You Say You Want Your Wife to Fly

A mere six percent of the licensed pilots in America are female. As one of them, I often hear men complain, “I can’t get my wife to fly with me.” Okay, guys, let me explain something. Some of the tactics you use to attract your loved one into aviation have driven her away from it. 

SEE HOW SAFE IT IS?

My husband asked me that at 4,000 feet after throttling back the engine. He thought that demonstrating his skill at handling a simulated emergency would instill confidence. I was not a pilot then so the maneuver felt like a real emergency that instilled terror, followed by fury. This stunt has been repeated by males all over the country. If you want your wife to fly with you then never, ever take her for a thrill ride to show her how well you handle the plane. How impressed would you be if your pilot on a commercial flight demonstrated a roll? A method that works: invite her on a short flight in gorgeous weather and give her a smooth, uneventful ride. Instead of acting like a race car driver behave like a limo driver.

I’M GOING WITH OR WITHOUT YOU

This is another dangerous tactic. It dares the one left behind to find her own fun things to do without you. Why make the airplane an object of scorn and jealousy? Trust me when I say that bullying, nagging, and harassing women will not achieve positive long-term results. Sure, it takes time to discuss and address her concerns about flying. Perhaps her hesitation to take your offer of a four-hour flight means she has a three-hour bladder. For you flying may have been love at first flight while she needs a longer courtship. One enterprising pilot lured his wife into a deep love of aviation with this deal—for every dollar he spent on flying he gave her a dollar. When I met this couple during the Cayman Caravan she, adorned with stunning jewelry, gushed about how much she adored flying.

YOU SHOULD WANT TO

Yes, yes, you enjoy flying and you expect that because you do she should, too. And when, exactly, did you take up cross-stitch to share her appreciation of it? For some couples, the ideal arrangement is for the woman to ride along. If she doesn’t want to take lessons, she might enjoy reading the checklist, setting the radio and transponder codes or helping in other ways as an educated passenger. If you can convince her to take the 10-hour Pinch-Hitter’s course then it would give her the chance to try out aviation without a long-term commitment. This course demystifies the purpose of all those whiz-bang toys on the panel. I took the course because my husband wanted to buy a plane. During that brief course, I discovered the fun. It can happen.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU WANT TO FLY?

What are you gonna do if your wife really does enjoy flying enough to get her license? Be honest. When you and your wife climb into the car do you ALWAYS drive? If so, then she knows in her heart that she shouldn’t bother to get her license. The famous flying couple of John and Martha King operate King Schools, a flight training company, in San Diego. John explains the problem he’s witnessed over and over after a woman earns her license, “the men absolutely, flat-out, totally fail to relinquish any authority or power to the woman and after all, she may as well be in the back seat because there’s nothing in it for her. That is as universal as the fact that the man always rides up front on a Harley. What happens is that even when the woman is flying she’s nothing more than a voice-activated autopilot and that is absolutely no fun.”

I’M ONLY TRYING TO HELP

These few words sound oh, so lame after you’ve switched radio frequencies on your wife without telling her and she calls Asheville approach Greensboro. Pilot-in-command (PIC) is authority women may have to enforce with rope and duct tape, if necessary. Husbands, be warned, mysterious changes in power, radio frequencies or altimeter setting pose a threat to your safety if your wife is PIC. If you wouldn’t touch the controls when another man is PIC then don’t do so when a woman is PIC. One time, with my mother-in-law in the back seat, I had to tell my co-pilot husband to get his hands off my knobs. It worked.

Flight Instructor John King advises couples to behave like commercial pilots when they share the cockpit. To men in the co-pilot’s seat, he advises “and you don’t make wild comments, as the co-pilot, in giving your opinion about this or that. All you can do is present facts. So you can say ‘sink is one thousand.’ That’s okay. ‘You’re too low and darn it you’re descending too fast’ is not correct, because it’s an opinion.”

FLY LIKE ME

It is unreasonable and unfair to expect a low-time pilot to fly like a high-time pilot. If you have a thousand hours and your wife has two hundred hours then it will take her longer to notice a two-degree course drift. Wait and watch. If the course drift becomes dangerous then state the facts. Hold the sarcasm. Remove any inflection or word choice that could be interpreted as disappointment or criticism. Imagine you are coaching your child to ride a two-wheeler. Allow for that awkward learning period. Be encouraging. Accept differences in style and timing.

