One day in September 2015, a young girl in Raleigh, North Carolina, said to the Air Line Pilots Assn., "This is the best day of my life!" That girl had just experienced Women in Aviation International's (WAI) first-ever Girls in Aviation Day (GAD). On Sept. 24, girls around the globe will, once again, have the chance to experience their own "best day" during this year's GAD.
“I think it’s very important, in a field where there’s not as many women, to introduce the concept at an early age,” WAI President Dr. Peggy Chabrian told R&WI. “One of the best ways we think to do that is to let the girls see other females in aviation, doing things with their careers … just to put the seed there and engage them.”
Aimed at girls ages 8 to 16, GAD started out as “Bring Your Daughter to Conference Day” at WAI’s annual international conference. Then in 2012, the day was christened with its current name, but it remained a conference event. Last year was the first time local WAI chapters worldwide were encouraged to take part in GAD, with 39 out of the current 109 chapters participating. This Saturday will see 70 chapters holding 68 events in 10 countries.
This year on GAD, a Minnesota chapter has invited former U.S. Army Black Hawk pilot Elizabeth McCormick to speak, and the Las Vegas chapter will feature a static helicopter display. Last year, one chapter was able to fly in a helicopter, show the girls different maneuvers and give them a chance to interact with the female pilot. Chabrian, a rotary-rated pilot, admits that integrating helicopters into the GAD itinerary is still a work in progress. But there’s no shortage of interest among the girls.
“I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm and excitement when girls see a helicopter and observe and get up close,” said Chabrian. “It’s not an aviation vehicle that, maybe, comes to mind right away. So I think it’s important, as our program grows and develops, that we continue to increase the amount of helicopter participation.”
Most chapters partner with other organizations for GAD, including military and manufacturing entities. Bell Helicopter granted WAI $8,000 for this year’s GAD, which allowed WAI to partner with Helicopter Assn. International to produce copies of a DVD with, what Chabrian described as, a “day in the life of a helicopter” story.
The three main goals of GAD are to connect girls and women who have interests in aviation, explore career opportunities within the aerospace industry and experience what aviation has to offer through hands-on activities. Each chapter does this differently, with planned attendance as large as 1,000 and as small as 10.
Along with GAD events, WAI also offers scholarships for those interested in a rotorcraft career: two for helicopters specifically; and more that can be applied to either fixed-wing or rotary interests.
Photo courtesy of Women in Aviation International