At last year’s Women Can Fly event, the first one to be hosted by Liberty University School of Aeronautics and Freedom Aviation Jet Center, its fixed-base operator out of Lynchburg Regional Airport, all but one of the pilots offering free flights to visitors were men.
This time around, with plenty of encouragement and volunteer effort from Liberty SOA’s female students and flight instructors, eight of the 12 pilots, including one operating a helicopter, were women.
“I was the only female pilot here last year,” said Megan Grupp, Liberty SOA’s Pilot of the Year. “We talked about it, that it was kind of ironic that we had a ‘Women Can Fly’ event with no women flying. So over half of our pilots this year are females.”
|A 9-year-old guest tries out the cockpit of a Cessna 150.|
On Saturday, staff and volunteers provided flights to 132 visitors, mostly women and girls ages 8 and older. They also assisted prospective pilots on simulator rides in the SOA’s Flight Operations building and guided others on tours of Freedom Aviation’s air traffic control tower. The activities were free.
“It’s been just a great day,” said Dave Young, dean of the School of Aeronautics. “The weather’s been absolutely beautiful and we had a lot of young ladies out that we are encouraging to take an interest in, or at least exposing them to, aviation.”
Cheryl Dulog and her 14-year-old daughter, Emma-Marie, drove more than two hours from Richmond, Va., and flew with Grupp.
“We came last year, so now we’re happy to come back,” said Emma-Marie Dulog, a homeschooler who attended a similar event with her mother last year at Warrenton-Fauquier Airport, where only two of the pilots were women.
“It was encouraging,” Cheryl Dulog added. “We like seeing other women who can do it, who can get us there. Megan can get us there.”
Under sunny skies with seemingly endless visibility, Grupp took the Dulogs on a 45-minute tour of Lynchburg and Bedford County.
“We went down to the James River, kind of paralleled the Blue Ridge Mountains, came over to Bedford, by the D-Day Memorial, went over to Smith Mountain Lake, and came back in,” Grupp said. “I just showed them the area. I love taking people up like this who just enjoy flying. It’s really good fun.”
|Visitors and volunteers mingle outside the helicopter where free rides were being offered to guests.|
Fellow flight instructor Jessica Dyer chauffeured four sets of passengers on flights Saturday and said she was uplifted by their enthusiasm.
“It’s nice to be able to see somebody who’s never been in a small plane before say, ‘This is so awesome. I love this. I could totally see myself doing this,’” Dyer said. “Some are pretty interested and some say, ‘OK, maybe I’ll just like being a passenger from now on.’ It’s a good experience to determine if they want to or not.”
“A lot of people don’t really understand what is involved in getting into aviation,” Grupp added. “Events like these show them, ‘Hey, we’re 20 to 23 years old and we can fly planes. Why can’t you?’ It just kind of shows them that it’s possible.’”
The Virginia Department of Aviation, based in Richmond, flew in the Commonwealth of Virginia’s King Air 350 for stationary tours while representatives from the Air Line Pilots Association, Piper Aircraft, Inc., and the Ninety-Nines, Inc., the International Organization of Women Pilots, were on hand to provide information and inspiration.
Sue Trussell, who is in the process of earning her private recreational pilot license through Freedom Aviation, volunteered to serve in the preflight briefing tent, offering safety tips and information about how the planes are built and how they operate.
“It’s been great, with lots of people coming through, including a lot of girls who want to go on to be commercial pilots, which really surprised me,” Trussell said. “They’re really excited about it. You can tell they’re really absorbing the information that they’re learning.”
The four-stop Women Can Fly tour, which opened May 10 at Warrenton-Fauquier, continues June 21 at Hampton Roads Executive Airport before concluding June 28 at Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport.