Women in Aviation Week – Women Fly at St Andrews Airport

Two years ago I participated in the Women Fly event out at St. Andrews that kicked off my flight training. It’s an event where women who’ve had limited experience in small planes are invited to go for a free plane ride. I’ll be participating in it again this year, and I’m really excited.

Because last time I was a passenger, and this time I’ll be a pilot.

Being a member of the 99s, and flying C-FLUG, the 99’s plane reserved for women pilots only, I’ve been in the loop about it from early on. With C-FLUG being the women only plane, it just wouldn’t feel right not to have her there for an event like this. There’s not a lot of other pilots flying C-FLUG right now, so I get to fly her.

She’s been down for maintenance for a while, getting a brand new windshield installed. I helped with that. They guy doing the windshield installation that I was helping thought I was useful enough that he asked for me again when we were finishing up. Now the compass is installed again, and I got the sun visors put back on. No one’s shoveled the ramp in a while, so a bunch of snow had drifted in front of the door – I got rid of most of that yesterday, and we ferried her over to St. Andrews airport. She’s plugged in and tucked away in a heated hangar offered by Cam, because it’s supposed to snow tonight, and we don’t want to have to deal with removing ice from the wings. Taking off with ice or snow on the wings: highly illegal in Canada.

The plane is ready to go.

I’m excited. It had been more than two months – longer than I realized, since I’d been flying last. I did a circuit checkout in a 172 on wed, just in case things went badly with the taxiways at lyncrest, and we couldn’t get C-FLUG in to St. Andrews, and I wasn’t as rusty as I feared I might be. It had been at least a year and a half since I’d been in a 172 at all. So, flying twice in three days, and planning to fly again tomorrow. I’m a happy Lindsay. And excited to take as many women out flying with me as I can manage!

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A Note From David In 12E (rant warning)

So, there are still people like this in the world, and in Canada no less.

I’ve said before, that the welcome I’ve got once I got into the aviation community was overwhelmingly positive. There’s been no one within the industry that has shown any hint that they disapproved of women flying. And I’ve said before, the dissent and discouragement does not come from people who know anything at all about flying.

I have to say, that discouragement was one of the reasons I didn’t take it up earlier in my life. I knew it would be there. I think I’ve been lucky not to have encountered more than I have – my close family has been behind me a hundred percent, as have my friends. Also, I have to keep in mind that the airport I fly out of hold the title of “Most Female Friendly Airport” that they won last year during Women in Aviation Week.

Ultimately, I decided the sexism I would encounter would be no worse than what I encounter at work in tech support every day. Again, not from my colleagues or supervisors, but from the customers who don’t believe women can be good at technology. Little old ladies whisper to their husbands “The boys seem to be better at these things than the girls, don’t you know?” when they think I can’t hear them. There was one woman, not even an elderly one, who told me “No offense, but I would like to speak to a man.” That one was a pretty epic call, because I made her apologize. I told her “You can say ‘no offense’ all you like, but I am very much offended that you think I can’t help you because I’m a woman.”

Some people are excited to get a woman tech support rep, and pleased. Some people know women tend to be friendlier and more patient, and are happier to work with a woman. But more often than that, when I answer the phone “Tech support, this is Lindsay, how can I help you?” a customer answers “Oh, I thought I’d called tech support.” Because they’re confused. They’re talking to a woman, and therefore they must not have reached tech support. Yes, even after I begin the call with “Tech Support.” They explain their issue and I say “I can help you with that,” and sometimes even after that I still get, “No, no, you don’t understand, I need to talk to tech support.

There are a lot of men out there that just don’t believe this happens. They think it must not be true because they don’t say those things or believe those things. They treat women as equals, or at least they believe they do, therefore it must not be happening. The law, for the most part, treats women as equals.

But even with all of that (and we do appreciate you men who do treat us as equals and encourage us to spread our wings, so to speak) we run into sexism like this every day of our lives. Men don’t see it often because it’s not directed toward them. If a woman is with a man, in fact, her man’s presence will often stop it from happening. Though, on the other hand, I’ve known some men to brush off a woman if she’s with a man, and speak to the man instead of the woman even if it’s the woman who is in charge or making the purchase. That’s another thing men don’t notice, because they’re not being brushed off themselves.

These people are the reason we still need organizations like the Ninety-Nines, and Women In Aviation International. It’s why things like the C-FLUG project are important.

