Women in Aviation Magazine
"Getting Girls Interested
in Aviation: A "How To" Guide for Parents"
September/October 1997, by Amy Laboda
It's 7:37 a.m. and the dilemma is what to take to school
(that fits in a backpack) for the science corner. The
letter of the week is "S," so we are limited here. My
six-year-old daughter Rosie is loosely enthusiastic. I'm
not much for brainstorming that early either, but we've
got to get this done. Panning the room, I finally lock
on: a wooden model of Discovery, the space shuttle, sits
on a low shelf in the den. There are no moving parts and
it's not heavy enough to serve as a weapon. Rosie's eyes
light up when I suggest it. Ten minutes later it's swathed
in plastic padding, tucked into the book bag and on its
way to an adventure in kindergarten only matched by being
on a real launch.
Maybe that model could launch a whole career, if Rosie's
interest holds, I think. Astronauts have some of the best
government jobs on the roster. I certainly wouldn't want
my firstborn to discount it. But how do I keep that sparkle
in her eye when we talk about or do all things aviating?
I'm sure I'm not the only parent with the problem.
Girls, in particular, need encouragement to keep them
on the learning track that leads to aviation careers.
Numerous studies show that girls ditch math and science
in the middle school years because it's no longer cool
to be smart in that way. If my girls want to be pilots,
controllers, airport managers or even astronauts and engineers,
they'll have to stick it out and stay involved in math
and science, even if it's not the most popular thing to
Worried as I am, I studied the issue hoping to get a head
start on Rosie, before she knows what I'm up to and tries
that rebellion thing. Here are a few techniques I have
uncovered for keeping a youngster's eyes twinkling with
interest over anything flyable.
1. Take your daughter flying: Better yet, give
her the right seat, throw a headset on her and put her
to work. I've found that a few cues are all even a five-year-old
needs to get her started on pilotage. Let's face it, before
kids can read, the whole world's a picture to them, and
a sectional chart is simply another rendition of one of
those wonderful "Where's Waldo" pages. If the two of you
plan the flight out, you'll be surprised at how quickly
your youngster learns to pick out landmarks and keep you
on the straight track to your destination.
Older children can be even more helpful as co-pilots.
By the time I was 10 years old, changing radio frequencies,
dialing in squawk codes and tuning VORs were all within
my capabilities. Supervision is the key here. Every good
pilot I've ever flown right seat with looked and checked
frequencies before they began transmitting. Two heads
are better than one in the cockpit, if both brains remain
engaged at all times.
Make sure your daughter has a chance to fly right up front
with you and see firsthand why you you love it. When she
is old enough, she may want to learn to fly. She needs
to be 14 years old to earn glider solo privileges, 16
years old to solo an airplane, and 17 years old to earn
a recreational or private pilot certificate. When that
time comes, offer her flying lessons or hitch her up with
one of the many organizations that cater to young aviators,
including the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), Junior ROTC, and
the Boy Scouts Aviation Explorers (it's co-ed). The Experimental
Aircraft Association (EAA), CAP and NASA all run summer
programs for youths.
If you aren't a pilot, you can still encourage her. Just
hanging out at the local Fixed Base Operation (FBO) on
a weekend is an education in aviation. Show up often enough
and you and your daughter are sure to hook up with an
empathetic pilot or two willing to give you a ride. In
lieu of that, contact your local chapter of the EAA and
find out about its "Young Eagles" program, which offers
first airplane rides to youngsters who are interested
in aviation. Your local FAA office is always happy to
give tours, as is the Flight Service Station, the Control
Tower or Air Route Traffic Control Center. Airlines are
also keen on the good public relations they earn when
they give kids operations and cockpit tours.
If you have a tough time getting any of these organizations
to open their doors to you and your daughter, take the
idea to her teachers at school. They'll be happy for a
class project. The FAA, AOPA, GAMA and Linda Finch's "You
Can Soar" program all offer accessible aviation curricula.
2. Teach her about airplanes: why they fly, their
history, their internal workings. Airplanes, or at least
the concept of airplanes, have been around since Leonardo
da Vinci. You can check out books from the library on
airplanes and read them together. You can go to airshows
and talk to the people who restore and fly antique and
classic airplanes. There's not a kid born yet who can
resist a photorealistic multimedia adventure in surround-sound,
something all of these museums offer.
If you do some of your own maintenance on your airplane,
let your daughter get greasy with you from time to time
out in the shop. She'll benefit from both the basic skills
you can show her, as well as the one-on-one time with
you. There's nothing like understanding the craft from
the inside out to make a good pilot.
3. Show her women who fly: If little girls never
see women in aviation related careers, particularly as
pilots and mechanics, they won't know that they can be
pilots and mechanics too. Women may not make up much more
than six percent of the total U.S. pilot population (and
less than one percent of the mechanics) but thousands
are out there making good livings and enjoying good jobs
with great benefits. Take time to expose your daughter
to role models: women pilots, flight instructors, mechanics,
and engineers. Your daughter needs to see that girls grow
up and enter these careers--otherwise she's likely to
turn to you and say, "Yeah, this is cool, but girls don't
get grease under their nails, and they certainly don't
If she does that, point out astronaut Shannon Lucid who
is a mom, a multiengine rated pilot, a biochemical engineer,
and a space flight record holder. Astronaut Eileen Collins
flew jets for the Air Force and taught math before piloting
the space shuttle. She is also a mom. Both women have
managed to build excellent careers in aviation and have
a family life at the same time. Not easy, but doable.
Need more glitz? Talk to the aerobatic show pilots such
as Patty Wagstaff, Michele Thonney and Julie Clark. There
are more women than you might think turning airplanes
upside down and sideways. They enjoy talking about it
to the crowd.
Women in Aviation, International (WAI) members are happy
to hook your daughter up with a real female airline mechanic
or military aviator, an airport manager or an FBO executive,
and she can ask questions to her heart's delight. WAI
was created for just that purpose.
There are good aviation careers out there for girls if
they want them. The trick is keeping that spark in my
little girl's eye alive, so that each time she hears an
airplane overhead she turns toward it and thinks, "I could
do that." As long as she knows it is possible, the doors
stay open. And open doors are the beginning of some wonderful
© Reprinted with permission from Amy Laboda 2000