Although her parents always told her she could do anything she put her mind to, Madeleine, age seven, told her father that she didn’t think she could become a pilot because “it's a boy thing”. So Madeleine’s family came out to Frederick Municipal Airport for the 2nd annual Women Fly it Forward, an event aimed at introducing women to aviation. In 2011, 185 women took to the skies at the inaugural event and the word spread like wildfire. This year, registration had to close due to high demand almost three weeks early and the waiting list reached into the 80s. At the end of the great event on Saturday, March 10th, a grand total of 242 women received free flights, and more than 500 individuals enjoyed festivities at the airport.
The day started out blustery and cold, causing the tethered hot air balloon rides to be cancelled. However, this did not stop people from flocking to the airport! The balloon basket was set up along with the burners and children and adults enjoyed taking their pictures in the basket and watching the burners light throughout the day. They not only got to pose in the balloon basket, but also with Lancair Columbia aircraft as well! Headsets were on hand and many people took the chance to look like a pilot. The remaining aircraft had the common theme - they all were yellow! A Navy T-34, a Pitts S1 and a Stearman, dubbed Aurora from Jane Wicker Airshows, were also on display.
Children were in awe as wing walker Jane Wicker demonstrated how she exits her biplane in flight and walks- without harness or wire- out onto the wing of the aircraft. They were amazed to learn that she became a wing walker after reading a wanted ad for the position in a local newspaper. Jane had no problem sharing her initial fears and excitement about her early years of wing walking.
Sarah Fraher from the Discovery Channel’s Flying Wild Alaska jumped at the opportunity to fly all the way from Alaska to introduce women to aviation. She had never attended an event like this before and was a huge hit with pilots, present and future. When Sarah started flying, she didn’t know any women pilots. Many people lined up to take pictures and asking what it was like to fly in Alaska. She eagerly spoke about how she became a pilot, encouraged all the women surrounding her to fly, and even asked questions like “have you ever flown a lizard before?” (yes!) and “have you seen Bigfoot in Alaska?” (no). A thirteen year old with the same name has wanted to become a professional pilot since her first flight in a general aviation aircraft over the past summer. Talking with Sarah Fraher in person and on TV as a successful female pilot encouraged her even more.
Across the ramp, was a meet and greet with the 1st Helicopter squadron and the 79th Medical Wing of the US Air Force, which flew in with a UH-1 Huey helicopter. The Maryland State Police also came out to chat with participants next to their Dauphine chopper. One participant was so ecstatic when they let her lay on the stretcher!
Girls with Wings, the Women’s Soaring Pilot Association, and the Ninety Nines were also represented.
Everyone was welcome to take a free shuttle ride to the opposite side of the airport to tour Frederick Airport’s new state of the art air traffic control tower. Both shuttles were full for every trip to the tower, allowing for the airport manager to guide 30 people through the tour at a time.
Participants were introduced to the sky on the other side of the airport. Numerous volunteers helped to beat last year’s record, allowing 242 women to fly. 27 pilots flew 25 planes and one helicopter. 11 ground marshals and 25 volunteers around the airport helped keep everyone safe and the airport organized.
Barbara can’t wait to volunteer next year, “Everyone I meet was so nice and interesting. The people who came for the flights were excited before and even more so after their first flight!”
The Women Fly it Forward inbox is full of praise and excitement for flying. Judy wrote, “I cannot thank you ENOUGH for the surprise and joy riding in a helicopter (vs. plane for which either was a thrilling thought). The helicopter choice was awesome! I'm still smiling! Thank you so very much for making a very memorable day for this ol’ 70 year old!”
The day was grand indeed! Six discovery flights were sold at the local flight school.
Alyssa is a flight instructor and Martine was her first flight of the day. Martine was able to take the controls for some time in the left seat and upon disembarking, immediately ran up to the flight school to purchase a logbook to memorialize her first flight. Her husband arrived at the airport shortly thereafter and the couple now has the aviation bug.
Participants and volunteers alike are already discussing next year’s event. Jeff, who has flown for in Fly it Forward both years is excited for what 2013 will bring, “Thanks for allowing me to participate in a TREMENDOUS event. I enjoyed flying the women - Sign me up for next year!”
Volunteers enjoyed a thank you BBQ at the Aviation Insurance Resources hangar following the event. The winds calmed and a mini airshow was enjoyed by all as several volunteer pilots departed. The big hit was when the hot air balloon, Tailwinds, inflated and Jane Wicker departed, with smoke blazing creating a brilliant line behind the departing balloon.
The event is over, but the excitement has not toned down. Everyone is eagerly waiting to see who wins the Female Pilot Friendly Airport and Most Dedicated Pilot titles, and essay contests are still up for grabs.
“Yes!” she replied