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!