Mary Latimer wasn’t sure how many women would be interested in an intensive, all-female flight training camp. But the response to an AOPA article about the event—which Latimer had dubbed Girls In Flight Training, or GIFT—was overwhelming. Eventually, 18 women from all around the country traveled to Vernon, Texas, in July. The result: two new private pilots, two solos, and four successful knowledge tests.
Latimer said she was expecting participants from perhaps 200 or 300 miles away. Instead, she had women from Washington state, California, Michigan, West Virginia, Florida, Tennessee, and, of course, Texas. The all-female environment provided “lots of encouragement, support, and motivation to continue and encourage others,” said Latimer. Even better, she said, the women gave each other “new hope and ambitions for the ladies who were either ready to quit or thought they could never get a license.” She said she expects three additional pilot certificates in the next several weeks, and more in the next year.
The mix of students—ranging in experience from women who had never had a flying lesson to one who took and passed the commercial knowledge test—was not a problem, Latimer said. “I had expected to be teaching [a] classroom aimed at passing the private written, but quickly adapted to going back to the very basics,” she said. “This worked out very well. Even my more experienced students were frequently heard saying, ‘Why was I never taught that?’ ‘That explains a lot,’ ‘Now I understand,’ et cetera.”
What worked, what didn’t
Other things that worked for the GIFT:
The extreme Texas heat of late July was rough on the flying, Latimer said. She chose the date of the program hoping that GIFT would produce a new woman pilot on Aug. 1. That was the 100th anniversary of the date when Harriet Quimby became the first U.S. woman to receive a pilot certificate. One hundred years later, GIFT participant Darla Ratliff of Del Rio, Texas, earned a private pilot certificate in a Piper Cherokee. Ratliff’s husband and four children were on hand to help celebrate.
Other successes were a private pilot certificate for Michelle Bigbee and solos for Philomina Presentation and Roshelle Anderson, as well as the aforementioned four completed knowledge tests, Latimer said.
For future GIFTs, Latimer said she’ll move the event to November. Cooler temperatures should permit more flying, even if there’s weather, she said. She also said she hopes to get additional airplanes, flight instructors, and volunteers. For this first event, the 18 women flew with three CFIs.
Expressing appreciation for the flight instructors, volunteers, and others who lent support to the project, Latimer added, “To all the GIFTs: Each of you is an inspiration and getting to know you has been an overwhelming honor.