When Brianne Kroupa learned about personal protective equipment shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the private pilot and seamstress formulated a plan that combined her love of aviation and her love of crafting to begin a volunteer campaign to make cloth face masks for fellow pilots.
“I was sitting on the couch thinking, ‘Hmm … I should do something.’ I’m a seamstress and I make things all the time, but I knew this was bigger than I could handle,” she explained during an online interview.
A plan soon emerged to cut, sew, and ship cloth face masks to pilots who were transporting cargo, passengers, or patients—and provide the hand-made items at no charge, except for shipping.
The group of seamstresses started out on Facebook Messenger until the effort grew to about 30 members and got too big for the handful of sewing aviators to handle. Kroupa said it soon became apparent they would need professional help getting the products from their sewing tables to flight decks and cockpits.
She was directed to OnePlaneJane.com owner Christine Hannon, an instrument-rated private pilot who operates an online soft goods store for female aviators. The OnePlaneJane.com website notes that the free masks are “Handmade by aviators, for aviators, with love,” and pilots are asked only to pay shipping charges.
“I’ve never met Christine, so it was a leap of faith” to connect with her for ordering, inventory, and shipping help, explained Kroupa. “We didn’t want to put the [shipping] burden on the seamstresses.” She complimented Allyssa VanMeter and Emmy Dillon for helping coordinate the volunteer team of sewing aviators.
Because Kroupa is a skilled seamstress, it takes her about 10 minutes to sew one cloth face mask, but it can take up to a half-hour for others who are less experienced. “I’ve sewn so much that I can really get these techniques down quickly.”
A majority of the fabric is donated to allow the group to supply it to furloughed aviators who also have sewing skills. Some seamstresses use a variety of colors and patterns that are already in their cabinets to meet the high demand. The material is 100-percent cotton to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, and the fabric designs are mostly gender neutral. There are plans to make solid colors available for military members, per their regulations.
Kroupa said orders are flying in at a rapid pace and “most pilots are asking, ‘How many face masks can I get?’” There’s a limit of two per order to keep from overwhelming the sewing community, “but you can make multiple orders,” she said.
Kroupa completed her private pilot certificate in a Cessna 172 “about this time last year” in Anoka, Minnesota, and said flying a small airplane was “an awesome dream” come true. She pursued flying because her long-range plan is to become an air traffic controller and she suspected that learning about aviation from a pilot’s perspective would make her a better controller.
About halfway through her private training Kroupa “fell in love with the sky.” On Valentine’s Day she earned an FAA flight dispatch certificate—a steppingstone to an ATC career. Kroupa said the six-week training regimen was “pretty cool, but pretty intense. I really hit the books hard, but it was a great experience.” She said the experience revealed flight dispatch work was something she could really enjoy, and it could lead to an ATC position or “give me a backup plan if I don’t get into ATC.”
When AOPA Member Services specialist Kristen Rayner learned about the effort she sharpened her shears and joined in. Rayner praised Kroupa for “stepping forward with a plan” to organize others to help fellow aviators during the coronavirus pandemic.
Kroupa is eager to help spread the word about the volunteer cloth face mask project for pilots. Those who have a knack for sewing can email her directly to join the grassroots group of sewing aviators. “We could definitely use more seamstresses” she confided, “and we could also use supplies.” She said that while it’s not common for an individual to possess sewing skills and aviation experience, “both of these communities have really big hearts. I was just in shock how much help we’ve received. These ladies are amazing. It’s been a real blessing.”