know that this is out there. If that man had never let me know, my daughter would be missing out on all of this.

So here's a picture of the flyer and the said granddaughter. Of course I knew exactly who this was. The guy's been one of my greatest supporters from day one. So I wrote him an email to ask him. Just to be sure. Because there are a lot of guys out there that do plug Girls With Wings. He has sent tons of pictures of Jaime, Jhennifer and Faith (and Connor!) for me to use on the website and brochures. I see him every year at the Oshkosh booth, but unfortunately rarely get a break to catch up with them.

He is currently on a trip in their Debonair with his wife from Canada to the southern U.S. as an early opportunity to thaw out a bit. Here's his response:

Hi Lynda;

Thanks so much for forwarding that letter from the FBO girl in Brunswick GA. She was very interested in your efforts to make little girls aware of their potential in aviation & technology & I think she will introduce her daughter to flying now. It continues to amaze me that even folks that already have a connection with flying don't think to get the girls involved.

I stick a brochure on every airport 'cork board' I stumble on & talk to 'flying people' about your efforts. They're always intrigued, especially women who have girls in their family. We'll continue passing along 'the word.'

Here's our surrogate grandchild - Pink Mouse keeping an eye on the receding snow-line passing Pellee Point on the way here.

Cheers, Mike

So there you go - everything ties in. YOU can show support for Girls With Wings with your membership. You can can also spread "the word" for GWW wherever you are, no matter your experience, location or gender. What's not to like? So sign up for your own membership here, and order brochures to hand out here. *We* still have a lot of work to do, getting our message out to all the young ladies. Please help!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Dealing with Downsizing

Ugh. I had this GREAT tie in for a blog entry and it's completely gone south. Forgive me for having a weak link here, won't you?, because I'm going to do it anyway.

So, as a follow on to the Women in Aviation Conference... I was on a panel regarding "Dealing with Downsizing," moderated by Girls With Wings Role Model Laurence (yes, that's a girl's name in France, where she's from).

2:50 pm - 3:40 pm Dealing with Downsizing: Laurence Bonneau - Moderator, Panel - Evelyne Tinkl, Donna Miller, Rebecca Hempel, Jenna Cohrs (Yucatan 3)

Furloughs, layoffs, downsizing…what would you do? Come and interact with outstanding women who have survived it all. Learn from their experiences, and come away a better prepared aviation professional.

No, I'm not on the listing - I was appearing in place of Jenna, who had gotten a job (yea!), representing the recently furloughed (as of January 15th - whereas some of the women had been furloughed at least a couple of years). My angle was that I spoke a lot about my furlough (by definition a temporary layoff) being an opportunity to concentrate more on developing Girls With Wings - as I blogged about previously. I frankly have been so busy in the month since my furlough that I hadn't had time to even think about being unemployed. I wrote Laurence an email the next morning saying "you owe me a night's sleep" because it wasn't til she interviewed me that I realized that I was really in fact sans paycheck. I spent all night making a list of ways to pay my bills and on top of that continue to fund GWW!

So it was interesting that in a phone conversation the next day (the implications of which will soon be announced) that someone mentioned that the fellow who started the Young Eagles program was a furloughed US Airways pilot. It turns out I could get zero confirmation of this. Even the YE office would only say it was a program started by EAA - The Experimental Aircraft Association, an international organization of aviation enthusiasts based in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The home of OSHKOSH! or EAA Airventure, the huge airshow that takes place every year the last week of July. And, yes, GWW is going to have a booth there again this year. Please come on by - it is a blast!

So my tie in was going to be: if a program like the Young Eagles, a program designed to give children between the ages of 8 to 17 a chance to fly in a general aviation airplane free of charge can grow so large in so short a time (launched in 1992 and, by fall of 2009, has flown more than 1.5 million children in 90 countries), then I hope that GWW can see similar growth. I do support the YE program wholeheartedly and in fact give YE brochures to every girl that attends our presentations. We at GWW don't actually give the girls flights, and why would we want to compete with such a successful organization?

So, how about you? Have you participated in any Young Eagles events? As a pilot or other participant?