JUST LIKE ONE OF THE GUYS

In 500 hours of flying I’ve landed safely after gear malfunctions, a blown cylinder and an electrical failure. Okay, I squealed like a girl when the gear motor failed, but I used the hand crank and landed safely. Even though women might reek of Avgas, hold umpteen ratings and fly like one of the guys, we will never be one of the guys. For example: I became one of 12,229 private pilots to earn an instrument rating in 2000. Upon return from my flight exam, the usual gathering of male pilots filled chairs in front of the terminal. After I said I had passed my instrument flight exam they congratulated me and offered to cut out my shirt. The front, of course. The dears.

So, gentlemen, since you hold 94% of the licenses, it’s up to you to make aviation inviting to women. You can do it and I hope this helps.

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This article first appeared in the premiere edition of Carolinas Aviator magazine.

carolinas aviator magazine cover

Becoming Bold

Earning my pilot’s license was the boldest thing I have done since kissing Steve Gadow in seventh grade. Kissing Steve put me in the majority of girls in seventh grade, but earning my pilot’s license put me in a minority. An underwhelming six percent of the pilot’s licenses are held by women.

Why do so few women fly?

I’ll tell you.

The first reason that some women don’t fly is because of how they are introduced to aviation. When my husband earned his license he took me up for a ride. Being a guy, he thought like a guy and believed in his heart that demonstrating a simulated engine failure and recovery would instill confidence in his plane-handling abilities. Being a woman, I thought it was a ride in Hell’s theme park. I’ve met a dozen other women who were similarly introduced to aviation and most stayed away afterward.

It took months for me to get near another small airplane. Hubby intended to buy a plane and so eventually, I’d be a passenger again. I vowed not to be a helpless one ever again. I hired an instructor to teach me how to radio for help and land the plane. Dear Instructor Don Kohler walked me through radio work, reading the instruments for heading and altitude, and landings. Lots of landings. He demystified the panel of blinking instruments, knobs, and do-dads. His patience gradually built up my confidence and knowledge.

photo of Don Kohler

I confided in Don that aviation seemed an all-male club, so he introduced me to the legendary Betty Skelton, an aerobatic pilot whose Pitts Special airplane rests in the Smithsonian’s Air & Space collection. Back when women were expected to become teachers, wives, nurses, or secretaries, and mothers, Betty became an aerobatic pilot. Elegant, stylish, and bold, Betty’s passion for flying inspired me. Her plane’s N-number tells how she felt about aerobatic flying–22EZ. I decided to obtain my pilot’s license.

I told Hubby my intention. Well, I hadn’t seen him that excited—with his clothes on, anyway—in years. Who would’ve thought 110 low lead fuel would be an aphrodisiac?

Resources

A second large obstacle for women who want to learn to fly is resources. Flying is expensive and it costs time. Women tend to carry the heavier loads of parenting in terms of time. So to take lessons, certain factors had to converge in perfect synchronicity: the availability of the rental plane, good weather, my daughter’s presence at school, and the availability of the instructor.

After six months, I passed the written and practical examinations. Later, after being stranded in Claxton, Georgia due to cloud cover, I trained for and earned my instrument rating. Free to punch through clouds, I embraced flying. Now Handsome tends to work the fact that I’m a pilot into conversations. It always gets a double-take response and raised eyebrows. Never mind that I bore him a daughter and worked at a bank to support us through his grad school years. He brags that I’m a pilot? Men. Go figure.

We enjoy life at 8,000 feet. We’ve flown from central Florida as far south as the Cayman Islands; as far east as Crooked Island in the Bahamas; as far west as Las Cruces, New Mexico; and as far north as Mackinac Island, Michigan. We’ve flown to see the Balloon Festival in Albuquerque. We’ve visited Big Bend National Park, and Carlsbad Caverns because we could fly to them. We fly up to North Carolina to enjoy cool summertime weather and brilliant autumn foliage. We take turns to prevent a wrestling match for the left seat, which is where the pilot-in-command sits.

Fear

The largest obstacle for women in aviation to overcome is fear.

