The Winds of Change

I can say with every certainty now, a good instructor makes all the difference.  Yesterday while the rain poured down across greater Portland I met with my new CFI for a ground school lesson. It took all of my gumption to drive up to the airport and give it another go, but I left in better spirits.

It was a lesson on airplane systems. Instead of point to pictures in a book and talk shop somewhere ten feet above my head, we headed down to a hangar where mechanics had planes pulled apart for maintenance.

I got to understand the design of a propeller (chomping down and slicing up) by watching my instructor spin one slowly in front of me.

I saw a carburetor in pieces.

I spun a gyroscope in my hand.

I got to see some of the subtle differences between a Cessna 152 and 172 and a Piper Seminole.

I got to see with the cowling pulled off where many of the wires that normally disappear mysteriously under the hood connect.

This morning I awoke to more gray skies and light drizzle. Surely my flight lesson would be cancelled.


Nope. According to my new instructor, you can’t learn to fly in bad weather unless you get up there and do it. And so, up we went.

I learned the principles of slow flight and then we headed back to the airport to do touch and goes.

It’s a new world flying in Portland. For starters, there are mountains and volcanoes. Big ones. Then there’s the trees. So many really, really tall trees all the way up to the runway. And then there’s the airport itself. In Texas I flew from a privately-owned, non-towered, GA only airport. My new airport not only runs one of the busiest flight schools in the region for fixed wing and rotorcraft (everything up to ATP), the likes of Nike and Intel hangar their their jets there and there is an active FBO for general aviation.

Practicing touch and goes today was like learning an obstacle course. In the pattern there were helicopters hovering at 1,000 feet, jets coming in from the east, students coming in from the West practice area, both patterns (left and right) had traffic and each time around you had to get in line to land on one of three parallel runways simultaneously with other incoming traffic. That is not to mention the flocks of birds that were migrating across the runways. It was thrilling!

A new instructor made all the difference. Before I was ready to quit and everything flying-related made me want to burst into tears of frustration. Now, just like that [insert snap here] flying is fun again. My next lesson is Wednesday. I can’t wait to get back up there!!!!

Airplane maintenance

table with tools and airplane in the background Once again I have another post about the wonderful things I am learning with the Ninety-Nines. This month’s get together was a potluck at the hangar of one of the members to learn about basic airplane maintenance.

Rosie the Riveter…well, a friendly woman that bore a striking resemblance to Rosie from the grease under her fingernails to the bandana tying her hair up, did a brief presentation for us. We were given a list of tools to keep on hand, and then – let’s face it, we’re girls – we were carefully shown each tool and how it worked. A packet with pictures of women performing various maintenance was passed around for the visual learners. Then, those that wanted were invited to come up and play.

A group of us approached the table full of tools the way one approaches an unfamiliar horse. Once it was established any question was safe (the first woman led with “so uh…which one of these things is an oil filter?”) I had lots of questions about how to secure a safety wire and how many spark plugs a plane has and what that little pipe coming out of the front of the plane by the nose wheel was about.

I learned that pilots (with supervision at first) can change their oil, spark plugs, starters, alternators and tires. I also learned that many of my colleagues started flying before we taught anything about how the mechanisms inside a plane work. As a student pilot, I have unavoidably stumbled into all kinds of information about how instruments work via pressure compression, diaphragms, and Bourdon tubes. After some conversation, I was surprised to find this was not the curriculum even twenty years ago. It was also comforting to see that there are many commonalities between cars and airplanes. If you’ve changed the oil and brake pads in your car, you can likely change the oil and brake pads in your plane with little trouble.

I think it bears mentioning I was advised not to trifle with the magnetos, prop, valves, anything serialized or attempt to jack the plane without assistance.

Clever tips I learned:

  • Put nitrogen in your tires, it doesn’t expand.
  • Kitty litter is great for oil spills.
  • Aero kroil is great for corroded parts or breaking bolts that won’t budge.

Afterwards my partner and I were invited to tour the hangar apartment. It was beautiful and now we’re really leaning towards a hangar apartment when we get to Oregon…even though owning an airplane is still a few years away.

me with an RV experimental aircraft

Yours truly, starting to think my first plane purchase will be an RV

Ain’t I a Woman?

Brace yourselves. I’ve decided to enter the conversation about feminism. Fear not, this is not an angry post and I have no blame to put upon anyone for my life choices except myself. I only aim to offer a peek into a woman’s life for those out there that are not sure what to think among all of the rage and rhetoric #Howtospotafeminist has awoken.

