Sunday, January 16, 2011

Encouraging Girls to be Pilots

Two things happened recently to prompt this blog post. First, I exhibited at the Great Lakes Aviation Conference last weekend with my 9 year old niece, Delaney. Second, I received an email asking me about the role models on the website. More about that later.

So, first off, the Great Lakes Aviation Conference (GLAC) was held at Eastern Michigan University Student Center in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm not sure for how many years GLAC has been put on, but this was my second year having a booth for Girls With Wings.  The purpose of the conference, taken from their website, is to offer a variety of opportunities to interact with the Midwest's aviation community. Besides 150 exhibitors there to answer questions, it was possible to shop for the best in avionics, pilot gear and training aids, and experience the latest products on the market.  Additionally, informational and instructional breakout sessions offered a wide variety of topics presented by expert speakers from all over the country. Session topics range from simple VFR to real-world IFR flight issues. Other seminars address weather information, aircraft ownership opportunities, FAA issues, flying destinations, and the latest and greatest of everything in aviation.

For $30 (less $5 if you preregistered on the website), pilots could attend the following sessions:

    • PIC Responsibilities - Steve Hoogerhyde, FAA Safety Team Program Mgr., Operations, Rapid City, SD
    • Flying to Alaska - Joe Kuberka, Blue Goose Aviation, Peyton, CO
    • Safety Management - Tom Leahy, Aviation Safety Inspector, Cleveland FSDO, Cleveland, OH
    • Test Flying the Airbus A380 - Terry Lutz, Experimental Test Pilot, Airbus S.A.S., Blangnac Cedex, France
    • Aircraft Accident Investigation - Naji Malek, Asst. VP, General Aviation Claims Dept., New York, NY
    • Contributions to Aviation Safety - Mike McKinley, Deputy Dir., Office of Audit Evaluation, Washington DC
    • Wilderness Survival - Mike Millard, Aviation Safety Inspector, Cincinnati, OH
    • Aviation Medicine Update:  Holding on to Your Medical - Dr. Greg Pinell, Senior flight Surgeon, Freeland, MI
    • Digital Training to Analog Flying:  Is there a Problem? - Bill Rantz & Geof Whitehurst, Western Michigan Univ., Battle Creek, MI
    • Bird Strikes - Tom Seamans, Wildlife Biologist, USDA/Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Research Center - Ohio Field Station, Sandusky, OH
    • CSC DUATS - Leon Thomas, CSC DUATS, Chantilly, VA
Additionally, every IA, A&P, Director of Maintenance, Parts Manager, and Parts Purchaser was encouraged to attend, as the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA) has recognized the GLIAC as a sanctioned regional event. While renewal requirements have changed for all IA's to every second year, the training requirements have not changed. A/P Mechanics with IA privileges may obtain eight hours of FAA approved instruction per year for renewal.  Twelve seminars enabled attendees to get a full eight hours of instruction in one day at the GLIAC.

Not bad for $25. However, I was disappointed to see such low attendance for a regional aviation event. Last year the conference was two days (if I remember correctly) and in a bigger facility. I don't have any figures on attendance, but this year we were in a smaller room and for only a day and there were large blocks of time where the exhibitors were only talking to each other (which was a worthwhile exercise in itself).

So, I admit ignorance. Is this a sign of worsening times in aviation? Are these seminars not of interest to people? The admission? The topics? Was it the location (I know I felt a little old walking around a Student Center where college students could biologically be the age of my children)?

Speaking of children, I saw two. In addition to my niece, aged 9, I also saw a boy her age, but that was it. It wasn't really a child friendly event, so I'm not criticizing. Perhaps I should clarify: "child-friendly" depends on the kid. My niece had a blast. I picked her up after school on Friday and we drove the three hours there to set up that night. The resident dog of the friend I stayed with woke her up at 6am, and she was raring to go and "sell stuff" that day. We got there entirely too early for the opening at 10am so we took some time to walk around the other booths.Which brings me to my point.