I have lost friends in airplane accidents. When traveling at 175 knots, 8,000 above the ground and things go wrong, fear can destroy judgment. Firefighters, police, Special Forces soldiers, and fighter pilots all say that the single greatest way to overcome fear and panic is through training, practice, and knowledge, because when an emergency happens—and it will—people revert to their training. Training is what enables us to shove emotion into the backseat.

I’ve experienced a few attention-grabbing events. Don taught me simple aerobatics: loops, rolls, and spins. In a spin you have to do the exact opposite of what instinct dictates to safely recover from the spin. It takes many practices to overcome the urge to follow instinct. Near Muskegon, Michigan the hydraulic line to the gear motor broke, so I hand-cranked the gear down and we landed safely for repairs. I’ve had a cylinder fail, and software go haywire, and watched a gyro tumble, but through it all, training trumped emotion. What began as boldness—to learn this new skill set and become licensed—has grown into steady confidence.

Being bold enough to learn to fly has been deeply rewarding. In 2004, I flew to Marathon in the Florida Keys to resupply friends who had lost power and food after a hurricane. In 2005, I brought my pastor to Pascagoula, Mississippi, so he could inspect the relief efforts of a smaller church post-Katrina to determine whether or not our larger church should send funds. Though I looked out of place among the military pilots and the jet pilots ferrying in FEMA representatives and supplies, I felt at home.

Flying has enhanced my marriage, not just because we can travel farther by taking turns at the controls, but because we are doing something we both enjoy. The world of aviation is still male-dominated, but I have to say everyone has treated me very well.

Being bold has paid off handsomely for me personally and professionally. We have a choice. We can live boldly or look back and wish we had.

—–

This article previously appeared in Skirt! Magazine, their BOLD issue, August 2016.

Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base Celebrates 40 Years

Congratulations to Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base in Winter Haven, Florida, for 40 years of flight training in Piper aircraft. It’s likely that Brown’s Seaplane Base has trained more people to fly seaplanes than any other flight school in the world, at 500 students a year.

Students train for their SES rating using three, 85-hp J-3 Cubs on Aqua 1500 floats and for their MES in a Nomad/Piper Aztec Pa-23-250 on Edo 4930 floats. The SES training costs $850 for five hours and includes the check ride in a J-3 Cub. The MES course in the Piper Aztec costs $400 per hour for dual instruction until proficiency is reached. Amphibs can land at Winter Haven’s Gilbert Field (GIF, 123.05) and back-taxi to runway 11 to Brown’s or land on Lake Jesse. For the landlubbers, Brown’s rents out a Cessna 150 and a fixed-gear Cessna 182.

The Orlando Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) gave Brown’s an award in 2002 for promoting the (safety education) Seawings program in the United States. Obie S. Young, Safety Program Manager with the Orlando FSDO, said, “I know that every year Jon is somewhere around 50 percent of the Seawings issued compared to the rest of the country.” Young earned his seaplane rating from Jack Brown. He described the base as a family business conducted with southern hospitality. “It’s like walking back into history.”

SeaplaneJack Brown established the seaplane base in 1963 and flew an estimated 24,000 hours in his beloved seaplanes. In 1975 Jack was ferrying a Seabee to North Carolina when he experienced a fatal loss of elevator control.

Jack’s sons, Jon and Chuck, continue the family business. Jon has over 15,650 hours in seaplanes while Chuck has 5,900 hours. Chuck has another job as a commercial pilot. Unlike many seaplane flight schools, Brown’s has two examiners on staff. Representing the third generation of Browns on the base are Travis Gaines and Emily Brown. Travis has his private pilot’s license and does fabric work on the J-3 Cubs. Emily has recently begun her flight training.

Of course, it helps Brown’s popularity to be strategically situated in central Florida with over 100 freshwater lakes in a 5-mile radius. It serves as a hub of year-round seaplane training with the busiest season running from January to May. Pilots who plan to get their seaplane rating during the April EAA Sun ‘N Fun Fly-In sign up in November to reserve a training spot.

Brown’s attracts top-notch instructors like John M. Rennie, an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) with over 5,700 hours flying seaplanes, who wrote Step Up To Floats: Airplane Single Engine Seaplane Training Manual. Instructor Ron Trostle was furloughed from United Airlines after three years and chose to return to teach at Brown’s. Trostle has 1,550 hours SES and 271 hours MES. Instructor Alex Borrego, a retired Eastern Airlines pilot, has over 14,000 hours flying with 818 hours in J-3 Cubs. Rounding out the pool of instructors are: Eyal Breiter, Jim Hershberger, Kathleen Field, and Brian Elferdink.

