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Report From the 25th Annual International Women in Aviation Conference

photo by Andrew Zaback—record attendance to hear Eileen Collins speak at the Luncheon on Friday, March 7 at the 25th Annual International Women in Aviation Conference

On the weekend of March 6th 2014, over 4,500 people attended the 25th annual Women in Aviation International conference held at Walt Disney World in Florida. I was fortunate enough to find myself able to attend for my first time this year. Although I was not sure what to expect, I left the conference with unforgettable memories and a true love for Women in Aviation International.

I was determined to get out of my comfort zone and make the most of this experience, so on my first day I made a beeline for the volunteer booth to sign up to help in whichever area they needed me. I was told by the volunteer coordinator that they had over 300 volunteers signed up for the conference. She said that the success of the conference really had so much to do with volunteers, who help with every aspect from registration to article writing for the Daily newsletter. I shared a resort room with fellow aviation writer Sarina Houston, so I was nudged towards volunteering in the press room and had some great learning experiences with the women working there.

On the first day, after attending a New Member breakfast and meeting tons of great people, I was sent to the exhibitor hall for my first volunteer assignment. In celebration of the 25th anniversary, a large time capsule was filled during the conference and will be reopened in 25 years. I was asked to talk to each of the 133 exhibitors individually and pick up their time capsule items. Many were unsure as to what they should put in the capsule, but I assured them that a pamphlet or business card would work. Simply a way to say “I was here.” The capsule will be opened at the 2039 conference.

It was invigorating to hear some true aviation legends speak at the conference. On Thursday night attendees were treated to an inspiring speech by SR-71 Blackbird pilot Brian Shul. After flying 212 combat missions as a USAF fighter pilot, Shul was shot down and so badly burned that he was given a very slim chance of survival, and next to no chance at a normal life. After spending 2 months in intensive care and an additional several months in physical therapy, he made a full recovery and was able to return to flying. He presented a stunning collection of rare photos he took after his recovery, during his time as a Blackbird pilot.

Attendees were invited to a special luncheon on Friday featuring a speech by Eileen Collins. Collins is a retired NASA astronaut and has the distinction of being the first female pilot and first female commander of a Space Shuttle. It was unreal to hear her causally talk about her training, and describe in detail what it is like to feel a space shuttle takeoff. She chuckled and told about when she looked out the window and it hit her that “wow, the earth IS round!”

Of the thousands in attendance, a large percentage had come for the job opportunities. Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United Airlines were all present at the conference, taking resumes and conducting short interviews with applicants. Sharply dressed pilots flocked to their booths and it was fun talking to some of the energetic young job searchers.

I’m in a great spot for attending this conference, because I am graduating high school and beginning the rest of my flight training in a few short months. I tried to make a point of visiting every flight university and hearing about what makes them special, and how they are conducting their training of the next generation of pilots. I lingered at the Bristow Academy and Whirly-Girls booths, envisioning my life as a helicopter pilot. There are so many scholarships and opportunities available for an education in aviation, it is simply a matter of knowing where to look.

After passing by and lusting over an Abingdon watch a few times, I went to some of the education sessions. I learned tips and tricks for publishing my own book, and listened to a panel of female airline pilots. There were dozens of other educational sessions happening, and I only wish there were more of me so I could have attended more of them!

Seeing thousands of people who are passionate about aviation and are enjoying their careers in the field was extremely inspiring. I highly encourage anyone who is serious about aviation to look into attending the next Women in Aviation International conference. I can’t wait to attend next year’s conference myself and reunite with some of the great girls I met last weekend.

Your Guide to Summer Aviation Fun

After months of freezing temperatures, snow, ice, and grounded airplanes it’s nice to finally have some warm weather in the forecast. What better way to embrace the end of winter than to begin planning for summer aviation activities? The number of events that await your attendance this summer is both exciting and a little overwhelming. I hope to help give you a quick reminder of the major events, as well as introduce you to some that are lesser-known but well worth looking into.

Airshows

There is nothing better on a warm summer day than to go to an airshow. You can grab a cold drink, wear a sun-blocking hat, and watch beautiful aircraft dazzle you from the flight line. Listening to the buzz of the engines and hearing the enthusiastic announcer awakens the love of aviation that is inside all of us. Last year was a difficult one for the Airshow industry, but thankfully things are looking hopeful for 2014.

The Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy Blue Angels are back in action, ready to woo audiences in their tours around America. The patriotic and awe-inspiring pilots will be at several locations during the spring and summer, so visit their websites to get more information on this can’t-miss show.

Classic airshows for summer fun are being held at AirVenture and SUN 'n FUN. However, most states host at least one local airshow during the year, several hosting more.  The Globalair.com Aviation Events calendar can help you find your nearest show, and give you an idea of what is going on around the world.

Fly-Ins

For pilots who are itching for a change of scenery, a fly-in is a great option. Many airports and aviation organizations host fly-ins, which usually involve great food. Most EAA Chapters host monthly pancake breakfasts which are open to the public and feature speakers or activities that are of interest to aviators. These events are great for meeting other friendly pilots, and enjoying a relaxing summer’s Saturday.

I have recently come across a couple of truly unique fly-ins that would be unforgettable to attend. The International Seaplane Fly-In in Greenville, Maine is designed specifically for those with an interest in seaplane operations. Beautiful Moosehead Lake is the setting for the graceful seaplanes and visitors are close enough to town to explore the unique shops and restaurants of Maine. The Cessna 150-152 Fly-In in Iowa celebrates the most loved basic training aircraft. The small Cessna has been the starting point of a life in aviation for nearly 60 years. Over 100 of the aircraft will be flying into the heartland of America for this event.

Conferences

If the weather gets too hot for you, there are plenty of indoor conferences going on this summer. The Ninety-Nines are hosting their annual conference in New Orleans, Louisiana during the month of June. The Great Alaska Aviation Gathering is happening the first week in May. If there is an area of aviation that you find particularly interesting, there’s very likely a conference happening which covers it. There is even a NBAA Business Aviation Taxes Seminar happening in May. These seminars and conferences offer the perfect environment to learn new skills, network within your industry, and have a great time.

Other Happenings

In addition to all of the fun events already covered, there are plenty of unique activities going on if you know where to look. The 6th Annual 1940’s WWII Era Ball is happening June 14th in Colorado. Visiting this amazing ball has always been on my bucket list. For pilots who want a good challenge this summer, the Arizona Rumble in the Desert is a self-proclaimed “back country Olympics.” Competitions include short field landing, short field takeoff, power off approach, spot landing, and flour bombing.

Last but not least, there are always aviation summer camps. Many are available for all ages, but I cannot think of a more perfect way to introduce today’s youth to aerospace than a fun week of learning. These can get a little expensive, but there are scholarship opportunities available for most. AOPA has compiled a good list, but doing some quick Google searches around your area may help find one that is not listed.

Hopefully this quick list has helped you get excited for all the events happening this summer. It’s almost time to shake the ice off, pack some snacks, and enjoy beautiful summer weather!