Experimenter

MAR 2015

Experimenter is a magazine created by EAA for people who build airplanes. We will report on amateur-built aircraft as well as ultralights and other light aircraft.

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Women in Aviation: We Need More of Them BY JACK J. PELTON 2 Vol.4 No.3 / March 2015 TOWER FREQUENCY THE HISTORY OF WOMEN in aviation is unusual compared to other male-dominated activities because women were involved almost from the beginning. For example, in 1906, just three years after the Wright broth- ers' fi rst successful powered fl ights, E. Lilian Todd designed and built an aircraft. In 1908 Frenchwoman Therese Peltier was the fi rst woman to pilot an airplane. And in 1910 American Blanche Stuart Scott was the fi rst woman to solo an airplane. The list of female fi rsts in aviation goes on, and the historic events occurred very early in the history of fl ight. Women were obviously interested in aviation, and at least some were supported and encouraged to participate. March is Women's History Month, and we mark the occasion in this month's issue of Sport Aviation with an article about female pilots who race at Reno, and another about women who do their fl ying at the grassroots level. It is important, even vital, to note the success of women who fl y. But somewhere between Blanche's fi rst solo in 1910 and now we lost momentum. Though women have fl own everything from ultralights to the space shuttle, their numbers in our ranks remain far too small. In the United States about 6 percent of all active certifi cated pilots are female. And that percentage has changed little over the decades. In fact, when the active pilot population peaked in the mid-1980s the share of women was about 6 percent, and it's essentially the same today with a quarter million fewer pilots. Certainly some of the blame for the small number of female pilots can be placed on outdated attitudes from guys. For too long fl ying and all things aviation was an all boys club. Even when women weren't actively excluded they too often were not welcomed. I'm happy to say that the actual barriers to women in aviation have largely been torn down. But we haven't been able to create the critical mass necessary to make girls and women feel wel- come. We all want and need to have people around us who we can relate to, who can be examples, and who can inspire us. With too few women in aviation those role models are too often missing. However, our annual convention at Oshkosh is an example of success in welcoming and including women and girls. When I fi rst started attending the convention decades ago there just weren't many girls and women there. But that has changed. We don't know absolute numbers, but my guess is that at least a third or more of the people at Oshkosh are female. And that's great. I believe there are two major reasons so many more women come to Oshkosh. One, and perhaps most important, is at the individual level. More of you, the guys, have encouraged your wives, daughters, and girlfriends to come to Oshkosh. That is essential. The other big reason for change is that as a group EAA has created activities and opportunities to include women and girls, to make them part of the overall experience. Another change has come from the aviation industry, which has actively set goals and succeeded in hiring more women. Now there are women as part of the teams of nearly all exhibitors at the show. They are leading by example. Welcoming women and expanding the diversity of all who participate in aviation is a major objective for EAA leadership. We simply can't grow, or even survive, as an old white guys club. That's one of the reasons our Young Eagles program is so suc- cessful and vital for the future. Nearly half of the youngsters who participate are girls. EAA's Women Soar program of ers an avia- tion day camp at Oshkosh for girls and includes female-specifi c activities during the convention. And EAA will continue to develop programs to involve and include women and girls, and I know they will help. But the most ef ective outreach must come from each of us guys who fl y. When we are attentive to the interest, concerns, and even worries of the girls and women in our lives about all things aviation we make progress. Inclusion must be continuous, not just annual events or even monthly meetings. It's right to celebrate the history of women in aviation, but it is essential for fl ying's future to do what it takes to make girls and women an everyday part of the personal aviation world we all love. Photography by Jason Toney

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