By Jeff Morrow
Very few women ever fly planes.
“Just 5 to 6 percent of all pilots are women,” said Marjy Leggett, treasurer and spokeswoman for the Mid-Columbia Ninety-Nines, an organization that supports female pilots.
Statistics bear that out. According to Womenofaviationweek.org, 5.39 percent of all pilots in 2010 were women.
So it’s important that those women who do fly have a support system that allows them to keep flying and learning.
That’s where The Ninety-Nines Inc. comes in.
Founded in 1929 by 99 female pilots, the international organization “promotes advancement through education, scholarships and mutual support while honoring our unique history and sharing our passion for flight,” according to its website.
Amelia Earhart was the organization’s first president.
The Mid-Columbia Ninety-Nines is the local chapter of the group that’s made up of female pilots who live in Eastern Washington and Oregon. The chapter has monthly meetings throughout the region.
Annual membership costs are $65 and $35 for student pilots.
The Mid-Columbia group is part of the Northwest section of The Ninety-Nines, which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota and Alaska.
“We have 30 members,” Leggett said. “The entire national membership is just under 5,000.”
Few women in aviation
So how come more women aren’t flying planes, both privately and professionally?
“In my opinion, a lot of women don’t think about it,” Leggett said. “The younger ones are busy with their careers or raising their families.”
Taryn Fleet, a national officer for The Ninety-Nines who lives in Tampa, Fla., agreed.
“Aviation has always been a male-dominated profession, as most of the engineering/industrial job fields have been,” she said. “I believe more women don’t become pilots because of our nature and upbringing.
“We are traditionally homemakers and mothers, and raised to be mothers, teachers, nurses, wives. In every little girl aisle at any toy store, you’ll find baby dolls and dollhouses and makeup kits, but you won’t find any tools or cars or planes. While these are traditionally ‘boy’ toys, they aren’t even marketed to girls, so we’re taught from a young age that aviation and airplanes are ‘for boys.’”
The expense is another issue.
“To just get their pilot’s license, I think it costs between $6,000 and $7,000 from start to finish,” Leggett said. “But you don’t have to pay for it all in one check. We do provide scholarships.”
It’s a major reason why more older women seem to be working toward a pilot’s license.
“But after the kids have grown up, a lot of women start flying in their 40s, 50s and 60s,” Leggett said. “It’s something they want to do for themselves.”
Professional coaching, training
The Ninety-Nines offer a lot of help for would-be pilots.
The group’s Professional Pilot Leadership Initiative is one program. It “aims to accelerate the advancement of women in all pilot professions, facilitate mentoring and enhance our leadership role in the aviation community,” according to its website.
The program provides Ninety-Nines with tools to develop their careers and leadership abilities through guided activities and formal mentoring partnerships with experienced female professional pilots.
The initiative has been a program through the Ninety-Nines since 2004, said Fleet. There are more than 70 program graduates and 150 women involved.
“We have anywhere from 5 to 15 women go through a session at a time,” Fleet said. “The biggest benefit I have taken away from this program is having an actual career map with practical steps I can take towards my final goal, and being able to see my career progress through monitoring my goals and achievements.”
It’s a great way to meet women with similar interests, too.
“Another thing I have really appreciated through the program has been the friendships I have formed with my mentor, and other women in the program with me,” Fleet said. “There are so few women in aviation, and even fewer mothers, that when I started flying at the regional level, I felt completely alone and unsupported.
“No one understood why I would get sad on day four of a four-day trip because I missed my children,” Fleet said. “Having a mentor that I could call that was not only another woman airline pilot, but also a mother of young children, really revolutionized my career goals for me, because I was no longer alone.”
Scholarships, support available
Leggett said the Mid-Columbia chapter is willing to help any female pilot wanting to advance their skills.
“We’re a nonprofit organization,” Leggett said. “Our creed is to provide scholarships for women to try to get their private pilot’s license, or try to get an advanced rating.”
But that’s not all the local Ninety-Nines do.
“We also provide mentoring for people trying to get their licenses,” Leggett said. “We also do air marking.”
Air marking started in the 1920s. Pilots depended on air marking — writing huge letters on the airport runway with the name of that airport.
“We’ve done the air marking for the Richland airport with 20-foot letters,” Leggett said.
The Ninety-Nines also offer educational activities.
“On Oct. 8, we’re holding a Kids Aviation Day,” Leggett said. “There will be five stations: weather, communications, flight planning, aerodynamics of flight and preflight. Kids will rotate through those stations.”
If you have children wanting to participate in Kids Aviation Day, contact Carol Wharton at 509-545-1549 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Bring $5 to cover the costs of materials.
The Mid-Columbia chapter, which started in 1982, meets monthly around the Northwest, allowing the women to practice their skills by flying to the meeting. The club’s April meeting was in Lewiston, Idaho, and the May meeting was in Electric City.
“We try to give back to the community,” Leggett said. “A lot of the girls participate in the Young Eagle flights, where they give kids a free flight around the area.”
It’s all about supporting each other, Fleet added.
“Having a support system, no matter what career or phase of life you are in, is so crucial to many women, myself included,” Fleet said. “So connecting with other women that have done this career and raised children successfully at the same time was such an encouragement to me.”
“That’s one of the things the Ninety-Nines encourage: learning to fly for pleasure, and learning to fly for business,” Leggett said. “It’s a great group.”
Pilot leadership deadline
The deadline for the Professional Pilot Leadership Initiative program is Jan. 31. You need a commercial certificate to participate. The group is always looking for new women to bring new experiences and to build their careers through the program.
For more information, women can contact email@example.com, or check out the program under the “Resources” tab at ninety-nines.org.
Daily and Monthly NewsSign up now!