Wednesday, December 26, 2012



"Just watch all you men. I'll show you what a woman can do. I'll go across
 the country, I'll race to the Moon.  I'll never look back."
Helicopter pilot Edna Gardner Whyte - 1931
Amelia Earhart
Photo credit - Women Aloft, Time-Life Books
When I reflect on the female aviators who came before me the images aren't always the glamorous ones that most non-aviators conjure up.  Take Amelia Earhart - her happily-ever-after character is misleading at best and at worst, actually false. On the surface she was a stunning young woman who married a wealthy man who was able and willing to finance her passion for flight. She flew where she wanted to go, when she wanted to. She did not have to earn a living. Her publicist husband made sure that she had at least as much recognition as she deserved. Like Shirley Temple, she was America's sweetheart.
This fairy tale life doesn't really represent the history of women in aviation and that unique profile is not the true story - even for Amelia. Women in aviation prior to 1973 were denied, rebuffed and for the most part, unrecognized. They were relegated to flying jobs that men considered to be too dangerous or too poorly paid.  Many were forced to quit flying and move on to fields where they could at least make a living. Many died
while flying those flights men considered too dangerous.  Most died when there was no basis to believe that women would ever be treated equally in aviation. The history of female aviators is filled with unrecognized bravery, overwhelming prejudice and heartbreaking tragedy.

WOW! I've really painted a pretty grim picture but there is a happy outcome - promise. 

The legacy of women flyer's who actually broke into the world of aviation was truly amazing.
They were pioneer airwomen who worked at every type of flying - barnstorming, stunt flying, cross-country
racing, setting endurance and altitude records, flight instruction - everything except airline flying.  Those big paying jobs were reserved for the men.
Daredevils, risk-takers all, the names of the women who made it are now mostly forgotten.  It is a rich inspiring history of spirited individuals full of curiosity, passion. inner strength, the joy of accomplishment and a  sense of the sheer beauty of flight.  But today, when people think of female pilots, the only names that seem to come to mind are Amelia Earhart and Goldfinger's Pussy Galore.
For me the pioneering "aviatrix" embodied life itself. Their dreams were played out in real time. Their passions led them to face each new challenge with guts and gusto.  They lived the here-and-now, not waiting for someday knowing that illusive day might not ever come. They were exceptional women with full, complex and exceptional lives. They embodied characteristics that I realized I need to juggle a complex, successful and full life as a woman. The resourcefulness and courage they harnessed to master the skies was as much a part of their indomitable character as the flying itself.

These women didn't just break sound barriers; they blazed a trail for those of us who followed both in aviation and in life. They didn't set out to show any of us that you could "have it all". They simply wanted to do something that had never been done, so they had to buck systems, rules and all sorts of other obstacles to attain it. And by doing so they left a legacy of lessons that can guide and inspire men and women today.

They made flying a metaphor for life because it was full of risks and the unknown.  It was exhilarating and uncharted territory, a place where unexpected beauty was as often part of the scenery as was unexpected danger. Today flying is predictable yet unpredictable, beautiful and - in rare moments - cruel.
I became an airline pilot in March of 1973 and today, I also have two grown children, a husband and a home. Having all this, negotiating in a man's world, fighting to the top, where the few women there were all vying for the same places, took skill, humor, determination, optimism and passion.

And there you have it -  how I learned everything I needed to know about having a full life from flying and in my next few blogs I'd like to share some of the fascinating stories about these pioneer aviators with you.

Perhaps you too will learn something new about navigating your own life.


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