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Program sparks girls’ interest in aviation

By Sarah Brown

Aisles of toys and books are dedicated to transporting young girls to a land of fairy tales and princesses, but one organization is launching a character this spring that encourages them to aim for the sky.

The Penelope Pilot Project, part of the organization Girls With Wings, is designed to capture the imagination of girls with the character Penelope Pilot, a commercial airline pilot. The project will feature a series of books about Penelope and her friends, along with the characters’ dolls.

“Instead of encouraging our girls to wait for their knights in shining armor, how about encouraging them to explore the night in their shiny airplane?” reads the Ohio-based business’s Web site.

Girls With Wings, a public awareness and e-commerce project, organizes events and activities to introduce girls to aviation-related careers. Its Web site bears the slogan, “Girls need flight plans, not fairy tales!” and sells a range of products centered on the theme, “Yes, Girls Can Fly!”

The Penelope program is sponsored by Flight Plan Magazine, a publication for women in aviation that is also launching this spring. The first issue will feature a “character form” of Penelope, a thin foam image that girls can take to airshows and other aviation-related events. They can upload pictures of themselves with the character to www.PenelopePilotProject.org.

Penelope will make her first cross-country journey in April, when she rides along with ultralight pilot Arty Trost in Trost’s 1984 Maxair Drifter from Oregon to Lakeland, Fla., for Sun ‘n Fun.

Lynda Meeks, the founder of Girls With Wings, said she has written a picture book about Penelope that she expects to be out before the AirVenture convention in late July. Girls With Wings will have a booth at the Wisconsin airshow.

Meeks, a private airline pilot, said she started the company about five years ago after she went looking for a baby gift for a friend of hers – also a pilot – who was expecting a girl. She could find no aviation-themed products for girls, so she started embroidering airplanes on items herself.

“I thought it was a bigger issue that we weren’t celebrating women in aviation as we should,” she said. She made it her mission to use women in aviation to educate and inspire young girls.

Susan Pruitt, editor of Flight Plan Magazine, contacted Meeks about the Penelope Pilot Project after her daughter found the Girls With Wings Web site. Meeks said the launch of the magazine and the Penelope project are coinciding nicely, and Pruitt has taken the lead on developing a doll. Meeks hopes to develop nine characters in the project, encompassing all aspects of aviation.

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