EAA AirVenture Oshkosh - The World's Greatest Aviation Celebration

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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedWomen pilots gather to celebrate their successes
By Barbara A. Schmitz, EAA AirVenture Today

More than 500 women pilots and student pilots gathered on AeroShell Square Friday morning for a group picture in what is believed to be the largest gathering of female pilots ever. This is the second year EAA has held special women's activities, called WomenVenture, during EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.
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July 31, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin  - Hundreds of women, most wearing special lavender shirts, gathered on AeroShell Square this morning to celebrate women's success in aviation and to encourage other women to follow their dreams of flight.

This is the second year AirVenture has featured a day for women. About 500 women participated in the 2008 event, taking part in a group photo. This year an estimated 550 women came for the photo, including Women Airforce Service Pilots or WASPs, air show performers Debby Rihn-Harvey, Julie Clark, Jill Long, the Misty Blues, an all woman sky diving team, and others.

Peggy Chabrian, president of Women in Aviation International (WAI), said there are two reasons events like WomenVenture are important.

"It's the camaraderie, meeting other women pilots and interacting," she said. "But as these women are walking around in their T-shirts, hopefully other women and children will go up to them and talk to them about what this is all about. Hopefully this event will spark interest in aviation for women. It tells them it's okay to be involved."

Chabrian said she's heard success stories in just the two years the program has been operating. "Some women have told me the program last year motivated them to finish their pilot training or to start working on it," he said.

Retta Nelson, who lives near Minneapolis, Minnesota, is one of those. She earned her pilot certificate in November 2008.

"I came for this," she said. Last year she was a student pilot in the group photo, and she was excited to be a pilot this year. "I never gave up my dream."

But she laughs when she said it took her a little bit of time to earn that certificate-23 years. "But this (event) is good advertising for general aviation and women in general."

Sally Stenabaugh and her daughter, Sarah, who has both her glider and power certificates, are from London, Ontario. But they said they came to AirVenture today because of the special women's activities planned.

"It just sounded like fun," said Sarah, who is an engineer by trade and a pilot for fun. "I'm a member of Women in Aviation, and this sounded like a fantastic opportunity."

The two gathered first for the WAI breakfast, and then were headed to AeroShell Square for the group photo.

Joann Ford, of Alexandria, Virginia, works for the FAA as an air traffic controller and is now helping to progress from ground navigation to a satellite navigation system. She got involved in aviation by chance.

"I was a dental hygienist," she said. "I challenge anyone to suction saliva for six years to see what they want to do."

In 1979, she started dating a pilot and soon found herself enthralled with aviation. "Aviation has been a wonderful career," she said. Ford is a charter member of WAI and helped found a local chapter in the Washington, D.C., area. She said she likes to be involved.

"But there is nothing more fun than sitting down and eating a bratwurst at Oshkosh and talking with people you've never met before. At Oshkosh, you bond with folks you don't even know."

Jill Long is not only a lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force, but also an aerobatic performer. She'll be flying her first air show today at EAA AirVenture today and couldn't be more excited. For the first time, the air show lineup includes all women.

"It's quite an honor flying at Oshkosh," Long said, describing her performance as ballet in the sky. But it's been quite an adventure for her, too, since she is now stationed in Italy and her plane is still in Texas.

Long will also be one of the female speakers tonight at Theater in the Woods.

In addition, Long has been a longtime supporter and mentor of Women Soar You Soar, an EAA program meant to get teenaged girls interested in aviation-related careers.

Long said she is a believer in programs like WomenVenture that encourage women to follow their dreams. "I was given opportunities based on people who came before me like the WASPs," she said. "I'm hopeful I can do the same for the people who will come after me, for when you follow your dream you can become whatever you want to become."

Additionally, women pilots and student pilots can record their participation on any day by signing the logbook at the EAA Welcome Center. Female pilots and student pilots can also record their participation on any day by signing the logbook in the EAA Welcome Center, located on Celebration Way. As of mid-morning on Friday, about 750 female pilots had already signed in. The logbook is also available online.

WomenVenture activities today

WomenVenture activities today also include a special women-only air show featuring Melissa Andrzejewski, Julie Clark, Susan Dacy, Debbie Gary, Jill Long, Misty Blues, Jessie Panzer, Debby Rihn-Harvey, Teresa Stokes, Patty Wagstaff, and Suzanne Oliver (skywriting).

But activities continue tonight with a presentation in Theater in the Woods at 8 o'clock, featuring Eileen Collins, NASA astronaut; Lt. Col. Jill Long, U.S. Air Force; Jessica Cox, who received her pilot certificate despite being born without arms; Julie Clark, air show performer; and others. Moderators for the event are Dr. Peggy Chabrian, president, WAI, and Martha King of King Schools.

FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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