Local airport raises awareness for women pilots

Brandie Richardson

Despite the nasty weather over the weekend, the Louisiana Regional Airport in Gonzales was able to host the annual Fly it Forward aviation event on Saturday, a fun and educational ending to Women of Aviation Week. More than 140 girls were registered for the event, where they were able to experience the thrill of flying in a small aircraft for the first time.

The event was put on by the Nola Ninety-Nines, a chapter within the Southeast Section of the International Organization of Women Pilots. The organization aims to promote aviation, education, safety and careers through various activities such as Fly it Forward.

Thirteen pilots from the NOLA Ninety-Nines and other areas such as Ascension, Baton Rouge, New Orleans and the Northshore volunteered their planes and time to educate women of all ages about the benefits of flying and the basics of how to operate a plane.

"I had so much fun, I didn't even cry," exclaimed one of the many young girls in attendance as she finished her flight.

Baton Rouge pilot Julie Jones was among the women pilots flying on Saturday. Jones has been flying for 16 years and has almost 1,200 hours of flying logged. She was introduced to flying in her 30's, but wishes she would have knew about it when she was young, as she would have made a career out of it.

"50 feet off the ground I knew I was hooked," Jones said. "I looked down and I said oh yea I gotta do this. I think back, if I would have known something like this when I was their [attendees] age I probably would have made aviation a career. It's great to see these faces, most of them are nervous, but when they get up they start grinning and I know they are having fun."

Former pilot, and husband of a Nola Ninety-Nine pilot, John Weldon said he thinks it is important for women to become involved with aviation because there is no safer pilot to ride with.

"I think women should get into aviation because they are safe, they are very well organized," Weldon added. "I haven't seen any women pilots yet that I would be afraid to fly with. They pay attention to detail. There's really no limitations to women."

Sherry Saloon traveled from Lafayette to bring her two daughters, ages six and seven, to fly for the first time, but also because they have been learning about clouds in school and they wanted to see what it was like to be in the clouds. Her seven year old daughter Catherine said she was scared but had a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, nine year-old Madison said she had so much fun flying that she can't wait to do it again and she said even wants to be a pilot when she grows up.

In addition to flying, participants learned about the many flight training scholarships available, learned the mechanics behind planes, was introduced to a flight simulator and saw a checklist of what needs to be done before pilots can take off. The girls were also treated to a fish fry and ice cream bar.

"Aviation is so rewarding and challenging. You challenge yourself and you challenge your brain," said Louisiana Regional Airport Manager Janet Gonzales. "Only six percent of the pilot population is female, even after a 100 years. It's important for girls to know that they have the opportunity to fly, whether its for a career or for a hobby."