The Women of Aviation Who Inspire Us

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The Women of Aviation Who Inspire Us

Posted by Kristin Laing on Mar 30, 2018 12:51 pm

Every pilot has a hero that inspired his or her path to the sky. Because we know what a privilege it is to fly, we do not forget the men and women who came before us. In honor of Women’s History Month and Women In Aviation Week last week, we asked AOPA staff who are pilots to share what female aviators inspire them and why. Here’s what they had to say:
Florence “Pancho” Barnes
Prospect Research Specialist for AOPA Foundation, Karen Hemenway, is inspired by Florence “Pancho” Barnes because she was considered weird. “I like that a LOT. She was determined to do what made her happy and flying was it. She was successful. She fought for what she earned.” Outspoken Pancho did not take kindly to how women pilots weren’t taken seriously in the 1940s. She was one of the first female aviators and test pilots, founded the first union for movie stunt pilots, broke Amelia Earhart’s air speed record, just to name a few. Pancho was a badass.

Congresswoman Martha McSally
For Air Safety Institute Project Manager Kristen Bodnar, it is Congresswoman McSally’s attitude toward challenge and gender equality—in her career as well as in aviation—that inspires her. “She had no aviation aspirations growing up, but upon learning women weren’t allowed to be fighter pilots, decided she would become the first.” McSally also became the first woman to command a USAF fighter squadron, flying A-10s in Iraq and Kuwait. Her efforts to establish gender equality in the military was not based on a ‘women are better than men’ mentality. She simply wanted to address and collaboratively resolve issues when they didn’t make sense to her. Suing Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and the DoD for requiring servicewomen to wear hijabs when off-base, and the other issues women face in the military that came to light as a result, are just two examples of that resilience.

(Luz Beattie, pictured left)

Luz Beattie
Luz Beattie hasn’t yet made it to the pages of history that other heroes have, but in the AOPA corporate office, and for Flight Operations Dispatch Coordinator, Paula Wivell, Luz is legendary. Flight instructor and mentor, Luz exudes knowledge and confidence, and instills a sense of calm and sensibility in the cockpit. Luz and Paula flew together with Kathy Dondzila, also of AOPA, in the three-woman team “AOPAngels” in the 2017 Air Race Classic. Luz flies everything from a Cessna 152 to a CJ3, but becoming a pilot was a fluke. She wanted to give it a try and her husband encouraged her to go for it. The rest is history! “She is constantly encouraging me to keep going, keep moving forward. She is a great pilot, my coworker, my CFI, and a great friend.”

Eleanor Roosevelt
Safety Program Coordinator for Air Safety Institute, Nicole Applegate, feels that Eleanor Roosevelt did a lot for the aviation community. She took that very famous flight with the Tuskegee Airmen, flew with Amelia Earhart and had applied for her own student license. On a trip with Amelia Earhart from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore in 1933, she briefly took controls of the Eastern Air Transport Curtiss Condor. She took many flights as First Lady, including the Guess Where II, a reconfigured bomber designed to carry President Roosevelt, which was deemed too dangerous by the Secret Service for its purpose, but was fine for the First Lady.

Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP)
Jill Tallman, Technical Editor for AOPA Pilot Magazine, didn’t know anything about the WASP until she started learning how to fly. But when she saw a PBS documentary about them, she immediately fell in love. WASP pilots were civilians with no military standing, though attached to the USAF to fly military aircraft during World War II, freeing up male pilots for military combat and other duties. Over 25,000 women applied to join, 1,074 completed the training. They flew over 60 million miles, transporting every type of military aircraft, towed targets for live anti-aircraft gun practice, simulated strafing missions, and transported cargo. Thirty-eight died and one went missing during their service. In 1977, the surviving members were granted veteran status for their service during the war, and were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. “Every time I struggled with any aspect of the private pilot certificate, I’d remind myself that these women had flown all kinds of aircraft in support of our troops in World War II. I’ve had a chance to meet a few of the WASP over the years, and I usually cry when I do.”


Genesah Duffy
AOPA Ambassador, Jamie Beckett, is inspired by U.S. Navy vet, Genesah Duffy. After she completed service, Genesah attended Polk State College in central Florida to become a pilot. Before becoming ICON’s Chief Pilot on the East Coast (Tampa), she worked at a maintenance operation, ordering supplies and running the office. She is also a founder of the Lakeland chapter of Women in Aviation. “She’s a rock star as far as I’m concerned.”
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Dawn Seymor and Peggy Whitson
Cindy Hasselbring, Senior Director of the High School Initiative, gave us two women who inspire her flying. Dawn Seymor flew B-17s as a WASP pilot in World War II, overcame many obstacles, and was a constant source of encouragement to Cindy at AirVenture every year. “I always looked forward to our conversations.” Sadly, Dawn passed away last year, but her legacy will live on through Cindy and others she inspired.
Another favorite for Cindy is Peggy Whitson, Chief Astronaut and Commander of the International Space Station. She is the first female to serve in that role, has spent 665 days in space, more than any other American, and is on the cover of the March 2018 issue of National Geographic.

Inspiring, indeed!! 
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Re: The Women of Aviation Who Inspire Us

Posted by Richard Gallaher on Apr 16, 2018 2:42 pm

I was kind of interested in flight training...
But, I went out of my way to attend and complete ground school, because there was a pretty girl in my ground school class.
​She didn't complete her training, but she completed mine. 

​I see above Genesah Duffy. I just met her doing the Icon demo flights in Georgia.