Out on the water, students learn how to feel the crucial difference between the Center of Gravity and the Center of Buoyancy. They become familiar with a J-3 Cub floatplane from its sardonically named ‘armstrong’ hand-propped starter to the water rudders. They discover they can fly without an autopilot, GPS, storm scope, radio, and even flaps.

The training methods honed over 40 years at Brown’s have been condensed into an intensive short course. Weather permitting; a student can get the rating in a weekend. The instructors produce amazing results in an efficient, professional, relaxed atmosphere.

At the end of the day, pilots gather in the screened porch for coffee, camaraderie and storytelling. Usually, one can find a student and instructor reviewing the day’s splash-and-go practice, step-taxi procedures, and safety tips.

Despite their attention to safety, there have been a few accidents. Like driving a car, Jon said, “Just backing down your driveway, if you do it thirty-thousand times at some point you may hit the mailbox.” In fact, one of his daughter’s dates did knock down his mailbox.  (In fact, one of his daughter’s dates did.) In 1979, Jon and a student on a check ride had an emergency landing in Lake Arietta in Auburndale in 1979 when a strut broke loose. Their accident contributed to the Piper Service Bulletins No. 910A and No. 528D and the Airworthiness Directive 93-10-06 on rolled instead of cut fork bolts on Piper Struts. Performing thousands of hours of training naturally involves some risk.

The vast majority of students get their seaplane rating for the fun of it or for bragging rights. Instructor Rennie estimated that about 15 percent go on to fly seaplanes regularly and buy one. The training, however, benefits all pilots because it teaches them how to read the wind direction and strength by looking at bodies of water.

The influence of Brown’s Seaplane Base reaches around the world, drawing students from Japan, Sweden, France, Britain, the Philippines, and South America. Foreign students have been 40 percent of Brown’s business.

The new background checks for foreign students that began in July 2002 have not hurt business at Brown’s, though it does slow down the process of booking students a bit.

Look for the yellow J-3 Cub yellow polo shirts with the “Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base” logo. They tend to bob up in crowds at aviation gatherings. Brown’s Seaplane Base also appears in the credits of movies such as Brenda Star, Nothing by Chance, and Dark Tower. Residents of Winter Haven have become accustomed to seeing the bright yellow planes with their white floats hopping from lake to lake to lake year-round.

Brown’s Seaplane Base treats pilots to a bygone era of basic stick-and-rudder flying laced with Southern hospitality. This is the closest most pilots will ever get to the wind-in-your-face, alligator-scaring thrill of being a bush pilot.

—–

This article appeared in Pipers Magazine in the November 2003 issue, Volume 16, Issue 11. As of 2020, the seaplane base has been running for 57 years. See also, how I came to write this article in my essay Call Me.

Unexpected Landing: Stuff Happens

If you fly long enough, you will experience a problem in flight. Maybe you’ll hit a bird. Maybe your wings will ice up. Maybe you’ll get distracted in your pre-landing check and forget to lower the gear. Fuel lines get vapor lock. Gunk clogs the fuel injector. A bug or moisture fills the static port. Stuff happens.

Each kind of problem makes itself known if you know how to watch for the clues—and take them seriously.

My husband, Maury L. Fisher, MD, and I were flying a Cessna 210 from Bartow, Florida to Asheville, North Carolina on Friday, August 31 when the engine revealed a clue. Though we both have our licenses, I had fallen out of currency and was relegated to the copilot’s seat. Handsome was PIC. At 10,000’ the engine analyzer started acting wonky. That’s my technical term for when the cylinder head temperature reading disappeared on cylinder one.

In the past, a cylinder reading disappeared because a sensor probe came loose and backed out. This time, Handsome mentioned it and stated that since we were cruising at 184 knots, we couldn’t have lost the cylinder’s power. All other gauges of power and temperature and fuel flow remained steady and within the normal range on our 200-hour IO-550-L Continental engine.

So, we agreed to watch the gauges, continue the flight, and have it checked when we returned home. The Jacksonville air traffic controller cleared us to climb to 12,000 to get above clouds.

