Flying, it’s not a 'boy thing'

March 14, 2012

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    Maryland State Police Trooper 3 sits on display during the Fly it Forward event on March 10 at Frederick Municipal Airport. Photo by Ferdi Mack.

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    Women and men of all ages receive a tour of Maryland State Police Trooper 3 on March 10 at Frederick Municipal Airport. Photo by Ferdi Mack.

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    General aviation aircraft taxi in conga lines to take women and girls aloft for their first flights. Photo by Ferdi Mack.

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    The usually busy Frederick Municipal Airport picks up even more traffic on March 10 during Fly it Forward day, with general aviation aircraft lining up like airliners waiting for takeoff. Photo by Ferdi Mack.

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    When it comes to first flights, passengers are all smiles. Photo by Ferdi Mack.

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    An Air Force Huey draws a steady stream of spectators. Photo by Sarah Brown.

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    A T-34 in the aircraft display steals several looks. Photo by Sarah Brown.

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    Braving the cold, women and girls check out a hot air balloon basket and biplane. Photo by Ferdi Mack.

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    Wing walker Jane Wicker’s biplane was on static display. Wicker showcased her aircraft and showed girls how she gets out of the cockpit and onto the wing. Photo by Sarah Brown.

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    More than 500 Marylanders flock to the Frederick Municipal Airport for the Fly it Forward festivities. Men snap pictures while women climb aboard aircraft for free flights. Photo by Ferdi Mack.

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    A female Huey crewmember describes helicopter operations. Photo by Ferdi Mack.

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    These curious girls may one day become helicopter pilots! Photo by Ferdi Mack.

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    Firing the burner of a hot air balloon produces instant smiles! Photo by Mike Collins.

With a 360-degree view of the airport environment, tower tourists could imagine directing a conga line of general aviation aircraft making 10-mile circuits at Maryland’s Frederick Municipal Airport. Others took control of aircraft for the first time in that conga line.

The field transformed into a hub of activity on March 10 for Women of Aviation Worldwide Week’s Fly it Forward Day with 27 aviators and aviatrixes alike volunteering to take 242 girls and women aloft for free 20-minute flights. The day shattered the previous year’s record of 185.

High-performance aircraft provided flights over scenic Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., to the west while other aircraft departed to the northeast over a patchwork of farmland. Two curious teenagers who flew with a male pilot asked afterward if any women were flying; they were quickly introduced to one of the female flight instructors giving rides that day.

Word of the event spread throughout the community, attracting every age from toddler to retiree, pairs of mothers and daughters, groups of friends, and Brownie Troop members looking for adventure. It also drew dads, grandfathers, husbands, and brothers, but they remained earth-bound, manning cameras and taking in other festivities. In all, more than 500 people took part in the event, according to organizer Victoria Neuville. The local pilot community and businesses provided royal treatment, including free fixed-wing and helicopter flights, tours of the fully equipped but not-yet-operational air traffic control tower, an aircraft display, flight lesson information packets, free food, and more.

One girl learned for the first time that becoming a pilot was an option for her: She had “told her father that she didn’t think she could become a pilot because ‘it was a boy thing,’” Neuville wrote in her blog shortly after the event. Attendees also learned about many aspects of aviation, including the Air Force flying, air traffic control, hot air balloons, and even wing walking. “Children were in awe as Jane Wicker demonstrated how she gets out of her biplane in flight and proceeds to walk—without harness or wire—out onto the wing of the aircraft,” Neuville wrote. Wicker’s Stearman was a popular part of the aircraft display, as was a hot air balloon basket and burners, and Flying Wild Alaska cast member Sarah Fraher.

Bucket lists, new adventures

Sometimes, people just need a taste of flying to get hooked. Martine Christensen’s curiosity in aviation was evident from the moment she walked up to the registration table for her flight. Less than a half hour later, Christensen caught the flying bug as she flew a Cessna 172 at 2,500 feet msl. Now, she already has her first logbook entry.

Many walked away with an interest in learning to fly. One of the flight schools on the field sold six discovery flights, according to Neuville. Volunteer pilots talked about how some of those they took flying were interested in flight training. David Kenny, the AOPA Foundation’s Air Safety Institute statistician, was one such volunteer. He flew 12 people in his Arrow, and by his calculations, if the one teenager who expressed interest in learning to fly follows through, he’ll consider it a good return on investment.

Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Miller | AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor

AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor Alyssa J. Miller has worked at AOPA since 2004 and is an active flight instructor.