It has long been a tradition for aviation enthusiasts to be perceived as elitists who shun outsiders. There is a factual basis for that belief, but its time is largely past. However, the dearth of minority participants in aviation is obvious to anyone who spends a day on the ramp. That’s changing, thank goodness.
When I got into aviation way back when, I didn’t know about Harriett Quimby, or Bessie Coleman, or even the WASP. But I knew Rose Cook. She was a CFII at the flight school where I earned the majority of my tickets. I was assigned to fly with her on a stage check. She was the first woman I ever flew with, and she was in the right seat calling the shots.
Rose was good. Really good. She knew her stuff and put me through the stage check like a real pro. Better than that, she did it without any of the ridiculous intimidation tactics so many male CFIs tended to use to illustrate their dominance.
They say aviation involves a small group of people in an already small world. My flight with Rose suggested that to be true. Because while we were in Florida and associated with the same flight school, our conversation revealed we’d been born in the same hospital 2,000 miles away – in Arizona.
I haven’t seen Rose in nearly 30 years. I hope she’s doing well. If you know her, say Hi for me, will ya?
There may be a few dinosaurs who disagree with me on this, but I think the reason my experiences with women in aviation have been so enjoyable is because most women in aviation are pretty darned good at what they do. There are more than a few who I look up to and admire, including…
Laurel Ramey was barely an adult when I first met her. She was a good friend though. A private pilot with aspirations for a career in aviation, Laurel made great use of the mentors she could find on the local field.
Cal Hanks took Laurel under his wing. He was an old man with a knack for covering equally old aircraft with fabric. He encouraged her, gave her insights she might not have found otherwise, and nudged her toward getting outside her comfort zone to seek out her dreams.
She did. First as an A&P, then as a flight instructor. She worked her way up the ladder one rung and a time. And true to the old adage, that ladder actually led her to her dream job. Today, Laurel’s profession puts her at the controls of an airliner.
Genesah Duffy is one of the new age of aviation professionals. Young, smart, personable, and fun to be with. She’s a total professional in the air. The fact that she’s female is only a factor in the sense that she’s lighter than your average cheeseburger loving American male, and so she’s got a size advantage in the cockpit.
We met when she was working at Propellerhead Aviation, a maintenance shop about three hangars away from my own. She was ordering parts, scheduling inspections and repairs, and generally keeping the work flow flowing on the shop floor. A US Navy veteran who had recently graduated the flight training program at Polk State College in central Florida, Genesah was ready to move from the desk to the cockpit on a full time basis – so she did.
My friend Genesah is now ICON Aircraft’s Chief Pilot on the East Coast. She’s demonstrated the A5 to me over Tampa Bay and allowed me to take the controls for a little aerial ballet followed by a splash and go. If I could grow up to be just like her, I’d be satisfied.
Joanne Alcorn is a regular participant in the Air Race Classic. She’s got more cross-country time under her belt than I ever will, I’m sure. And she’s as willing to help others, share her knowledge, encourage kids, and make you believe you can live out your dreams as well as anyone I’ve ever met. Jo is a force of nature.
I’m not sure when or where I met Janeen Kochan, but I’m pretty sure I’ve known her for longer than either one of us has been alive. She’s solidly on my list of the five smartest people I’ve ever met. She’s a former captain of transport category aircraft, a CFI, a designated examiner, an A&P with IA privileges, and one of the best pilots I’ve ever seen take the controls of anything. She’s amazing times ten. Oh yeah, and she earned a PhD along the way, too.
When my youngest daughter decided she was interested in learning to fly, I didn’t take her. I hooked her up with Janeen instead. It was a good decision. That girl has done well in life and I’m pretty sure the example Janeen set over the course of a handful of flights trumped all my best efforts as a dad for the previous decade or so.
Women are everywhere in aviation. For example, my flying club received delivery of an airplane we bought from a seller in Texas. We hired a ferry pilot to fly it to us here in central Florida. On Saturday our club president (who is female) along with our club vice president (who is female) met up with the ferry pilot (who is female) to complete the transaction.
I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing a real trend here. Women excel at all things aviation. I’m just wondering why it has taken so long for the word to get out.
Girl power is real. It’s alive and well right down the road and miles overhead. Believe it.