The opinions expressed here are of the author only, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Arizona Pilots Association or any other group of aviators.
By now you must have heard of the emergency landing of a Southwest Airlines flight in Philadelphia on April 17, 2018. The Captain on that flight was a female pilot; the First Officer a male. In this era of instant communications, the news was across the country within minutes. My air traffic control friend, in Washington Center, posted an audio recording of part of the communications between the pilot and ATC. You may be able to find that recording on YouTube or some other location if you want to listen to the exchange between the pilot and ATC.
Since my ATC friend never steers me wrong, I listened to the recording within two hours of the event. By the time I listened, the plane was on the ground, passengers removed, and the airport operating normally. As it turns out, this woman was a former Navy pilot and the first woman to fly an F-18. Her resume’ is impressive, but I do not need to reprint all of that here.
On the tape, her voice is calm, a person in control. This is a real emergency, but it sounds like she is flying another simulator training flight. Make no mistake about it, airline pilots get to fly a lot of simulator emergencies, and engine out and IFR are included in every training flight. In this case, the engine didn’t just quit, some parts failed and a piece of metal broke through a window causing the plane to depressurize and injure several passengers. The Captain was made aware of this, and requested medical assistance to be on hand after landing.
The noise in the cabin must have been deafening, and it was no small feat for the flight attendants to assist the passengers and communicate with the Captain. This calm, in control, Captain made a single engine landing and emergency responders were there as the plane came to a stop.
Any pilot should receive attention for a safe landing in such an emergency. Since this is a woman pilot, she will receive a much deserved share of attention for a safe landing.
The problem is: there are too few women pilots. We really should have more women pilots. I have written on this subject in the past, but it seems appropriate to review this again.
At the Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association (MAPA) recurrent training in Henderson, NV, in April, I was invited to be an instructor pilot. There were about 25 Mooney pilots and airplanes that showed up for this; one of four programs that MAPA does every year. Only one of the Mooney pilots was a woman. At the end of the seminar/training we all gathered for dinner and visiting. She did get to stand up and talk about the seminar, and commented that she was the only woman pilot there.
When my turn to speak came, I told her, and the others at the dinner, that I had trained a woman pilot soon after earning my instructors certificate. This was in Pittsburgh. My student pilot is also a doctor, and she learned quickly. She had taken one ride with a friend in a Mooney 201 and was hooked on flying. After passing her private pilot check ride, she purchased a Mooney, and went on to get her instrument rating, commercial, CFII and ATP, and is still flying today. She was really dedicated to learning to fly.
Over the years, I have had other doctors and lawyers as student pilots, or interested in advanced ratings. The problem that they all face is their time. All pilots will tell you how much time it took them to get a pilot’s license or any rating. I had the same problem getting all of my ratings. Trying to work, raise a family, and learn to fly was quite a task. If you learn to fly in the military, that IS your job and that is all you do until you get the ratings you need.
In 23 years of instructing, very few women have come to seek a pilot’s license. How do we get more women to join our ranks? An article I read not long ago said that only 7% of pilots are women. In the early days of aviation, flying airplanes was considered a “man’s job.” I think that women like Amelia Earhart, and others, debunked that theory early on.
Is aviation just not of much interest to women? Obviously I have more questions than answers. In order to answer some of those questions, I have reached out to women pilots that I do know, or who might be of help. I met a young woman at Gila Bend, a CFII working for an Arizona flight school, and had a brief conversation with her about her interest in aviation. She has interest in becoming an airline pilot and is working hard to get experience enough to apply.
Another woman pilot that did fly for an airline suggested that universities that offer courses in aviation would attract more female candidates. She also told me about the harassment that she had to put up with being only one of 22 women for the airline that she flew with. The men didn’t want women to be there. Sure, we have heard of this kind of treatment elsewhere in industry, too. I would like to believe that harassment is coming to an end; not just in aviation, but in all industry.
When in my business in Pittsburgh I supplied electrical control systems. A woman electrical engineer called me to ask a question about how to apply a timer to a circuit she was designing for a steel mill. She went through an elaborate explanation about how she had come to the question and what she wanted to do. She felt that she had to do this in order for me to believe that she was a qualified electrical engineer. When she got to the question, it was a relatively simple application (at least to me). I assured her that she did not need to give me all of that up front description, and I already believed that she was fully qualified as an electrical engineer. She was so accustomed to men not believing that a woman could engineer things for steel mills that she had developed this system of up front explaining for credibility.
For women that are interested in aviation there is an organization called “The 99’s.” Formed in 1929 when there were only 117 women pilots in the country. In 1941 Amelia Earhart was elected the first president, and the group selected the name “Ninety-Nines” to represent the charter members. This group supports women pilots no matter what their motivation is: General Aviation, Military, Airlines, Corporate Flying, or ‘Just for the fun of it.’ With local chapters all over the country, there are programs to assist women pilot candidates, and they do lots of fun things as well.
“It just looked like so much fun,” was exactly what one woman said to me when I asked why she learned to fly. Another one was interested in how airplanes do fly. You are going to learn all of that as you learn to fly. It is part of the program.
Whatever your motivation is, you will find lots of assistance from the ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION as well. Come to any of the Safety Seminars that you will find all over the State and join the other members in events having fun. And, remember, bring your wingman.