May 17, 2011
By Alyssa J. Miller
Sisters Avrey and Isla Salisbury practice radio communication and traffic pattern flow. Photos Credit: Bob Knill.
After her first flying lesson in the late 1960s, Annabelle Fera set her sights on the airlines. But the airlines wouldn’t hire her and neither would many flight schools—because she’s a woman.
“Girls can do it,” Fera encouraged 15 Girl Scouts from the Frederick, Md., area. “There was a time when that wasn’t true” because they weren't allowed. Girls from Troops 81310, 81473, and 81015 gathered at AOPA headquarters May 14 while members of the Women in Aviation-AOPA Chapter helped them work on aviation interest patches.
Fera, who has ratings and certificates through the airline transport pilot certificate, persevered, landing a jobs as a flight instructor and later as an FAA designated pilot examiner. Fera said she has tested between 9,000 and 10,000 pilot applicants.
“You girls are going to have to fly my dream for me,” she said of flying for the airlines. After Fera explained the different levels of pilot certification and aviation career opportunities, every girl said she wanted to become a pilot.
Annabelle Fera, an FAA designated pilot examiner, encourages Girl Scouts to become pilots.
Living vicariously as aviatrices for a few hours, they pretended to be aerobatic champion Patty Wagstaff flying through a barn and looping and rolling over the South Carolina countryside on a flight simulator.
“Oh yeah, totally. That’s me,” Avrey Salisbury said as she eagerly took the controls of the flight simulator to learn how to perform aerobatics. Loops and rolls were no problem, and neither was the barn. She made it through on both attempts.
“You’re pretty good, you may want to think about learning to fly,” AOPA Pilot Information Center Manager Toni Mensching said, congratulating Salisbury on completing a task that is difficult for certificated pilots to master.
In addition to flying the flight simulator, the girls learned how the parts of an aircraft work, walked through a preflight inspection, rehearsed radio calls and traffic pattern procedures, and learned how to plan a flight. They also learned about aviation charities and heard a firsthand account of flying missions for Pilots N Paws, a nonprofit organization that helps pilots connect with animal shelters and rescue groups to transport animals to new locations.
During the workshop, Girl Scout Ambassador Kelly Barnhard decided, “I’m interested in learning to fly.”
Fera’s advice? Go up for a lesson to “see if you like it,” she counseled the girls. “If your heart’s in it, you can do it.”
At the controls of Patty Wagstaff's aerobatic airplane, one Girl Scout giggles while looping and rolling.
AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor Alyssa J. Miller has worked at AOPA since 2004 and is an active flight instructor.
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