It came. It went. You probably didn’t even notice. Not many do, to be honest.
If aviation is an aberration for the larger population, then females in aviation register as a pink unicorn driving a luxury yacht made entirely of unobtainium. In other words, the idea just doesn’t cross the mind of the average dude or dudette on the street.
That was intentional. For while I am a participant in the celebration, my attention is more often drawn to Girls in Aviation the Other 364 Days of the Year.
Now if we’re focusing on pilots, and that’s certainly a reasonable jump to make, I see improvement in the numbers. Not much, but enough to give me real hope for a better, brighter, more inclusive future.
And by inclusive I mean pilots who have the skills, the training, the education, and the desire to be good at safely commanding a flight. Male or female, I really don’t care. If you can do it, you can do it. So let’s make it happen.
When I started in this business I rarely saw a woman at the airport. The odd exception was when a wife or girlfriend rolled up to give a male pilot or flight student a ride home after a flight. My wife has certainly filled that role often enough. But there was precious little estrogen on the airside of the FBO.
I knew only two women in flight school, both of whom could fly at least as well as I could. Of all the instructors I flew with only one was a woman. Curiously, we discovered while chatting that we’d both been born in the same hospital, more than 2,000 miles and two time zones away.
The world is much larger and much smaller than it might appear at any given moment. At least that’s been true in my experience.
Today, 30 years on from that nearly all-male beginning to my aeronautical journey, I encounter women pilots on a regular basis. More importantly, I frequently encounter women pilots I admire.
Janeen Kochan jogs past my hangar on a regular basis. A remarkably fit woman who previously piloted transport category aircraft across continents and over oceans, she now fills her days in general aviation as a designated examiner. She’s often found in her office or on the ramp, preparing to launch off on another adventure with an understandably nervous, but hopeful, applicant.
I’ve only met Sarah Rovner once, but I live vicariously through her exploits, which she frequently posts to social media. An airline captain who also operates an aircraft ferrying service, Sarah flies more types of airplanes than anyone I know. She’s seemingly always smiling and always excited to see what life brings her way. She’s an inspiration. She is amazing.
Eli Shahal came to my attention when she ferried my flying club’s airplane from its previous home in Austin, Texas, to our home base of Winter Haven, Florida. Ferrying airplanes is her sideline, and she’s good at it. She seems to enjoy her work, too. That matters.
Abbie Kellett is just a kid. At least she’s a kid from my biased view. But she’s a highly accomplished kid. We met when she was just a wee lass. Between then and now she’s earned her pilot certificate, has flown all the way from Florida to Colorado and back in a C-150, and spent this past summer flying Cessna Caravans on amphibious floats, professionally. She’s the bomb.
I’ve written about my good friend Genesah Duffy previously. She’s notable in my book not just for being a talented pilot, a capable office manager, an inspirational founder of the Women in Aviation Chapter in Lakeland, Florida, and a darned good person, but she also arranged for my first flight in an ICON A5. Bingo!
Lindsay Petre is rated in both land and seaplanes. She has more affection for her Cessna 152 (named Ruby) than any aircraft owner I’ve ever known. Even with the constraints of New England weather working against her, Lindsay gets airborne as often as she can, shares the excitement of her hobby as widely as she can, and shows all the enthusiasm in the world for the gift of flight.
Right here on my home field, JoAnne Alcorn distinguished herself not just by being an airplane owner, a Women in Aviation member, a tireless supporter of anyone who inspires and motivates people to get into aviation, but she also found a way to get me into her C-172 for a qualifying flight before the 2018 Air Race Classic. We had an absolutely wonderful time of it.
And let me not forget Joni Fisher, Kat Swain, Jolie Lucas, Cindy Hasselbring, Katie Pribyl, Benet Wilson, Megan Custer, Lin Caywood, Amy Laboda, Kay Sundaram, Julie Walker, Regina Guth, Jan Johnson, Jill Manka, KT Budde-Jones, Paula Wivell, Amber Kite, Margarita Rivera, Prachi Shah, Sarah Wilson, Meg Godlewski, and Karissa Strickland — all of whom are out there in the world, knocking down doors, extending a helping hand, and generally making the world a better, more enjoyable, more equitable place.
Women may still be a minority in aviation, but through women like these they’ve proven their worth. I’d fly with any one of them any time, and happily take the second in command role.
Progress is being made. And although that progress may be happening slower than many of us might wish, it is still happening. That’s undeniably good news for all of us.