Megan Tyler, left, flies passenger Hannah Allan as part of The Skys No Limit Girls Fly Too! event in Yellowknife, N.W.T. Allan was one of 422 girls who went for helicopter rides during the event. Ralph Christofferson Photo
Most industry professionals would agree that an essential part of any career includes giving back in some way. Indeed, giving back is what the Skys No Limit Girls Fly Too! event in Yellowknife, N.W.T. in March was all about.
Sowing the Seeds
Ive been involved in aviation for the past 20 years, including 17 years as a professional pilot. Something that quickly became apparent to me when first I got into aviation, and which has remained unchanged since I began my career, is the shortage of women in the field. Often Ive been the only female pilot, not just with a particular company, but also within hundreds of miles in all directions.
Over the years as I gained experience as a chief pilot, operations manager, business partner, and, later, aviation consultant it became increasingly important to me to provide leadership, mentoring and networking support to other women, in the hopes of increasing our numbers in the aviation industry. I became a member of the Ninety-Nines (an international organization of female pilots), chair of the organizations ambassador chapter and a senior navigator (mentor) in its Professional Pilot Leadership Initiative (PPLI). It was through my mentee in a recent session of the PPLI that I learned of the Women of Aviation Worldwide Week (WOAW), and became curious to know more about it.
As it turns out, WOAW is the invention and initiative of another Ninety-Nine member and fellow Canadian, Mireille Goyer, who was disappointed in the lack of international awareness and interest in the centennial anniversary of French aviatrix Raymonde de Laroche (born lisa Lontine Deroche), who became the first woman in the world to receive a pilots license on March 8, 1910. Determined to increase awareness of the historical achievements of women in aviation, and inspire women to consider careers in aviation, Goyer has worked tirelessly and encouraged other female aviators worldwide to do the same.
In support of Goyer and this worthwhile cause, I decided to organize an event in Yellowknife, where I am currently employed as a pilot for Trinity Helicopters. I wanted to not only take on WOAWs fly it forward challenge taking as many girls as possible on their first aircraft flights but to also arrange a static flight-line display where girls and their families would be free to explore and interact with aircraft and flight crews. Trinity Helicopters is an exceptionally innovative and supportive company, and it was immediately willing to assist. Thus, The Skys No Limit Girls Fly Too! event was born.
During the weeks that followed, I approached local businesses for their support in sponsoring free helicopter rides for as many as 500 girls. Since the purpose of the event was outreach, I wanted no barriers to participation: any eligible girl was to have the opportunity to experience the joy of their first flight in a helicopter. The positive response and support from local businesses was overwhelming.
With a bit of perseverance, the static flight-line display became quite impressive, too, and included a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Lockheed CP-140 Aurora maritime patrol aircraft (a military P-3 Orion), a gravel-kitted Canadian North Boeing 737-200 Combi jet aircraft, a Northwestern Air Lease British Aerospace Jetstream 31 twin turboprop airliner, an Arctic Sunwest Charters de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter, a Buffalo Airways Douglas DC-3 and a Beechcraft Model 18 floatplane.
Along with the static display, female flight crews were on hand to field questions from interested young minds, and allow all attendees to gain a rare view of the cockpits of the crews respective aircraft.
Part of the objective of this one-of-a-kind event was to provide role models and educational opportunities for young women interested in aviation. Accordingly, guests of honor included RCAF Capt. Elizabeth Crosier, the first woman to fly the Boeing CC-177 (C-17) Globemaster III transport aircraft; RCAF Capt. Trudy Gardner, the first woman pilot to be posted to Yellowknifes 440 Transport Squadron; Delia Chesworth, director of airports for the Northwest Territories; and Canadian Norths president, Tracy Medve.
I met Medve several years ago, while she was commuting from Iqaluit, Nunavut, to Yellowknife. Travelling with a friend on a tour of Northern Canada, Medve had arranged a quick tour of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, during the station stop. I was impressed with her easy-going manner and the relaxed, quiet respect of the crew as they went about their normal duties, despite having their president on board. Impulsively, I invited myself along for the impromptu tour, which led to an opportunity to chat with a very impressive and unassuming female leader.
Canadian North is well recognized and respected for embracing diversity, and what better leadership example to young girls, I thought, than a woman in the rare position of company president? To my delight, Medve accepted my invitation to attend and participate as a role model in the all-day event, even though I was rather vague about what that participation might specifically look like.
Having personally never organized an event before, and considering an outreach event of this scope and dimension had never been held in Canada before, I had no idea what to tell the president of a major airline, other than, Can you just come and be yourself? All I knew is that I didnt want a tradeshow or conference atmosphere I wanted a fun day at the airport for the girls. Not only did Medve take this in good humor, she brought in a whole crew to help!
Since part of the Yellowknife Airport needed to be shutdown for the event, a meeting with the airport authority seemed in order. During our initial meeting, I informed Steve Loutit, Yellowknife Airports manager, that, Were going to win the Yellowknife Airport a trophy for the Most Female-Pilot-Friendly Airport in the World, and waited for his reaction. To my surprise and delight, Loutit was immediately enthusiastic about the idea. In typical can do Northern style, the next thing I knew we were poring over a map of the airport, talking about moving earth and snow, and discussing where best to poke a temporary hole in the airport fence to accommodate airside access to the static display.
Many companies and individuals pulled together to make the March 10 event a resounding success. The elated smiles of hundreds of girls who flew for the first time that day were overwhelming, but also very inspirational.
Over 1,000 people participated in all, and a total of 422 girls and several moms were flown in association with the event, to qualify the Yellowknife Airport as the Most Female-Pilot-Friendly Airport in the World. It was a world record at least until next year, when we set a new one!