At 11,000’ the engine shook hard, and the happy engine hum turned into a galloping sound. Instead of showing six green columns, our engine analyzer showed three. We were over the Okefenokee Swamp, 684 square miles of alligator and snake-infested wetland that spreads across the Florida-Georgia border. The name Okefenokee is a Native-American word meaning trembling earth. I wanted to land on solid ground, like a runway or a road.

The autopilot struggled to maintain altitude. We lost horsepower. Handsome notified the Jacksonville controller that the engine was running rough. (The engine sounded like a horse trying to kick its way out.) He asked for the nearest airport. The controller offered Lake City at twenty-eight miles behind us or another airport thirty miles ahead. Handsome asked for Lake City’s identifier.

I took a quick inventory of emergency supplies. We had no water, a few snacks, two 9mm handguns, and a handheld radio. My wicked memory flashed to May 1996 when ValueJet Flight 592 crashed in the swamp near Miami with 110 people on board. It sank, and parts of it were finally located a month later. Handsome’s seaplane rating gave me some comfort.

My hand shook as I entered KLCQ into the autopilot as our new destination. I was about to press ENTER to activate the new destination when Handsome reached over and started the process over. He was in his zone, focused on what to do, so he hadn’t noticed the new reading. His hand wasn’t shaking.

The controller recited the heading to Lake City and the number of degrees to turn left on course. My body temperature rose while I calculated the rate of descent needed to reach Lake City if the last three cylinders stopped firing. We were descending 200 feet per minute on half power. Without power, we’d be forced to land in a roadless section of trembling earth.

flight path image

The engine seemed to be holding together. It wasn’t spewing oil or smoke. Handsome maintained a calm demeanor. Decades of working in the emergency room and in surgery had taught him to school his emotions. He also has 1500 more flying hours than his copilot.

I sent up a quick prayer and remembered that I’d once landed safely after a cylinder blew. I was grateful this was not a solo flight, or my turn to fly.

I imagine I would have done exactly as he did during the engine problem, but in truth, I’d have sweat-soaked the upholstery in the process like a nuclear hot flash.

The controller spoke in calming tones as he gave the tower frequency for Lake City Airport and the weather conditions there. He named the runways and reported that Lake City cleared us for any runway. Then he asked, “How many souls on board and how much fuel?”

There’s something about hearing an air traffic controller ask the question that ratchets up the stress factor. By the time the words are spoken you already know there’s a problem. But still.

Handsome answered him while I took a calming breath. At 3000’ we broke out from the clouds and saw the airport. Ten miles to go. Handsome said he wouldn’t drop the gear until he had the airport made. By ‘made’ he meant glide in with a dead engine.

On short final, he dropped the gear and pulled back the power. The engine’s syncopated rhythm sounded more pronounced. We landed and taxied to the end of runway 010, past the Lake City Fire Department’s tank-like yellow crash truck. We sputtered down the taxiway and passed a red firetruck to the parking area. The linemen directed us to a spot isolated from other aircraft.

There’s a moment in the movie Armageddon after men jump a rover over a canyon on an asteroid and crash land. Actor Michael Clarke Duncan, covered in sweat in the back seat, says, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Lord. Thank you.  Thank you. Thank you.” That. That’s how I felt.

We climbed out. The firemen, three police officers, two linemen, Handsome and I breathed a collective sigh. Bo, Byron, and Larry in the tower probably sighed, too. Thanks, guys!

Airport Lineman Crew Leader Ed Bunnell said, “Welcome to Lake City.” He secured chocks under the nose wheel. “What can we do for you?”

I wanted a hug. Handsome asked for a mechanic. While they arranged for a mechanic, I planned an emergency kit for future flights. We often fly over the Appalachian Mountains. It’s embarrassing how complacent we had become about these routine flights. Next time, we’ll bring bottled water, flashlights, granola bars, maybe a flare gun, a reflective blanket, a first-aid kit, a sweat towel, and a 45-caliber handgun. The Okefenokee has gators, and snakes, and black bears. Oh, my.

—–

This article was first published in General Aviation News, January 10, 2019.

General Aviation News Cover

The Almost Ford Tri-Motor Ride

We almost got to ride in a 1928 Ford Tri-Motor.

Giana loves airplanes.

We bought her a red Avcomm headset when she was three. She’s flown in a Cessna 210 and an RV-6 which she calls “Papa’s red plane.”

