First All-Female Class Earns Wings

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Young flyers smash gender gap. from the Winnipeg Free Press

Steinbach—In the male-dominated world of professional pilots, 15 new flyers are on their way to evening out the score.

The young women, between the ages of 17 and 18, graduate today after seven weeks as the first all-female class at Harv’s Air flight school, south of Steinbach

“It’s kind of different with guys, because they’re all showing off all the time,” said graduating pilot Hilary Anderson. “Here you don’t have to worry about it.”

The women, part of the military’s Air cadets program, can now fly single-engine planes alone and many have their sights set on the sky for their careers.

Lori Perdue, a Winnipeg-based professional pilot, said women are drastically outnumbered by men in the profession. For example, she estimates Air Canada has around 60 or 70 female pilots out of about 3,500.

When Perdue was flying planes up north, a job that included loading the cargo herself, she said some people were surprised a woman would choose such a physically demanding job. “You just get raised eyebrows,” she said. “But there’s a lot of women who make their careers up north.”

Adam Penner, operations manager at Harv’s Air, said this is the largest number of women the school has ever graduated.

“It’s a great boost to us,” he said. Harv’s Air usually has only about 15 women out of an annual average of 100 clients, he said, but this year the numbers look set to hit about 30 women out of 100.

The women who graduate in a ceremony today come from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. They’ve spent the last seven weeks immersed in the world of aviation, said Capt. Freida Grulke, their supervising officer. This includes ground training, 35 hours of paired flying and 12 hours of solo flying.

“They’re busy. This is an extreme course, and when they have a day off they sleep….They eat, live and breathe aviation.”

Cadet Pamela Birt emphatically supports that statement, saying the course was much harder than she expected.

“Look at this,” she said holding up a sheet filled with sequences of letters and numbers that, to the uninitiated, appear to be random.

“This is weather,” she said, shaking the paper, prompting laughs from the women around her. “We have to know what all of this means.”

Grulke said many of the women will make flying a big part of the rest of their lives.

“A lot of them are looking at engineering. They’re looking at some field of aviation, she said.

Anderson said she isn’t sure if she’ll fly with the military or a commercial airline, but she’ll stay in the air somehow.

“I’ve always wanted to fly. I have my gliding licence and this is just the next step,”she said.

She finds it hard to put exactly into words what she loves about being in the air.

“It’s just a lot of fun. You can go wherever you want and you see things from a different perspective.”

Anderson is set to study science at the University of Alberta starting next fall. She said it’s difficult to break into flying without some higher education.

“The big airlines and stuff, they want you to have a degree.”

Perdue said she’s glad more women are getting involved with flying.

“I think it’s great more women are getting into it, because why not?” she said.

“There’s never been a reason a woman can’t do this job.”

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