Thursday, March 15, 2012

Flying, it’s not a 'boy thing'

Flying, it’s not a 'boy thing'  

By Alyssa J. Miller

With a 360-degree view of the airport environment, tower tourists could imagine directing a conga line of general aviation aircraft making 10-mile circuits at Maryland’s Frederick Municipal Airport. Others took control of aircraft for the first time in that conga line.

The field transformed into a hub of activity on March 10 for Women of Aviation Worldwide Week’s Fly it Forward Day with 27 aviators and aviatrixes alike volunteering to take 242 girls and women aloft for free 20-minute flights. The day shattered the previous year’s record of 185.

High-performance aircraft provided flights over scenic Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., to the west while other aircraft departed to the northeast over a patchwork of farmland. Two curious teenagers who flew with a male pilot asked afterward if any women were flying; they were quickly introduced to one of the female flight instructors giving rides that day. 

Word of the event spread throughout the community, attracting every age from toddler to retiree, pairs of mothers and daughters, groups of friends, and Brownie Troop members looking for adventure. It also drew dads, grandfathers, husbands, and brothers, but they remained earth-bound, manning cameras and taking in other festivities. In all, more than 500 people took part in the event, according to organizer Victoria Neuville. The local pilot community and businesses provided royal treatment, including free fixed-wing and helicopter flights, tours of the fully equipped but not-yet-operational air traffic control tower, an aircraft display, flight lesson information packets, free food, and more.

One girl learned for the first time that becoming a pilot was an option for her: She had “told her father that she didn’t think she could become a pilot because ‘it was a boy thing,’” Neuville wrote in her blog shortly after the event. Attendees also learned about many aspects of aviation, including the Air Force flying, air traffic control, hot air balloons, and even wing walking. “Children were in awe as Jane Wicker demonstrated how she gets out of her biplane in flight and proceeds to walk—without harness or wire—out onto the wing of the aircraft,” Neuville wrote. Wicker’s Stearman was a popular part of the aircraft display, as was a hot air balloon basket and burners, and Flying Wild Alaska cast member Sarah Fraher.

Many walked away with an interest in learning to fly. One of the flight schools on the field sold six discovery flights, according to Neuville. Volunteer pilots talked about how some of those they took flying were interested in flight training. David Kenny, the AOPA Foundation’s Air Safety Institute safety database manager, was one such volunteer. He flew 12 people in his Arrow, and by his calculations, if the one teenager who expressed interest in learning to fly follows through, he’ll consider it a good return on investment.

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