Saturday, August 2, 2008


Female pilots gather, set world record
By Barbara A. Schmitz

Woman pilot? Sign the log book

If you didn't make the group picture of female aviators on Friday, you can still sign the logbook that is tracking the number of female pilots attending EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2008.

Nearly 800 female pilots - current, noncurrent and student - had signed the logbook in the EAA Welcome Center by 1 p.m. Friday.

Female aviators can continue to sign the logbook through Sunday.

Jill Long says we need more PDA. That's public displays of aviation.

Friday morning's gathering of female pilots - current, non-current and student - was just that, a very large PDA that set a world record.

Hundreds of female aviators, the majority wearing pink WomenVenture T-shirts, turned out on AeroShell Square Friday to have their picture taken and set the record for the most female pilots gathered in one place. At the front of the group were Women Airforce Service Pilots, aerobatic pilots like Patty Wagstaff and Julie Clark and Women in Aviation International (WAI) President Dr. Peggy Chabrian.

"To have this many women who have achieved their dream of flight is just amazing," said Long, a lieutenant colonel for the Air Force and aerobatic pilot, who took part in the picture. "The pink shirts are great to make the public aware that women can and do fly."

The picture and T-shirts were part of WomenVenture, a joint effort by EAA and WAI that aims to get more women interested in aviation through programs, seminars, speakers, and events. Nationwide, women make up about 6 percent of the total number of pilots in the United States, or about 35,784 of the 590,349 pilots.

Ellisa Lines, EAA vice president of commercial and donor relationships, challenged the female aviators to go home, wear their pink shirt, share their enthusiasm and recruit 10 women so that next year the number of women pilots gathered would be 10-fold.

The most female pilots gathered in one place. At the front of the group were
Women Airforce Service Pilots, aerobatic pilots like Patty Wagstaff and Julie Clark and
Women in Aviation International (WAI) President Dr. Peggy Chabrian. Photo by Bonnie Kratz
Larger view

Rita Eaves, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, said this is actually the second picture taken of women aviators at EAA. The first, with about 25-30 women, was taken in about 1967 when the fly-in convention was held in Rockford. It was the start of women's activities at AirVenture, she said.

Eaves, a pilot for 50 years who is attending her 44th AirVenture, said she came to Oshkosh to be in the photo at her husband's insistence.

She guessed money is one reason more women aren't involved in aviation. "Money is the root of all evil, but it's also the root of all fun," she said. "Youngsters really need to be dedicated to start flying today," she said, noting, however, that light-sport aircraft is helping to lower the cost.

Phyllis Deaton, a pilot from Toledo, Ohio, took part in the photo to be a part of history. "We do need to encourage young people to get involved," she said.

"And what woman doesn't like to get her picture taken?" said Pam Fonseca, of Mansfield, Ohio. "I'm amazed at how many women turned out."

Fonseca said she'd like to see another venue for women pilots, allowing them to mingle as a group, vs. just being on the ramp for a picture. Fonseca and Deaton stood next to each other and learned that they live near each other and even have the same plane - T-6s.

Kacy Anderson of Hastings, Michigan, is a recent pilot, earning her certificate on July 3. "It's important to get women in aviation," she said. "There are only one or two women pilots at my airport. We need to get the word out that women can do this. They think it's really hard, but it's not."

Jessica Miller, 17, of Hutchinson, Minnesota, agreed. She earned her private certificate March 1 and works two jobs to afford flying.

"A lot of times you're the only woman pilot," she said. "But here you realize there are more. At home, you're an outsider. But here you are part of a group."

"How cool is this?" asked Kieran O'Farrell, of Lakeland, Florida, as she stood in the group waiting for the picture to be taken. "We have cracked the glass ceiling, but we haven't broken it yet," she said. O'Farrell, a pilot for 31 years, said female aviators must mentor girls, if the ranks of women pilots are to grow.

Lindsay Fay, of Philadelphia, is a recent pilot, but has been around aviation her entire life since her father is a pilot and an air traffic controller. She wanted to be a part of the picture to network with other women and be inspired.
"We need to work on awareness," she said. "Women need to know that flying is something they can do."

To Cherry Householder, of San Antonio, Texas, becoming a pilot was just a way to help her overcome a fear of flying. She got her certificate in 1981.

"We need to change the world through our children," she said. "We need to get to girls when they are young … if we want more women in aviation."

Patty Werner, of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, came to AirVenture on Friday just to be in the picture. "I'm proud to be a woman pilot," she said, noting that events like this will help show the general public that aviation isn't just a male pastime or profession. "We've got to encourage women to try it. They'll know right away if they like it or not."

WASP Jan Goodrum said EAA is doing many things right in encouraging young people, and particularly young girls, to experience aviation. She noted the Young Eagles program, as well as Women Soar, give youth an outlet to explore aviation, particularly when they don't know any pilots.

But the gathering of female aviators also made it apparent that there are more women pilots on the grounds than a lot of people thought.

"This is the first year that I really realized how much depth and history there is of women in aviation," said Anna Dietrich, of Woburn, Massachusetts. "It is the first time I realized there is a sisterhood here."