By Jill Oakes
Forty years after professions including medicine, engineering, and law grew from about five per cent female to over thirty per cent female, aviation remains at less than six per cent female in recreational and commercial aviation.
The Manitoba Chapter of the 99s International Organization of Women Pilots, Recreational Aircraft Association and the University of Manitoba are determined to improve those stats while working closely with the entire Manitoba aviation community.
In 2011, Bert Elam, 777 Captain for Air Canada, suggested an event inviting 180 women to fly. In 2012, they did it again and took 210 women flying.
Last year, Manitoba aviators took 740 women flying – Frank Roberts from Custom Helicopters flew over 300 of those women, setting a world record.
This event was followed up with a free ground school and about 10 women went on to get their private licences. Each of these events clearly demonstrated that women truly are crazy about flying – so what is holding them back?
In September 2013, Bill Vandenberg donated his C150, C-FLUG to the Recreational Aircraft Association for the 99s (women pilots) to build hours and stay current.
Rick Riewe donated $10,000 for C-FLUG, and Jim Aitken volunteered as C-FLUG’s AME. Women pilots and pilots-in-training volunteered as helpers.
Established Springfield Flying Club members and other Manitoba senior aviators generously donated cheques made out to C-FLUG (it has its own bank account) so each new woman pilot receives about $200 worth of avgas. Aviation businesses including Airparts Network, Goulet Aircraft Supply, Keystone Avionics, and ICOM provided startup support for this initiative.
Women typically are in lower paying jobs than men; however, working together we have effectively eliminated the cost factor for women by providing an opportunity to build hours and stay current on C-FLUG for $20 an hour.
C-FLUG is based at the RAA building at Lyncrest Airport and members of the Springfield Flying Club (SFC) welcome the influx of new pilots. The coffee pot is always on and extra chairs are pulled up for the women to join in the “Hangar Flying.”
Women interested in flying, pilots-in-training and pilots are invited to participate in a wide variety of events. Seminars focused on issues such as: safety, flying on skis/floats, seasonal flying, engines, winter survival, and uncontrolled aerodromes; and workshops on timing magnetos, adjusting radio settings, preparing aluminum for paint, using signal mirrors, and walking runways at uncontrolled aerodromes – plus flying out for coffee or going out for lunch together are a few of the ongoing activities C-FLUG has facilitated.
Through these experiences women have taken ownership of C-FLUG and have formed an invaluable local, national and international social network.
“Associating with other women pilots is extremely valuable to me. It gives me an opportunity to get to know other women in the industry, to build great friendships while sharing a common passion of flying. For example, I had the most amazing time spending the weekend stripping paint off of our women-only club plane C-FLUG with other pilots/pilots-in-training. We were singing along to the radio, had a lot of good laughs, swapped flight training and flying stories, and captured a lot of memories on camera,” says Jenna Johannsen.
“I really enjoy when all the female pilots get together – we have a blast,” says Tara Ursel. “It is really nice to be able to talk flying with other women who actually understand what you are talking about and share the same passion. I am still a pilot-in-training so it is nice to be able to get advice and reassurance from the experienced women pilots. I also love getting together with the other women because I always know I am going to learn something new; there has not been a meeting yet where I didn’t leave with new knowledge. For somewhat shy people like me, it is a safe place where I can talk about any flight training difficulties without being judged.”
Through C-FLUG, women who are crazy about flying have the opportunity to work side-by-side with AMEs. Jim Aitken takes the time to reinforce basic maintenance and operational procedures. Dennis Turney at Stevenson Aviation and Aeronautics Training Centre has offered workshops to increase understanding of how engines and magnetos operate, of the use of carb heat, and other maintenance topics. Leon Woychuk led a paint stripping workshop and has volunteered to paint C-FLUG this spring. Keep your eyes to the sky for a hot pink and magenta C150.
“C-FLUG has been a fabulous learning tool. Being able to see, ask questions, and touch so many parts as I work on her (C-FLUG) has really made it a lot easier for me to understand how they work,” says pilot Becky Dueck. “It also makes me more aware of things that may become potential problems.
“Also, I look forward to sharing my passion of flying with those who are exploring or just starting out on their flying journey,” adds Dueck.
In the near future, perhaps more of these women will own their own planes. “C-FLUG has provided me with the opportunity to get a hands-on experience of what goes into owning and maintaining an airplane,” says Johannsen.
Manitoba is making a difference
Building on the incredible energy of women working with women, “We are planning cross-country flights to embark on together with C-FLUG. We look forward to showing off C-FLUG’s new paint job and upholstery across the country and across the border to Oshkosh,” says Johannsen.
“There is such an incredible network of people who are so willing to share their knowledge and years of experience in the aviation industry with people like myself and the other ladies involved with C-FLUG. It is really nice to know that there is a great deal of support within our aviation community to encourage women to fly,” she adds.
This April, the 99s and RAA are working with Harv’s Air to offer a free PSTAR ground school for women interested in learning how to fly.
One year, there will be an entire ground school and flight training class of women as Manitoba embraces the dream of expanding aviation to include 50 per cent women, as the other male-dominated professions did so many years ago.
More information about the program is available on its Facebook page at facebook.com/womenflyfree. If you are interested in being a part of this exciting opportunity, contact email@example.com.