A GIFT for women aviators

May 4, 2011

Three Generations
Mary Latimer, at far right, is shown with her daughter Tamara Griffith (left) and granddaughter Amanda Griffith. The three generations of aviators—Mary and Tamara are CFIs; Amanda is a student pilot—will be hosting a flight academy designed for women.

Mary Latimer has wanted to help more women become pilots ever since she became one herself. She recently hit upon a strategy to help women succeed: Create a program that will help women age 15 and older advance their flight training. She and her husband, assisted by other flight instructors, will hold the Girls In Flight Training (GIFT) academy in July.

The academy will take place at Wilbarger County Airport in Vernon, Texas, and will run from July 29 through Aug. 7. It will include ground school and non-loggable desk-top simulator training. Flight training will be offered in a Cessna 152 or Cessna 172 that the Latimers will provide. Participants can bring other aircraft if they wish.

But there’s no specific curriculum or schedule, because Latimer wants to hear from the women who sign up about what sort of help they need, whether it’s brushing up for a checkride, additional help with cross-country planning, or overcoming nervousness about stall recovery. Participants can stay for as many days as they desire.

“Having a group of women together like [this], I’m hoping the classroom and interaction … will be more important and beneficial,” Latimer said.

The organizers will not charge for ground or flight instruction—only for the use of the airplane and fuel. What’s more, Latimer is working to ensure free or low-cost housing is available. She leases a small house at the airport that can hold six to 10 people. Participants also are welcome to pay for their lodging at a local motel.

Latimer and her husband, Lawrence, will provide flight instruction, assisted by their daughter, Tamara Griffith, as well as several friends in their aviation community, all of whom are “women friendly instructors.”

Latimer, a longtime independent flight instructor and a former air traffic controller, got the idea for the GIFT Academy after visiting the Women Airforce Service Pilots museum in Sweetwater, Texas. The WASP were already certificated pilots when they underwent military flight training, but they developed a camaraderie that helped them get through the intensive experience.

Latimer understands what it’s like to stand out. When she obtained her airframe and powerplant mechanic certificate, she was the only female in a group of 125 students. When she became a controller, again she was the lone female in a class of 18. “That’s kind of the story of my life,” she said. “I’ve learned to deal with the guys. You just roll with the punches and don’t let them intimidate you.”

Getting women interested in aviation is not GA’s stumbling block, Latimer said. “Our stumbling block is once we get them started, how do we keep them going?” Other groups are focusing on bringing women to the airport and introducing them to aviation, but there’s also a need to ensure women pilots progress through their first certificate and on to commercial and instrument ratings. “I need to find out what’s interfering with them finishing. Then we can fix the problem,” she said. “You can’t fix the problem until you identify the problem.”

She said she hopes to give GIFT Academy participants “the tools that they need so that they can succeed, whether that tool is training knowledge or a support network or a shoulder to cry on when you’ve had a bad day.” As a designated pilot examiner, Latimer said she’s prepared to give a practical test if anyone is ready for a checkride. In fact, she’d love to conduct a checkride on Aug. 1—the 100th anniversary of the date Harriet Quimby became the first U.S. woman to earn an Aero Club of America aviator’s certificate.

GIFT Academy is accepting applicants. Wilbarger County Airport is located in Vernon, Texas, between Dallas and Amarillo. To enroll or for more information, email Latimer.
Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman | AOPA Technical Editor, AOPA

AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.