But the nastiness in that letter to Captain Steacy…yeah, I’m with her and the flight attendants – I don’t know what to say. This guy needs to drag his sorry butt out of the eighteenth century. If someone walked up to me and said something like that, I would be looking at them like they had a squid on their head.

And then I’d be pulling out my smart phone and asking him to say it again for the camera so I can put it on youtube, because that shit is hilarious. I bet this guy had no idea how fast sexist buffoonary like his can go viral on the internet. I saw two different articles linked from two different social media sites, within hours of the articles going live on the news sites. I hope someone makes sure he knows how hard people are laughing at him right now.

The Aviation Community

When I was first looking to get involved in aviation, someone described the aviation community as being like the horse community – everyone knows someone, and they’re tight knit.

I’ve been in clubs before – my mother put me in Job’s Daughters when I was a teen, and that was really good for me – it was a safe place, where people accepted me the way I was. But the sense of community I’ve suddenly felt getting involved in the Springfield Flying Club, and local RAA, flying C-FLUG makes me see that the sense of community I got from Job’s Daughters was manufactured.

I’ve read a lot about tribal societies, and how it’s not natural for people to live in cities where they see people they don’t know every day. It’s overwhelming and unhealthy for us, and there’s theories that living this way could be contributing to many psychological disorders. That the lack of that tribal group community feeling is something we need in order to be healthy. It puts a lot of stress on nuclear families – mother and father are expected to be everything one another needs, plus everything their children need. Clubs like Scouts or Guides or Job’s Daughters are substitutes for that, and they’re generally for certain age groups.

Now that I’ve been involved in C-FLUG, I’m really amazed at the amount of effort that the local community has put into getting that plane in the air, and they’re doing it specifically for women who otherwise would be paying $150 an hour to fly something. Here, we’re paying $20, plus fuel – which is probably another $20-$30 an hour, something like that. That’s a huge thing they’re doing for us. But also, seeing how many people have been involved, without whom, we either just couldn’t do it, or us C-FLUG pilots would be paying more, because they’ve volunteered their time, and donated parts and equipment.

It’s wasn’t a call to the general public that got this happening. It’s that tight knit community of Lyncrest airport, and people who fly into and out of it. They’re a community in a truer sense of the word than I’ve ever seen before in real life. There’s the older generation, with their wealth of experience, and they’re more than happy to share their knowledge and their stories. And then there’s the new generation, the younger ones, still learning, or with licences but building experience.

And the welcome…I mean, my Dad can say that well of course the people at Harv’s are going to be positive and welcoming to me – I’m paying them.  But that doesn’t apply here. There’s a lot of older men in this community, and you’d think women wouldn’t feel welcomed, but seriously, I have met no one, male or female, who was a pilot, who didn’t think it was awesome that I wanted to fly. Not one who sounded skeptical of my abilities. It’s like this huge chorus of “come, come be one of us, it’s awesome!” And “Oh, you’re interested in (X)? You should talk to so-and-so, he knows stuff about that/has one of those he might let you fly.”

Community built around a thing. And there’s official groups – there’s a Women in Aviation Chapter, a chapter of the Ninety-Nines, local chapter of the RAA, the Springfield Flying Club, sure. But I don’t get a sense that there are any real lines drawn between any of those groups. I’m currently now a member of all of them, for that matter.

It’s kind of cool to be in a room full of people and not be the one crazy person who thinks flying is the most awesome thing in the world. And to be around people with whom I can talk about things like carb heat and carb ice, an the never ending crosswind argument over crabbing versus side-slipping, and how taildraggers are just cooler than tricycle gear aircraft in every way. (It seems every pilot who has ever learned how to fly a taildragger will tell you that.) But there always seems to be pilots hanging around in the clubhouse, and they’re never too busy to chat about aeroplanes, and so many of them have far more experience than me. It’s a huge resource – people I can go to if I’m uncertain about the weather, or have questions, or if something doesn’t sound right in the plane. Or who I could potentially ask to act as flight watch for me – someone on the ground who knows I’m out flying and knows what time to expect me back, who’ll take action if I don’t show up. The experienced community members look after the fledgling pilots, and they’d much rather have those pilots part of a supportive, safety conscious community than stuck on their own.

