Northampton Airport celebrates Women in Aviation
John Smith, an employee at the Northampton Airport and flight instructor helps, left Dee Dice and her daughter Louisa Dice ,8, all of Florence get settled in before taking off Saturday afternoon in Northampton during the women in aviation program. Purchase photo reprints »
John Smith, an employee at the Northampton Airport and flight instructor gets ready to take off with back, Dee Dice, her daughter Louisa Dice ,8, and in front Sienna Dice,13, all of Florence, Saturday afternoon in Northampton during the women in aviation program.
Purchase photo reprints »
Dee Dice and her daughters, left, Sienna Dice ,13, and Louisa Dice,8, check in with Holly Lurgio for free flights offered as part of a women in aviation program at the Northampton airport Saturday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »
John Smith, an employee at the Northampton Airport and flight instructor helps, back Dee Dice, her daughter Louisa Dice ,8, and in front Siennna Dice,13, all of Florence get settled in before taking off Saturday afternoon in Northampton during the women in aviation program.
Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — The runway was busy at the Northampton Airport this weekend as volunteer pilots shuttled women and girls over the Pioneer Valley for the worldwide celebration of Women in Aviation week.
The “Fly It Forward” event was designed to encourage women and girls to enter the field of aviation by exposing them to the thrill of flying through free airplane rides.
“This has been a great event,” said Holly Lurgio, the airport’s program and marketing manager. “Our goal was to fly 100 women and girls this weekend. By yesterday we had 125 people, and today we will probably have more, as 55 have already gone up (by noon).” Rich MacIsaac, manager at Northampton Airport, said he believed this to be the only airport in Massachusetts participating in Women in Aviation week.
During the event, women of all ages lined up in front of the airport hangar, watching Cessnas, Pipers, Mooneys and other light sport aircraft take off as they eagerly awaited their turns to fly.
According to Lurgio, the youngest passenger was 6 years old and the oldest was 85.
On Sunday, 25-year-old pilot and mechanic Hillary Carl was one of many who volunteered for the event.
Sliding into the cockpit of a four-seater Cessna Warrior, Carl made sure passengers Elizabeth Willson and her 7-year-old daughter, Nora Steinberg, of Shutesbury were safely buckled in. She then methodically ran through a check of the plane’s instruments, taxied to the runway and powered up the engine. After reaching a speed of 60 mph, the single-engine plane lifted off the tarmac into the clear blue sky.
The 20-minute flight provided panoramic views from an altitude of 2,200 feet, giving a unique perspective of the Connecticut River, the Holyoke Range, Quabbin Reservoir and Mount Monadnock off to the north in New Hampshire.
At one point, Carl allowed Nora to take the controls, which was a big hit with the 7-year-old.
“I got to fly the plane! By myself!” she exclaimed to her friends after the flight.
Veterans of flight
Many volunteers at the event were members of “The Ninety-Nines,” an international organization of women pilots established in 1929 by 99 pilots, one of whom was Amelia Earhart.
The organization promotes women in aviation through education, scholarships and mutual support.
One Ninety-Niner was Mary Shea, 81, of Amherst, who has been a pilot since she flew her first solo flight in 1958. Shea said that “back in the day,” there were few problems with women learning how to fly, but discrimination was a factor if they wanted to fly commercially.
“I remember how hard it was when many WASP’s (Women Airforce Service Pilots) came back from World War II. Even though they could fly every aircraft in the military inventory, when they got home, all they heard was ‘No, thank you,’” Shea said. “All the plum jobs went to the young fellas.”
While things have improved for women pilots, there is still a long way to go before they have equal representation in commercial aviation.
“In this day and age, it’s hard to believe, but only 6 percent of commercial pilots are women. To me, there is just no logical reason for that,” pilot Glenna Blackwell of Great Barrington said.
That reality is what volunteers at “Fly it Forward” want to change.
Volunteer Marilyn Pearson of West Hartford, Conn., who works for the Federal Aviation Administration, has been flying for over 30 years.
“This is my love, my hobby and my profession all put together,” Pearson said as she watched passengers hop down from a Cessna. “They are all just having a blast. I love watching them all get out with those great big smiles,” she said.
The Honious sisters, Kelsey 22, and Stacey 18, came up from Hartford to take their ride. Kelsey said she would love to be able to fly. “I would definitely look into flying. If it wasn’t for the money involved, I would have my pilot’s license now,” she said.
Carl, who has received several scholarships from the Ninety-Nines, said the average flying lesson runs about $160 an hour.
“Forty flight hours are required for a pilot’s license, but it usually takes most people closer to 65 hours to be comfortable flying,” Carl said.
As the event was such a success, Lurgio said she would like to do it again next year and continue to promote women in aviation.