At first I was going to write something for Mother’s Day. I have a different take on it because it is actually the most difficult holiday of the year for me. Mother’s Day is for thanking loving, dotting, cheer-leading mothers for all of the affection and guidance they gave us.

The problem is I don’t have that kind of mother.

Every year I spend about an hour in the card aisle sorting through cards that read something like “Dearest Mother, you were always there for me, through thick and thin, I owe everything I am to you…” and eventually getting the one that just says “Happy Mother’s Day” on the inside.

It is hard for me because my mother was not the culturally expected mother. She did not cook. She did not clean. She was not waiting five minutes before choir practice let out to pick me up like all of the other mothers. I never remember her hauling a camcorder or a home-made poster to a school play. She was never in the front row. She did not teach me how to do my hair. She did not teach me how to shave. She did not teach me how to wear make-up. She did not teach me about my menstrual cycle. I have never talked to her about a boyfriend. She declined my offers to go wedding dress shopping with me. Almost every experience the greeting card industry capitalizes on for Mother’s Day is an experience my mother and I never had. So every Mother’s Day I struggle with this message from society that I had a bad mother with the actual experience that I had, which was that she was not a bad mother, just a different kind of mother.

I learned plenty from mom. I learned how to dress like a business woman. I learned to love female literary characters that prized adventure above all. I learned women can work and have a family. I learned women can have coherent arguments and debate with men respectfully. I learned if you don’t like a job after two weeks, quit while you’re ahead. I learned to love traveling. I learned to love nature and how to make bird feeders. My mother was not a bad mother just because she wasn’t societies idea of what a mother should be. Overbearing with affection or not she gave birth to me, claimed me, brought me home and taught me the values she had.

It might come as a surprise though to learn she is not a feminist. When my sister and I begin with any sort of feminist rhetoric, my mother insists she did not teach us that hogwash. My mother is a product of her generation. A generation that knew their goals in life were to find the perfect prom date, go to college, join a sorority, graduate, get married to a good provider, have babies, and (as the 1970s and ’80s suggested) work if they wanted. I asked my mother once why she had children. Her answer: “It’s just what you do. What kind of question is that?!”

I am part of a new generation. A generation who always had women in the workforce. I remember female astronauts and governors when I was a kid. This week I had an appointment with a female gynecologist – a choice my mother did not always have. While my mother’s only question was how many children to have, I am allowed to question if I want to have children or not. It is indisputable women have made large gains from my mother’s generation to mine. But the work is not yet finished.

Below I have outlines 3 scenarios – all true stories – seen through my eyes as a woman in this new generation. These are areas that yet need improvement.

Scenario A:

When I was nineteen, I was a sophomore in college. One sunny, Tuesday morning I went to my journalism class like it was a normal day.

Only it wasn’t.

With a front row seat in the center of my university’s media center I watched the second plane live as it crashed into the World Trade Center. News savvy professors, student broadcasters and reporters swarmed around me as the live feeds came on tvs and radios and printed from newswires. I listened as the man being interviewed at the Pentagon heard a loud boom down the hall and wanted to step outside for a minute to see what was going on. Seconds later footage of billows of smoke rising up from the building were on every tv screen.

Like many young people I was sickened, confused, enraged, shocked and a slew of other emotions. It wasn’t long before many college students wanted to help in any way that they could and decided to join the military.

I was no different.

I remember what I was told: “Don’t join. Your heart is in the right place, but its not a safe place for a young woman.” Statistics of military sexual assault against female recruits are still staggering today. Another adviser told me: “It won’t be the experience you think it will. You’re a girl. They’re going to put you behind a desk somewhere. People aren’t ready for their daughters to be slain in battle.”

I didn’t join the military. It was my own choice. But it was a choice I came to after multiple advisers convinced me I wouldn’t be safe with my own fellow recruits. The few women I know that have served in our military have vivid stories of their sexual assaults. It’s almost a given for girls that join the forces.

A few years ago the Veteran’s Center at my university asked for employees to assemble care packages for the troops. I put together a box that included feminine products (I figure military grade sanitary napkins are no one’s friend). The Veteran’s Center was hesitant to accept my donation. “The girls aren’t usually sent to the remote areas and they get care packages with this stuff from their families” I was told.

Area # 1 for improvement: Make the US Military a safe place for any American soldier that wants to serve their country. As a woman I was willing to lay down my life for my country. I was willing to go to dangerous, far-away places to fight. I was willing to be a prisoner of war. I was willing to come home in a box. I was not willing to be attacked by my own unit because of my sex. I was not willing to face the constant psychological trauma that I would never be safe from boot camp to discharge from my fellow soldiers. I was not willing to be trained with a rifle and wield nothing more than a phone chord on active duty just because I was a girl.

