Shenandoah Valley Pilots Take to the Sky to Promote Gender Equality

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One of the planes at Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport One of the planes at Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport
Girls getting ready for a plane ride Girls getting ready for a plane ride

More than two hundred women and girls got to experience the thrill of an airplane ride Saturday at the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport.

The free event is part of a state wide initiative to increase female interest in aviation.

A pilot named Colleen Whiteford said, "It’s the flight and the take off and the landing that can really grab a hold of their heart and get them excited about it."

Beth White, a participant, said, "It goes beyond just the regular everyday kind of opportunity."

The women and girls toured the valley by air in small private planes. Some even got the chance to take the reins. 

Whiteford said, "If they're sitting in the front seat we can even let them hold the yoke and kind of pretend that they're flying it."

The Women Can Fly event shows young girls flying a plane isn't only a man's job. 

"A lot of times your stewardess is the lady and the guy is the pilot,” Whiteford said. “And we just want you to think outside that box a little bit that there's other things that you can do."

By providing hands-on experiences and sharing the thrill of flight, the event aims to encourage girls to fly recreationally, become a private pilot or pursue a career in aviation. 

Whiteford said, "This is where it can start. You know, they fly in this plane, they talk with us, they see the plane, touch the plane but then to actually fly in it, a lot of them have either never flown at all or they've never flown in a small plane and it’s such a neat experience."

For middle schooler, Julia Byer, Saturday's flight made a career as a pilot even more appealing. 

 “I've learned more about like the structure of airplanes that I've never knew," Byler said. "It seems like it'd be fun and I like flying."

With a nationwide shortage of both female and male pilots, organizers say the opportunities are endless.   

Heather Ream, the director of marketing and communications for the event, said, "We hope that these events will also encourage more people to get involved in aviation as a career to help kind of fill that gap."

In response to the notion that being a pilot is only for men,  Byler said, "That makes me want to be a pilot more, to prove that I can do something just as a man can do."

Saturday's event was part of a joint initiative by Virginia's Department of Aviation, the Shenandoah Valley Airport and The Ninety-Nines, which is the only female pilots association.

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