Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Oh My God! There’s No Man In The Cockpit!

Change perception through education

Teresa Stokes, commercial- and instrument-rated pilot, wing walker, aviation artist, mechanic, musician: "One time, I was flying a Twin to an air show and had to land short of my destination because of deteriorating weather. The small airport where I landed was deserted, so I called a taxi and was tying the twin down for the night when the cab driver pulled up. When I jumped in the cab and told him my destination in town, he continued to wait for the invisible man! After arguing with him that I did not drive in—I would not have needed a cab—and that I was alone, he was still unable to comprehend the possibility that I had flown that plane in myself, no matter what I said. Finally in frustration, I threw my hands to my cheeks in mock 'Southern-belle' horror and exclaimed, 'Oh my! Whatever was I thinking! I can't fly that big machine without a man in there!' Though I love the camaraderie with women pilots, all bad stories aside, one of my (many) favorite things about aviation is that there are a lot of men around! Nice!"

USAF Lt. Col. Jill Long is currently assigned to Kabul, Afghanistan. She has accumulated more than 3,000 military flight hours and 50 A-10 Warthog combat missions in the Global War on Terrorism. Jill recounts an earlier experience, "When I was a lieutenant, I joined a health club in Spokane. After an early-morning workout, I showered and changed into my flight suit for work. One of the older ladies turned to me and said, 'Oh my! Isn't that darling! I didn't know there was a costume party today— where is it?' I stood there dumbfounded, breathed deeply and said, 'Ma'am, I am going to work.' She turned beet red and said, 'Oh my, when my husband was a pilot, there weren't any women.' After an awkward pause, she smiled and said, 'Good for you!' We later became friends and still laugh about it."

Debbie Gary, air show pilot, first woman in the world to lead a formation team, first woman to form one of the all-women wing-walking acts and writer and contributor to Smithsonian's Air & Space magazine: "I learned to fly at age 19, and when the inevitable 'girl pilot' buzz cranked up around me, I decided it was important to ignore both the flattery and the criticism. No point in thinking I was either better or worse than I really was. With time, it was fun when people were surprised by my ability, but occasionally, I lost my temper over stupid remarks. In 1974, I was a pilot on the four-plane Carling Aerobatic Team in Canada. As the only girl flying full-time formation aerobatics at that time, I was used to being treated with a lot of respect. So the day a Toronto reporter approached me and said, ''re the token girl on the team,' I was shocked and offended enough to want to wring his neck!"

Julie Clark, airline pilot and air show pilot: "At Oshkosh 2008, I was getting ready to depart, and the 'pink shirts'—volunteer ATC controllers—asked on the radio, 'Why is it that you beautiful blondes always get to sit up front and ride in these great warbirds?' I replied, 'I'm up front because this is my airplane and my back-seater doesn't even know how to fly!' There was a brief silence and then I heard a whisper, 'That's Julie Clark…' The controller then simply said, 'Taxi into position and hold.'"

We aren't all as famous as Julie or as high ranking as Jill, so I wonder what it's like for the rest of women pilots? How does bias and stereotyping affect their ability to want to learn to fly or their learning experience as a student pilot? How does it affect their ability to get jobs in aviation, or to get promotions in non-union job environments? How many women are kept away from aviation altogether by gender bias?


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