Delaney has helped me at numerous shows in the past, mostly at local airports during the summer. She memorizes her script: "Girls With Wings is a nonprofit organization encouraging more girls to have an interest in aviation. We are doing fundraising for our outreach activities such as presentations to girls' groups, an interactive website and scholarships for flying lessons." I absolutely love to see most people's willingness to take the time and bend down to hear her (she has a very soft voice). She loves to make suggestions for people and to decorate and rearrange to booth to her specifications (and for the most part I'll let her). She's been an instinctive marketing agent from about 5, her age the first time she helped me out promoting GWW.

Before and after every show, Delaney and I talk about the "behind the scenes" of having a business - like gross v. net, shrinkage and breakage, the hard work before and after the show, how to approach people, making a good impression, etc. I even let her ring up sales, with a little supervision. She has heard me talk about flying since birth, but yet.... She has no interest in being a pilot.

Yup, that's right. The Founder of an organization to encourage more girls [yadda yadda] cannot even make her own niece inspire to be a pilot. Egads. Does that make me a failure? I don't think so. Delaney wants more than anything to own her own restaurant some day. She checks out cookbooks from the library and bugs everyone with a kitchen to let her cook something for them. She is completely serious and wants the "hook" of her cafe to be that mothers will feel welcome coming with their kids to hang out for a while. She's got the whole thing planned out. Well, just about as well as a pre-teen could.

So I'd like to think what Girls With Wings is offering her is 1. lessons in owning a business and dealing with the public, and 2. a chance to build her self confidence. The mission of GWW is to use women in aviation as role models to inspire girls to achieve their full potential. And that is whether their dreams are to be a pilot, a mechanic, an engineer, etc., or something totally unrelated to aviation.

Therefore, I was a little taken aback when a woman at the GLAC asked Delaney whether she wanted to be a pilot. Delaney gets this all the time, and is accustomed to answering, "no, I'd like to own my own restaurant." Most people recognize that this is a valid, ambitious goal (of course, subject to change) and let it go. However this particular woman kept asking Delaney why not? "You can be a pilot" she says. "It's easy." "You want to drive a car some day, right? Well, flying an airplane is as easy as driving a car." And on and on. Poor D didn't know what to say and so therefore the woman turned to me and said, "Well, you have Girls With Wings, right?" To which I just nodded. What could I say? We encourage, not insist on, an interest in aviation.

My point is that I am fully aware not all girls are destined or interested in becoming pilots or other aviation professionals. Our presentation introduces them to flying, but the lesson I want them to walk away with is they can comprehend anything, achieve any feat, and even fly a plane if they just put their minds to it.  Perhaps their future is not in aviation, but this still is a fantastic tool to help them to understand the true meaning of this lesson: doing what they love may require hard work and study, the results of which can be great rewards and personal satisfaction.

Which brings me to point two. Many people have asked if Girls With Wings is just to encourage girls to be pilots.  I have admitted before that GWW is a little pilot heavy, but this is mostly because of who has submitted a bio. However, a recent email asking this question prompted me to look at the 87 role models we currently have on the site.

A little number crunching reveals so far that 75 of the role models are/have been pilots (only 19 with the airlines); and further, 8 are helicopter qualified, 4 each have glider and balloon ratings. One is a Ultralight/Light sport pilot, 2 do aerobatics regularly. Thirteen have taught people how to fly, 21 have their own planes. Six role models are aviation mechanics, 4 are air traffic controllers. Four are/have been dispatchers, 3 are Flight Officers/Navigators. Eight perform or speak about aviation, including one wingwalker; three are engineers. Twenty one have military experience, one is a Civil Air Patrol Commander and one was a Women Air Force Service Pilot. Five are/have been flight attendants. We've even got a shuttle flight controller and a Teacher in Space. Two are Girls With Wings scholarship winners and eleven are authors. It's important to note that twenty eight are moms since we need to let everyone know that a woman can do these things and still have a family. Further, eight women have their own businesses (two are non-profits), plus two attorneys, a filmmaker, a police officer, an aerial firefighter, a hairstylist and an artist.

Wow. That's an amazing group of women!

1 comment:

  1. A wonderful, inspiring read, Lynda. You said it so eloquently that not all girls who pass through your organization have to become pilots or fall in love with aviation. But just be inspired to reach for what it is they DO want to accomplish. It takes wisdom to notice and accept that. Well said.