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Inspirational women in Aerospace

Short Flights


February 15, 2020

Photo provided

WASP Flora Belle Reece, Chuck Yeager and WASP Irma 'Babe' Story.

Nearly twenty years ago, (2001) I was asked to help with a special Air & Space Exploratorium at the Antelope Valley Mall. 'Women in Aerospace – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.' I was delighted to ask my WASP (Women Air Service Pilots) friends, Ty Killen, Irma 'Babe' Story and Flora Belle Reece to represent our Women in Aerospace of Yesterday. All three women were wonderful role models with a high spirit of adventure, love of aviation and outstanding resolve to accomplish their goals. All three of these fabulous women have passed away, but their inspirational spirits are still alive in my heart.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of legendary Jackie Cochran breaking the sound barrier with famous test pilot Chuck Yeager was quite a day at Edwards AFB in May 2003. WASP Flora Belle Reece and Irma 'Babe' Story were there to honor the occasion with Chuck Yeager.

Since the earliest days of flight, American women have been demonstrating and test flying aircraft. Throughout history, these special women have made their dreams come true with a determination that stemmed from their affection for flying machines.

In the past, women aviators, such as: Harriet Quimby, first American woman aviator; Bessie Coleman, first black woman aviator in America (who, by the way had to get her license in France because of her color); Amelia Earhart, internationally renowned woman aviator, and founder of the Ninety-Nines; and Jacqueline Cochran, founder of the WASP's; all had perseverance and resolve.

Today, women are able to pursue careers in every area of Aerospace and the purpose of the Air & Space Expo was to encourage young students to consider choosing a position in this exciting industry.

That same spirit, perseverance and endurance displayed by women in aviation of yesterday lives today. Women now serve as pilots, design engineers, flight test engineers, and mechanics in the U.S. Armed Forces, with NASA, various flight test programs and in General Aviation.

The keynote speaker was unfortunately unable to attend, and I was honored to be asked to read her message. Marta Bohn-Meyer, Director of Flight Operations at NASA Dryden (first and only woman to fly as Flight Test Engineer in the SR-71 Blackbird) was participating in an aerobatic competition out of town. She was preparing for the World Air Games in Spain as a member of the U.S. Unlimited Aerobatic Team.

Marta's parents instilled a sense of purpose in her at a very young age. In her message, she cautioned, "Don't let go of your dreams; sometimes that will be all you have, but dreams can nurture your brain and your body." She always talked about the FOUR-RIGHT's: "Be prepared to work hard and strive to be in the RIGHT place, at the RIGHT time, and make sure you have the RIGHT qualifications and RIGHT level of enthusiasm."

I remember hearing her tell young folks that their job was to walk through the door of opportunity when it knocks; "It isn't enough to just open the door – you must step through!"

She also would say, "Another important point is to be aware that your attitude may determine your altitude."

In the speech I read, Marta said, "If you are committed to being a contributor to your society, your family, and your nation, you will go far. Your attitude is the first thing other people see about you. If it's a good attitude, people will be more likely to step up to help you achieve success. Make sure your attitude is worth catching!"

Photo provided

Bessie Coleman – First black woman to earn pilot's license.

After reading Marta's speech, I was reminded of something my mother used to tell me when I would become discouraged and say, "I can't." She would always come back with, "YES YOU CAN!" Then she would tell me about The Little Red Hen who did everything herself, because no one would help. I guess that's why I run around doing everything myself, I still hear the Little Red Hen saying, "Well, I'll just do it myself – and she did."

I am always saddened when I recall hearing that my friend Marta was killed in a tragic crash in her Giles G-300, while practicing for the 2005 U.S. National Aerobatic Championship. She was a wonderful and inspirational woman, and a powerful mentor for young women in aerospace. Thank you Marta for all of your accomplishments and for being such a positive influence on the next generation of women in aerospace!

See you on our next flight!


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