It’s amazing. And I don’t say that lightly. I think “amazing” is a bit of a melodramatic word, so I don’t like to use it unless there’s no other way to put it. Definitely something I’ve never experienced before, and it inspires me to want to get to a point where I can help others along who come after me, the way that so many people have helped me.

Being A Female Pilot

I’ve dealt with sexism a lot in the line of work I’ve been in for the last 9 years. That being technical support over the phone. I’m good at what I do. I get higher than average customer service scores, but I still get little old ladies that I overhear whispering to their spouses that “The boys do seem to know a little better than the women when it comes to these things” while I’m troubleshooting something with them. I’ve had women get on the phone and tell me without me saying anything but “Thank you for calling, my name is Lindsay, how may I help you?” that they didn’t want to speak to me, they wanted to speak to a man. And it’s always women saying these things. I’m sure the men think it, and it’s probably the reason I get more resistance from men as well as women than do my male colleagues, but they won’t say it out loud. I get called “Honey” and “Sweetie” by men on the phone. I think I got a marriage proposal once, or he might have just promised to come to my wedding, I can’t remember. That was when I fixed his TV after he swore at me for a half an hour.

Anyway, I’ve had a request for thoughts on my experiences being a female pilot. Well so far it’s not near so bad as being a female in tech support. But then, so far, I’m not dealing with the public. Like in tech support, my fellow pilots don’t doubt my abilities. Or, well, if they do, it’s legitimate because I’m still pretty new to it. I may have my licence, but I’m about as skilled a pilot as a kid that just got their drivers licence. They’re fine to drive as long as they’re careful and pay attention to what they’re doing, but you don’t so much want to see them headed straight for downtown in the big city the moment the papers are signed. They joke that you have a “license to learn” but it’s not really a joke. But that’s not sexism.

But fellow pilots have not treated me with any disrespect. In fact, it seems like once you get into aviation, fellow pilots crawl out of the woodwork, almost – people you knew a long time, but didn’t know they’d had their private licence at one point. And they’re all automatically your friend. One of the first people to encourage me to pursue it was one of the guys at work. When he mentioned he’d done a private license, and I wistfully commented how much I’d love to learn to fly, he said, well there’s a school I hear is good, you should go check it out, and suddenly it was a real thing, not abstract wishing anymore. There was a place, and a name of a school, and a person who it didn’t occur to him to think I couldn’t do it.

And then there was my dad, with his worrying that no one would hire me because I’m a woman. This is a man, keep in mind, who has been self employed his entire life, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know what the phrase “affirmative action” means. He did agree to help me with co-signing student loans, though, so I like to think that his little outburst was a panicked oh-god-my-little-girl-is-going-out-to-do-something-dangerous-but-I-can’t-admit-I’m-worried-for-her-safety thing.

So, among people who know aeroplanes, things have been pretty amicable, short of one of the newer dispatchers asking me what he could do for me, in a way that made me think he thought I must be lost despite me walking confidently and purposefully toward the plane I was about to check out and take flying. But he might have said that to anyone he didn’t recognize – I can’t say, so I give people the benefit of the doubt.

Of course, my experiences so far are going to be coloured by two main things.

First, that I’m still in flight school and 99% of my interactions are with people getting paid to be nice to me. Not that I think any of them don’t believe in me as much as they do my fellow male students. It’s just when someone says, “Well obviously they’ll say that, they’re making money off of you,” I can’t deny that’s true.

The other thing I have to keep in mind is that St. Andrews recently won the title of “most female friendly airport”. It would be kind of sad if I were to be training at an airport with a title like that (and I understand Harv’s air was very much involved in that) and got slammed with sexism at every turn. So I also have to recognise that my experiences at St. Andrews may very well be more welcoming than at other airports.

So a lot of the anecdotes of sexism I know of come from other pilots. One, Cessna Chick, had a post one day about the reaction she got from some friends when she told them she was taking flight training. She’s dating a pilot, and these were the girlfriends and wives of his pilot friends, and their reaction was to smile and say “Oh, I went through that phase too.” Ugh.

The female instructors I’ve talked to all laugh about older male student who, the first time they showed up for lessons with them asked, “So where’s the instructor?” Sandra also told me about people asking her what she does for a living. When she says “I fly aeroplanes,” they have a tendency to answer “Oh, that must be exciting. What does your husband think of that?”