I did go to New York a few years later on a mission trip. I was able to do something about all of the feelings I felt that day. But it haunts me still that there are women out there that want to serve and feel that they cannot without accepting they will at some point during their duty face rape from other American soldiers. We can do better. We must do better.

Scenario B:

Eight years ago I graduated with my second degree. Immediately I went into the work force interviewing at many of the same companies as a number of my colleagues.

People talk.

Imagine my surprise when one of my colleagues five years my junior with less education and work experience interviewed for the exact same job and was offered higher pay than me.

I asked if he negotiated the higher rate? He said he did not, he took their first offer. I remember trying to negotiate a higher rate and was told the pay rates were fixed.

So men at this company regardless of experience or education were “fixed” at a higher pay rate than women.

I managed to marry someone in my field and he and I have compared notes. Again I hold higher degrees and certifications and in our work history (at many of the same companies) he has always made more than me.

Area # 2 for improvement: Equal pay for equal work. Appropriate pay for varying levels of education and work experience regardless of gender. When comparing notes with my husband we also learned he has never been asked to fill in at the front desk answering phones or bake for the office. I have. At every job I’ve ever had. Other joys reserved only for the fairer sex are having to explain my romantic status to employers during interviews and fielding the “where do you see yourself in five years” question away from their goal of figuring out if I will get pregnant and leave.

Scenario C:

Something went terribly wrong with feminism. Somehow “feminist” became a dirty word. Somehow women turned against feminism. Is it just me or is that like African-Americans turning against the NAACP?

Recently I joined an international women’s aviation organization called the Ninety-Nines (or 99s, they’re not picky). Shortly thereafter I was “warned” about some of the “crazy feminists” I ought not rub elbows with…wait for it….by other women….IN AVIATION!

I have also been warned about some “crazy feminists” at the university where I work (“that are definitely lesbians,” they whisper).

Somehow by marrying a man, sporting sun dresses and choosing to only sporadically use my sailor vocabulary words I have unintentionally pulled off the guise of being an anti-feminist. Women approach me all the time about those “crazy feminists” (“crazy” always seems to accompany the word “feminist”) that I should stay away from. They show up in every social setting and apparently making eye contact with them turns you fat and gay.

Area # 3 for improvement: Teach women that feminists are not the enemy and they come in all shapes, sizes and sexual orientations. It is not a network of male-bashing crazy women. It is a cohort that includes both men and women (yes, men can be and some are feminists too) that strives for the mutual respect and opportunity of the sexes. Some are more militant than others, but that can be found in any group. God bless the crazy ones. They bring the attention that starts the conversation. Feminism is what earned women the right to vote, and own property, and keep our own last names after marriage, and be doctors and pilots and mechanics. It is a beautiful thing and it needs all the support it can get. For just as women are allowed to come out of their boxes, men will be allowed to too. We need feminism for the health of our society. For the men that feel ashamed of their tears and the women that are shamed for not wanting children. For the men that have no outlet to express their depression and the women that have no outlet to express their rage. For every emotion and reaction that is labeled masculine or feminine and not allowed by the other sex.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of where improvements can be made. But reflecting on my life tonight as a woman in a country that says it grants liberty and justice for all; that tells the tired, huddled masses yearning to breathe free that this is a land of opportunity for everyone, I think it’s a great place to start.

Challenge Accepted!

Hi fellow aviators! It has been one month, one week and three days since I have gone up in an airplane. My first fly-out with the 99s was rescheduled because of bad weather, and I have otherwise been without a plane to train on since quitting the airplane club.

To tell the truth, I’ve lost a lot of momentum in the last month. With so many uncertainties in my life with our cross-country move this summer I’ve had a hard time justifying the cost and time away from finishing our house renovations, job hunting and packing to go fly. Even the flight magazines I used to devour the day I got them in the mail have started collecting dust on the shelf.

I talked it over with my mentor through the 99s and she advised me to wait until we get to Oregon to pick up flying again. Its a big commitment (in more ways that one) and I am spread pretty thin right now with all of my other obligations.

I have no idea what life will bring with this move. With the uncertainty of it all I was starting to think it would be years before I stepped into an airplane again for a lesson. But this weekend I got an email from the national 99s trustees about the Amelia Earhart Memorial FLY NOW Scholarship and I am pleased to tell you that you are reading the blog of one of the scholarship’s award winners!!! It’s a $3,000 scholarship towards my private license that has to be completed by May 2016.