Over Christmas vacation, she was playing in the park when she spotted a yellow Piper Cub flying overhead. She told me that it was a seaplane and that it belonged to Mr. Brown. She knew this because Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base uses nearby lakes to practice landings, like the lake near her house in Auburndale.

Next to McDonald’s, her favorite place to eat is at the restaurant at Winter Haven’s Gilbert Field. She enjoys watching planes and helicopters land and take off.

She asked if she would need to bring her headset. Huh. I hadn’t thought to ask when I bought the tickets, so I called the number on the flyer 877-952-5395 to ask.

EAA’s Tim Hoversten explained that there would be no place to plug in a headset in the passenger area. “There are two Ford Tri-motors we operate. One we own is a 4-AT that’s in maintenance right now and then it’s going to Texas. The 5-AT-B Liberty Ford in Florida is leased from Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton, Ohio. It was built in 1928.”

On a bright, clear Thursday, we arrived at the Lakeland Aero Club hangar and found people milling about, all waiting, like us for the plane to return from the first flight of the day. This particular Ford Tri-Motor (NC9645), serial number 8, was used in commercial flights by TWA and for sightseeing trips over the Grand Canyon and the Boulder Dam.

Giana took photos with my cell phone. When it taxied up to the hangar, she counted the propellers and gave me a quizzical look. I explained that tri means three.

As the Pratt & Whitney R-985 series engines shut down, I spotted Director of the Lakeland Aero Club, Mike Zidziunas, riding shotgun. After he disembarked, he pointed to the aircraft. “That’s the Concorde of its day. It flew twice as fast as any other form of transportation available.”

A speed of 78 knots in cruise doesn’t impress people today but compared to the cars and trains of the 1920s, that speed must have been a big deal.

Pilot Cody Welch was the last person off the plane. He told the volunteers from the Lakeland Aero Club that he wouldn’t be able to take any more flights for the day because the starter had to be replaced. “Routine maintenance,” he said, “but it couldn’t be put off.”

Giana was disappointed we couldn’t fly, but she decided to take selfies in and outside the aircraft. She then asked for copies of my photos to show her teacher. Due to our schedules, we were unable to return for another time to fly that weekend.According to the EAA website, the Ford Tri-Motor was also “the first airplane put into commercial service by the United States.” Pan American Airways used Ford Tri-Motors to fly from Key West, Florida to Havana, Cuba in the late 1920s. The Ford Tri-Motor was the first plane over the south pole, too!

The grooved metal body of the airplane looks odd enough, but the plane also has storage compartments in the wings and rudder and elevator control cables that run outside the aircraft.

The Ford Tri-Motor tour in Florida included stops in January in Jacksonville and Sebring, in February in Punta Gorda, Lakeland, Fort Pierce, and Naples, and in March in Venice, Titusville, and Tallahassee.Perhaps the Ford Tri-Motor will be back next year. We’ll see. On the ride home, Giana mentioned that she wanted a new headset like mine, a Clarity Aloft that plugs in the ears, so it “won’t mess up” her hair. She loves to fly and wants to look great doing so. Smart girl.

Couples Sharing the Cockpit: Fact or Friction?

My husband, a physician, and pilot joined the Flying Physicians organization and so we flew to their annual meeting in New Orleans in 1998. When the editor of the Flying Physician magazine heard that I was a pilot he asked me to write about why so many wives refuse or resist flying with their husbands no matter how much their husbands want to share the cockpit. This article is my explanation of that phenomenon.
couples sharing the cockpitJohn had problems convincing his wife, Martha, that she could enjoy flying. Before her first flying lesson, Martha tried to climb back out of the plane. John and the instructor acted immediately and decisively. As John tells it, “We had a wrestling match and shoved her back in.” “She went along with grim determination until her first solo cross country,” John explained. While John and the instructor paced on the ramp, Martha dodged storms and wound up coming back after dark. She marveled at the sunset from this new perspective and fell in love with flying. Today, John and Martha King own and operate King Schools of San Diego, California, where they teach flight training. They have become a poster couple of general aviation. Because only 6 percent of pilots are women, most couples in general aviation don’t share a pilot-to-pilot relationship in the cockpit. The majority of women fly as passengers. The complaint “I can’t get my wife to fly with me” demonstrates a trend in general aviation that can be changed. We will explore a few of the factors working for and against flying couples.