I’m sure I’ll get more of this stuff in the future. When I do, I’ll know how to deal with it – I’ve dealt with it before in tech support. But so far it’s been great. I’ve never been in such a supportive environment in my life.

Article Up On Women In Aviation Worldwide Week Site

Mirelle, from Women in Aviation Worldwide suggested I write an article for them. I thought for a while about what I should write – I mean, that’s the organization that had the First-To-Solo contest, so I should write about that right? But I thought, what’s the most important thing I have to say to the world about my involvement in aviation?

And I realized it’s something that my blog followers have already seen the blow by blow of as it was happening. When I was trying to get my medical certificate, I googled to see how other people with Aspergers had fared in the same process, and all I could find was an FAA article with an account of a commercial pilot’s medical certificate being revoked based on a new diagnosis of Aspergers. I felt pretty alone at the time, and wondered, has no one ever dealt with this before me?

If there had been an article like the one I wrote yesterday – if I could have found that in those weeks, I would have felt so much better. So I hope that if someone else in the world is going through the same thing, that they’ll find this and be comforted and reassured, and if there’s someone out there who thinks that they shouldn’t bother trying because they have Aspergers, that they’ll think again.

Anyway, here’s the link to the article: http://www.womenofaviationweek.org/americas/canada-i-have-aspergers-syndrome-can-i-get-a-commercial-pilot-license/article-450/

First To Solo Challenge

So, this happened.

There was an award presentation, with several awards today. One for St. Andrews Airport for being the most women friendly airport for sending over 600 women and girls up for rides during the women in aviation week events, one for a helicopter pilot that took up something like 300 women and girls that day, and one for me for being the first of the women who participated to fly solo after the event.

It was also the day that they were doing the discovery flights for any girls who signed up for that at the event in march, so my instructor was there doing some of those, and she got to do the presenting of my snazzy new headset (fancy expensive one – it’s so nice!) and said nice things about me while people snapped pictures. I was nervous, and I had kind of wondered if I was supposed to say something but no one had told me I should have anything prepared. So when someone from the crowd called out asking if I would say a few words, what came out was entirely on the fly. I froze up at the camera flashes at first too, horribly nervous – I’m not a crowd person. But once I found my words, I think there must have been enough emotion in my voice that it wouldn’t have mattered what i said. Afterward, two different people came up to me to tell me that I made them cry, so even if I was nervous, it sounds like I still got my point across.

I also got introduced to a woman from Calm Air, who’s invited me to come out to Winnipeg International Airport to their facility for a tour to “check out what kind of job prospects are in my future.” I’m not sure I would know if I was being scouted, but it would be awesome if that’s what it meant. And of course I jumped at the opportunity. In any case, I’ll meet people, and make connections, and that’s what gets one jobs in aviation, apparently.

Nathan, my husband commented on the positive vibes surrounding the event. He often feels a little bit alienated by feminism (even though he is, by beliefs, a feminist himself) on the internet, because of the negativity that comes out there, but that’s largely because the anonymity of the internet brings out a lot of men who feel the need to tear down women, and the women are reacting to that. Here though, there’s very little of that men tearing women down, and when there isn’t that, and there is instead men supporting women, then the atmosphere is very different. That helicopter pilot was a man given the title of “Most supportive male pilot”. Here, instead of women being forced to point out where they are being mistreated, they have the opportunity to point out and celebrate where men are being supportive and welcoming women to come stand by their sides as equals. And we feminists really do wish we could do more of that, because feminism is absolutely not “anti-man” – it’s just women wanting equality. And it’s important to bring attention to men who treat women as equals and hold them up as examples.

I am proud of myself. And being the centre of attention that way was such an unfamiliar feeling. I remember being a young woman, and going to events like that where someone was getting an award – times where I was supposed to look up to that person as a role model. Now there was a crowd consisting largely of women and girls who had just flown an aeroplane for their first time, and I was the accomplished one up front, supposed to be leading the charge that people pointed to saying “see, you can be like her.” And I felt, not so much an obligation, but a responsibility if you understand the difference, to say something to them. And I wanted to even though I was afraid. I always say, fear is a terrible reason not to do something. Everyone said how inspirational I was when I took the microphone, and I’m glad because if I said anything that helped give any of those girls and women the confidence to pursue aviation if that’s what they want to do, then it was worth the stage fright and letting everyone see me nervous!