This is fantastic! Not only do I have new resources to keep me going, I have a deadline to motivate me towards my goal.

Check your six Oregon, you’ve got a woman on a mission on your tail.

Hey! Pilots from Oregon, any good schools you could recommend? I’m leaning towards a 141 program. Drop me a line in the comments if you have any suggestions. We plan to be based near the Portland area.

Clearance

I love female pilots. I love being around them. I love the brilliant jokes they make. I love the way they graciously thank someone for holding one door open and without changing demeanor kick down the next one. I love the ingenious tricks they have come up with to make the female piloting world a more functional place, like using football sit-upons to give you the height you may not have to reach the petals. I love the way they chose to joke about their abilities instead of brag about their ratings when introducing themselves. I love the helpful tips they freely share like “always bring a little jacket to any FAA building. It’s always cold where the FAA’s involved.”

But perhaps my favorite thing about female pilots is their ability to network and get clearance into just about anywhere. Last night my 99s chapter was cleared to tour an Air Route Traffic Control Center for a hub airport.

It should make all Americans feel at ease to know these places are very secure.

How strict were they?

When I pulled my car up to the gate to show my driver’s license I was instructed to put it in reverse and park in a nearby lot. I was fourteen minutes early. Even though my name was on a list they received weeks ago, I was not allowed in until exactly 18:00.

At 18:00 we were brought into the guard shack, passed through a metal detector, and given required badges made from our driver’s licenses. We were escorted by multiple guides through the gates and down to a nearby building. After a presentation, Q & As and instructions to turn our phones off and not take any pictures, we were taken to the location where ATC personnel were doing their thing.

It looked more like a hacker’s basement than an FAA office. It was dimly lit and there were giant computer screens all the way up the makeshift walls. Everyone had a custom built cubicle space. There wasn’t a window anywhere, even by the weather guy’s station.

We were escorted two by two into each room to listen in on a phone and watch the ATCs at work.

The guy I watched was in charge of one little section of the sky looking at departures from DFW that had cleared the tower. When they left his air space he passed them off to the fellow working at the next set of computer screens. I was amazed at the amount of power and responsibility this guy had even though I barely understood what he was doing. It also gave me my first glance at how commercial pilots converse with ATC. Pilots asked him for clearance to change their course. “Denied.” They asked if he had any shortcuts he could work for them. “Ya, hold on a minute.” They asked about the weather. If he told them to change altitudes, they did. No questions. No protests. Just Roger. My guy was very down-to-earth and friendly but I wonder how many ATC folks start to get god complexes after being the final word on so many people’s lives in the sky all day.

Movie Poster for Pushing Tin

Google Images

I can honestly say it’s nothing like Pushing Tin. John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton are a far cry from the beer-belied, hunched over gentleman with a “don’t tread on me, I’m eligible for retirement” lanyard I saw.  It’s actually quite boring. I sat there for twenty minutes and still couldn’t tell what the wizard in front of me punching all of the numbers and moving this little wheel was actually doing. At one point I joked to myself “does he know he doesn’t move the planes on the screen no matter how many buttons he punches?” Seriously, what’s the point of the buttons?!

After a while we were taken back out of the facility. I was glad to go. Interesting as it was to watch people space planes out, twenty minutes of numbers moving around a screen at a snail’s pace in a dark room was all I could take. I appreciate what they do, but I’ll stick to piloting.

Ninety-Nine pilots and a man ain’t one

original 99s infront of a plane

Google Images

I’ve just found the most wonderful group called the Ninety-Nines! Its an organization of women pilots that provides mentorship, scholarships and good old fashioned camaraderie.

It all started back in 1929, the same year women were allowed to participate in their first air race, and it was originally headed up by none other than Amelia Earhart herself. A collection of ninety-nine licensed female pilots came together for the mutual support and advancement of aviation and the rest is history. Today the Ninety-Nines is an international organization that even supports three online chapters for those that live in areas without a local chapter.

I contacted my local chapter, joined up right away, and have already spent a priceless day hanging out with another female pilot. She told me about the other members of my local group which include a national flying mentor (which can fast-track me to a commercial license), one trained in the space program (there were only 13 women in that program), and a family with three generations of female pilots (certified in every acronymn you can list). These groups do “fly-outs” to various points of interest, have the connections to tour airplane manufactoring plants and try out commercial flight simulators at hub airports, and are involved in every facet of aviation today.
I’m so excited to be part of this organization! Winning!

If you are a female aviator and don’t know about this organization yet, check them out at http://www.ninety-nines.org/