Only 7 percent of today’s pilots are female. Women Can Fly, a volunteer organization that hosts flying events at airports and museums, hopes to change that statistic.
On Saturday, Shannon Airport in Fredericksburg, known for its unique collection of rare aircraft, held the fourth event out of six in this year’s Women Can Fly series.
This is the second year that a Women Can Fly event has taken place at Shannon Airport. It’s co-sponsored by the Old Dominion chapter of The Ninety-Nines, the International Organization of Women Pilots and the Virginia Department of Aviation.
Women Can Fly events have been happening in Virginia for at least six years.
“I’m very excited that Shannon is doing an event like this. … What I’ve found at these events is that people who haven’t been exposed to aviation before find out they love it and we give them the encouragement and mentorship and collaboration to help them get to where they want to be,” said Susan Passmore, a member of the Ninety-Nines since 2009, who ran the briefings that attendees had to go through before being allowed onto the planes at the event.
More than 100 people signed up to ride in the planes provided by volunteer pilots from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., while others got the opportunity to fly the planes themselves.
Kat Thibodeaux and her daughters, Madison and Sarah, drove all the way from Richmond to attend the Women Can Fly event.
Madison, 12, had the opportunity to fly the plane.
“It felt—I was very nervous. I didn’t want to do it too hard so it would turn the plane over, so I just got nervous, so I just gave it back,” said Madison.
While she was uneasy at the controls this time, she said flying is something she would consider doing again in the future. “It was amazing. The view was everything. It was awesome,” she said.
Organizers of the event hope that by providing hands-on flying experiences, more women and girls will become interested in becoming pilots.
“There’s a very small percentage of women in aviation and we hope to make that number grow. Aviation is a wonderful thing and more people should have a chance to experience it,” said Amanda Proctor, a student pilot at Shannon Airport.
Proctor herself fell in love with aviation just last summer, when she took a Discovery flight. Her father was a pilot, but she had never considered becoming one until that flight.
“I feel like a lot of times girls just don’t get asked if they want to be pilots and I think that is a big barrier between them becoming pilots. My dad’s an airline pilot but I never really thought about it until someone said, ‘Why don’t you?’” said Proctor.
Proctor said she enjoys events such as Saturday’s Women Can Fly.
“It’s really exciting because there’s very few other girls to talk about it with and there’s just kind of a camaraderie between female pilots that’s really amazing, she said. “I’d love to have more people to talk about flying with.”
Butch Cover, a docent at the Shannon Airport Museum, said he was also excited about the event, especially since he has two daughters.
“To see girls get interested in it and try to get into aviation—that’s great,” he said.
Liz Wood, a teacher at Prince William County, noted that it was nice to see this change happening.
“When I was younger, girls wanted to be pilots and astronauts, and things like that,” she said. Wood used to teach a STEM Aviation after-school program at Freedom Middle School and is in the process of starting another in Prince William County Schools.
She also passed out flyers to her female students to try and boost their interest in the event. “Basically that’s what I want to do, I just want to see girls participate more and I thought it was a great opportunity for them,” she said.