By Cathy Montgomery
I received an email on March 4th from Oshawa COPA member Cheryl Marek highlighting the Worldwide Women in Aviation Week. It grabbed my interest because it was in loose terms a “fly it forward” event. It brought to mind that movie “Pay it Forward” and I am a sap for movies like that.
The Worldwide Women in Aviation organization has been trying for a few years to get more females flying. I got on their website and was reading all about female pilots worldwide offering free flight, prizes, tours and talks on aviation. A lot of the flight schools were offering free flights. I thought I better get my ass in gear as I only had a week to get ready.
I lobbied the COPA Flight 34 group that same day to see if I could get a few more pilots to fly the women and girls who might sign up. I had a feeling if I promoted it right I would be swamped with people ready to fly.
I have been operating my ultralight flight school for almost 12 years now and I have only had one female student and she was just too busy to finish. I suspect she will be back though as her husband and son are students of mine and they keep a Trike in my hangar. But I would really love to see more women flying (and teaching) Trikes. Also, my Triker friends are getting too old (unlike me) to do the trike/camping trips I like.
At the COPA meeting I only had two members willing to fly. It is a hard time of year to get people to drag their planes out. A large number of pilots also take their insurance off for the winter. But don’t forget the Women of Aviation event was a worldwide event so it’s warm elsewhere.
I went home Saturday and started emailing the three local radio stations and the two newspapers who in the past have been great at promoting events for me for free. I also called the TV station and the local tourism board. They both posted it on their events web pages.
I mentioned this event would be open to women and girls who have never held a pilot license and have never been in a small plane. Commercial flights were excluded. They had to pre-register as well.
I woke up Sunday morning to my radio alarm and my name being mentioned and I thought oh, oh, I am going to be swamped. My phone never seemed to stop ringing for three days. If I could have lined up 20 pilots, I could have got literally hundreds of women and girls flying.
To be honest I thought the event might be a flop. I was depending on people to fly and I was depending on the weather. I did ask the COPA members to open the doors to the hangars, show off their planes and talk flying. I asked the City of Peterborough to show off the terminal and I asked the owner of the restaurant to be ready.
I even called the other fixed wing GA flight school (I call them the dark side) to open their doors and welcome the women and girls.
I was getting so many calls and I felt bad that I had to stop taking names at about 50. But many of the women said they would be happy to just come out and have a look at the planes if the weather crapped out. I was offering rain checks to those who came out but didn’t get to fly.
I got busy emailing students and friends to help out for the day. I had to go up to Hawkesbury on Monday for two days to do some flight tests and my other “real” job got in the darn way of planning for the flying.
I was up on Saturday at 5 a.m. looking at the forecast. It was 1,100 feet overcast and gusting to 17 knots. Not good for an event such as this. The forecast looked like their might be a small window from 8 to 10 a.m. so I thought I better get down to the hangar.
I was there for 6 a.m. and my first flight was there at 6:30. I gave the first three ladies rain checks and told them to come back in an hour or so.
The sky seemed to clear about an hour later so my student Gennady and I went for a flight to check out the conditions and they were perfect! The winds were calm, not gusting at all, the ceiling was high and we had a warm temperature of -1C.
Gennady went over to the main terminal and told the other pilots to send any overflow of participants our way since I had cancelled three earlier flights. I flew from 7:30 until 3 p.m. and managed to take 20 women and girls up flying. Many of them had signed up for the Cessna flight and had no idea they would get the opportunity to fly a Trike.
Hubert Wren from the COPA Flight 34 group flew from 9 a.m. until almost 4 p.m. before the ceilings started to drop. He took up 29 participants. Mark Pollock from the same group took up two. All in all, we introduced 51 females to flying small airplanes.
There was a constant stream of people coming through the flight school and my students Gennady and Jeremy were great at fielding all the questions.
Gennady suited them all up because many of them didn’t come dressed to fly in a Trike. Jeremy got them ready in the back seat, doing up helmets, seat belts and headsets. I had my son Colin getting the waivers signed and handing out all the information on flying ultralights. I am very thankful for all the volunteers as I could not believe the response to the promotion.
There was of course many boys and men who tagged along but we had to turn them down. Lots of family members came to show support because as you know it takes a lot of nerve for some people to get in an ultralight.
It was really and truly an amazing event, and it was so refreshing to see all the young faces smiling and flying! I urge all of the UPAC members to consider hosting an event like this. It doesn’t have to be affiliated with the Women in Aviation Worldwide, though they do offer quite a few prizes and awards if you register your flight record. They really just gave me the idea and the timing was right to do it this weekend as I am too busy in the warmer months.
So go “fly it forward” everyone!