Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the Women in Aviation International (WAI) Conference, held here in Atlanta. To say it was an “eye-opening” experience would be an understatement. Not only was it a good chance to network for the attendees, but it was a celebration of everything positive in aviation. One thing that I noticed right off was the fact that probably a third of the attendees were military flyers. While this is no surprise to me, having been in the military in the 70’s and 80’s, the ratio to the overall number of attendees (about a third...) was a bit of a surprise. It is obvious that the military has come a long way in offering positions of leadership and responsibility to women, and it was also obvious that they have more than met these challenges. Rarely have I seen a more intelligent, competent, and motivated group.
It was a real treat to have a conversation with a young Captain (which I once was...) who flies the C-5 Galaxy, the largest cargo aircraft in the world. She flies from the US to the “middle east” in support of the US military mission on a regular basis, and talked about it as if it were “routine”. Another young woman (a lieutenant commander in the Navy) was a helicopter pilot that had twice deployed on an aircraft carrier. Her job was to provide security to the carrier, in the form of hunting for submarines, and to occasionally conduct search and rescue operations.
Quite interesting also was the young woman (another Captain) who routinely flies into hurricanes (on purpose!) to gather weather information for the NOAA. Again, it was just “her job” to do so, and I’m sure these ladies don’t expect any great fanfare or accolades because of their chosen fields.
The fact that so many capable people, who happen to be women, are flying for our military services, is not overlooked by the civilian workforce either. Many of the major airlines (Delta, Northwest, Airtran, FedEx, UPS) were in recruiting mode, as they have apparently recognized the excellence and dedication these young people bring to their profession.
All in all, I was quite impressed with the organization, and the members. Did I mention that I made a few images for them? They publish a newsletter during the conference, and I was happy to contribute. Aerographs had a small booth also, which offered our aviation-related wares, and the work was enthusiastically received. That was a good feeling too.
As a testament to the power the WAI now enjoys, several high visibility speakers made the trip to Atlanta, including the new AOPA President, Craig Fuller, who presented the rebuilt “glass” Archer to an attendee in the audience, Karoline Amodeo. Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, himself an aviator, welcomed the group to Atlanta, despite having a wicked cold. And a young lady, Jessica Cox, literally “wowed” the group when she tied her shoes on stage. Why, you ask is that such a big deal? Jessica was born without arms, and has become a private pilot too. Such is the stuff heroes and role models are made of, just a bit of which was exhibited at the WAI 2009 Conference. If you have the chance, you should plan on being there next year in Orlando. Otherwise, you’ll miss a good opportunity to be inspired...