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Ambition to fly takes off

Tuesday, Jul. 7 | By James Ivancic
Cami Lasley follows volunteer Tim Gallien's guidance through a test flight on a simulator at the Warrenton-Fauquier Airport during the Women Can Fly event on June 27. Photo by Adam Goings
Downpours kept planes on the ground at Warrenton-Fauquier Airport but pre-flight briefings were held and women, girls and guys, too, took turns at the flight simulator during the annual Women Can Fly event on June 27.

The local airport has hosted the event that encourages women and girls to take up flying for the past three years. The event is held at airports at Hampton Roads, Charlottesville and Lynchburg, too..

When the weather cooperates, experienced pilots take the novices airborne for brief flights. The pre-flight briefing is required even though the novices don't take the controls. The briefing, given Saturday by pilot and instructor Susan Parson, provided participants with basic knowledge about the workings of smaller aircraft, how they take off and land, stay aloft and maneuver.

Elizabeth Schelin of Front Royal said she had “a lot of fun” piloting the flight simulator even though “I went right into the Potomac” River. “I was trying to land at National” Airport.

Simulator users sat at a console with dials, pedals, steering column and as they piloted the imaginary plane over Washington D.C. landmarks with the goal of landing safely at the airport.

“There was quite a bit of lag between what the computer was sensing and what you're doing” at the controls, said Schelin, who was at the airport with her 11-year-old daughter Nathalie.

“I thought this would be very cool thing so that my daughter could have an introduction to flying,” she said. It might pique her interest as a hobby or serve as a possible career path, she added.

Schelin was still hoping they would get an actual flight, but with half the day over and no seeming end to the bursts of heavy showers “I know the chance is pretty low.”

Lydia Peck, 9, of Burke also took a turn at the flight simulator. “It was kind of like a model of a cockpit,” she explained. “The steering wheel was a little different from a car steering wheel.”

She said she listened to the instructor about increasing the speed to get off the ground and that she was able to keep her “plane” straight in nighttime flying.

Lydia came to the Women Can Fly event with her mom and her friend.

Besides the flight simulator and pre-flight briefing, visitors could pick up information and talk to representatives of flight schools; learn about The Ninety-99s, an international organization of women airplane pilots, and about the Whirly Girls helicopter pilots; and learn about military aircraft, the Civil Air Patrol, air traffic control, and the history of women in aviation.

Besides Amelia Earhart, other notable women flyers included Bessie Coleman, the first black pilot either male or female; Elinor Smith, who at 16 became the youngest federal-licensed pilot on record; Florence “Pancho” Barnes, the first female stunt pilot in motion pictures; and Geraldine Mock, who in 1964 became the first woman pilot to successfully fly around the world, a feat attempted by Earhart in 1937 but she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean.

Kaye Ebelt, costumed as aviator Jackie Cochrane, was there to talk about women aviators. She's from Montana but is working in the area for the National Science Foundation on a fellowship.

Ebelt is a pilot of powered aircraft now training as a glider pilot. Gliders are towed up to an altitude of 3,000 ft. and then released. They ride on thermal currents and can stay airborne as long as six hours, she said.
She said she's the only woman in her flying club, but the men “are very supportive.”

She started training in single-engine aircraft in 1994 was licensed in 1999. She was 33 years old when she started training, fulfilling an ambition she had as a girl.

“I'd wanted to fly. When I was in middle school we lived next door to an airport manager. My dad thought it was too expensive and put a tennis racket in my hand instead,” she remembered. She made do with brother's model aircraft powered by a small engine.

She'd like to see more women take up flying.

“My mission is to help inspire girls and to boost their confidence” not only when it comes to flying but in other aspects of life, too, she said.

Barbara Wilper of the Ninety-Nines said that only 6 percent of the pilots in the country are women. She was staffing a table at the hangar where the pre-flight briefing was going on.

“If we can't fly [today] we can at least talk about it,” Wilper said.

Wilper said at least three or four women or girls became pilots after attending previous Women Can Fly events in Warrenton.

Doris Gatewood, coordinator of the local event, said there were 180 sign-ups in advance. Counting family members who came as well she estimates the turnout was more than 200. Of those who came, 79 went through the in-flight briefing but the weather kept pilots and passengers on the ground all day.

“We're extremely happy with the turnout. We knew we'd have rain, wind and the whole nine yards, There was a good deal of learning going on,” she said. “We got emails asking when do we plan to do it again.”
The event will return to Warrenton-Fauquier next year.

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