Women in aviation breaking barriers
Posted on May 31, 2017
When Jill Meyers was a girl, she was fascinated with flight. She built model airplanes and pedaled her bike to the local airport to watch the planes. But, she had no role models. “Most of the time I was told ‘no, you can’t do that,’ or ‘no, you shouldn’t do that.’” Meyers didn’t listen. She got a pilot’s license at 17 and later joined the U.S. Air Force, where she learned to work on airplanes, though at the time, she wasn’t allowed to fly them. She went on to earn an aerospace engineering degree from the University of Texas at Austin and professional roles at Raytheon, Boeing, and Eclipse Aviation.
These days, Meyers works as a volunteer and mentor, inspiring young girls and providing role models. As president of the San Diego Chapter of Women in Aviation International (WAI), the Cardiff resident is dedicated to the advancement of women in the flying world, whether in the cockpit or on the tarmac. Meyers points out that women make up 51 percent of the population, yet only 13 percent of aerospace engineers, 16 percent of air traffic controllers, 6 percent of licensed pilots, and just 3 percent of commercial airline pilots. Those numbers are sobering given a projected shortage of pilots and aviation personnel.
Meyers wants to encourage more women to enter aviation careers by emphasizing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) initiatives here in San Diego. In 2015, she organized WAI San Diego’s first ever “Girls in Aviation Day” at Palomar-McClellan Airport in Carlsbad. It gave dozens of girls the chance to learn about aviation education, interact with women in aviation careers, and spend time with the all-female crew of a Navy H-60 Seahawk helicopter. “A friend came up to me, put her arms around me, and said, ‘You have changed all these girls’ lives,’” recalls Meyers, “which is exactly why I do it.” The third annual event will be held on September 23.
Women in Aviation also mentors young women like 19-year-old Victoria (Tori) Peck, who got her private pilot’s license this year with the ultimate goal of becoming a corporate pilot. Peck, who works for GoJump, a sky-diving operation in Oceanside, also wants to earn a helicopter pilot’s license and skydiving license. Inspired by Amelia Earhart in the fourth grade, Peck dressed up like the celebrated aviator in her great grandfather’s leather flight cap for a school project. Her uncle, a United Airlines pilot, also encouraged her to fly. But it wasn’t until Meyers and the WIA got her a scholarship for an introductory flight at Montgomery Field’s Coast Flight that Peck was hooked. “The second that flight left the ground, I was sold,” she recalls. “I walked into the [flight] school afterward and asked, ‘How do I sign up?’”
Meyers was impressed by Peck’s drive and focus. “Not many people have plotted out a path, like she has. She knows exactly what she wants to do. She’s extremely focused and driven. You don’t see that often in someone who’s 19.” Peck, in turn, is mentoring girls as young as 13. “It’s nice to have people who look up to you, especially at such a young age,” she says. “It pushes them to work a little harder.”
Two upcoming movie projects may inspire more girls to take flight. FlyGirls, a television series proposed, directed, and produced by Matia Anne Karrell, champions the role of Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) in World War II. “FlyGirls is much more than a sepia-toned war
drama,” writes Karrell. “It’s the true story of an extraordinary group of women swept up in the complex social and political changes of the 20th century. At a time when most women could only imagine becoming a hairdresser, a teacher, or a waitress, these women pilots were driven by the need for a bigger purpose. They dared to become more, and the sky provided boundless space for their dreams to take flight.”
Fly Like a Girl, a feature-length documentary now in production, explores the “courageous history of women in aviation,” and examines why many girls don’t gravitate toward STEM careers. Director Katie McEntire Wiatt was a primary school teacher, where she learned first-hand about the confidence gap girls face in the classroom — especially when it comes to STEM subjects. One student told her: “Mrs. Wiatt, girls just aren’t good at math.” The comment was a poignant reminder of Wiatt’s own early struggles, and the fifth grade teacher who once pointedly said to her: “Some girls, like you, just can’t do math.” Wiatt is now determined to change how girls perceive themselves, their abilities, and their place in the world. She hopes Fly Like a Girl will encourage and empower them to do just that. As Meyers so aptly puts it: “The sky is NOT the limit. It’s just the beginning.” waisd.org, flygirls.com, flylikeagirl.film
Fly Like A Girl: Courtesy Image All Other Photography by Vincent Knakal