FUN FACTOR

Other than access to airplanes, the FUN FACTOR is a key element in attracting women into aviation. Jackie Cochran, the first woman to break the sound barrier, got her pilot’s license on a dare from her husband. Aerobatic champion Betty Skelton Frankman’s parents brought her to the FBO for their flying lessons. Patty Wagstaff’s father used to take her for rides in his plane, but she really got involved with aviation after her husband taught her a few aerobatic maneuvers. The first woman to earn a pilot’s license, Harriet Quimby, entered aviation for the fun of it with her pal Matilde Moissant, whose husband offered flying lessons in New Orleans. (Yes, the Moissant after whom the airport is named.) In their eagerness to get women to enjoy flying, some men have unintentionally driven women away from it. Veteran flight instructors cite one serious, common tactical error men make — let’s call it the

SEE HOW SAFE FLYING IS FACTOR

Using this tactic, a fellow convinces his wife or girlfriend to go for a ride so he can show off his new skills. In trying to make the ride fun, he demonstrates emergency procedures, slow flight, stalls, spins, rolls, steep turns and such. He means well, the poor dear, but this stuff scares the lunch out of most people. Granted, a few women love this kind of thing. The rest will display symptoms such as icy silence, fainting, screaming, threats and clawing at the windows. But who can blame them? Who would ever fly twice on ABC Airlines if one of their pilots demonstrated a stall during flight? Experienced professional pilots know that passengers enjoy and expect uneventful flights. Leave the thrill rides to theme parks.

I’M GOING TO HAVE FUN WITH OR WITHOUT YOU FACTOR

Another common unsuccessful tactic men employ is to simply leave the woman behind and go fly. The I’M GOING TO HAVE FUN WITH OR WITHOUT YOU FACTOR has one major flaw. It invites, begs and dares the one left behind to reciprocate in kind. This tactic also makes the airplane an object of scorn and jealousy. Bullying, threats, nagging, harassing and frightening women won’t achieve positive long-term results. Of course, it’s more time-consuming to find out why she doesn’t want to fly and respectfully address that concern, but asking a man to do this would be like expecting him to ask for directions. A woman may stay away from flying because of fear, motion sickness, apathy, or pursuit of other goals. Perhaps the “Mrs.” doesn’t eagerly accept a four-hour flight because she has a three-hour bladder. Is she adventurous enough to wear a Depends ® undergarment? Fun is a matter of perspective.

HASSLE:FUN RATIO FACTOR

The HASSLE:FUN RATIO FACTOR often works against women more than it does for men. For a woman with young children, taking flying lessons poses a series of unique obstacles. Is a sitter available during the day? How much time is there to fly between the start and end of daycare or school? Can she juggle carpool duties to allow time for a cross-country flight? Who will help with the children’s homework while she studies for the written exam? Even if she thrives on flying, she will not continue if the hassle:fun ratio leans heavily toward hassle.

THE GUY DRIVES THE HARLEY FACTOR

Women who obtain their pilot’s license often face another obstacle that John King describes as “the biggest single failure of men — failing to relinquish power to women in the cockpit. They’ll try it a few times and the men absolutely, flat-out, totally, fail to relinquish any authority or power to the woman and, after all, she may as well be in the back seat because there’s nothing in it for her. That is as universal as the fact that the man always rides up front on a Harley. What happens is that even when the woman is flying she’s nothing more than a voice-activated autopilot and that is absolutely no fun.” Let’s call this THE GUY DRIVES THE HARLEY FACTOR. It is no coincidence the Harley-Davidson brand motorcycle is called a ‘hog’. Couples who fly together find the greatest peace in the cockpit when they behave as the professionals do. The ground rules include acknowledging that the person in the left seat is genuinely the pilot in command (PIC). In an emergency only one person can fly the plane, so the ‘who’s driving’ issue must be settled before takeoff. Imagine what auto insurance rates would be if cars had dual controls. Settling the command issue means more than just saying the words; it means trusting the PIC. For example, pilots Larry and Martha Walker of Winter Haven, Florida, have flown together for years, yet when Martha was recently PIC she remarked that the right brake didn’t work. As they taxied down the ramp, Larry insisted the brakes had just been fixed. Martha asked him to taxi back to the hangar. Larry ended up steering the plane off the taxiway into the grass, where he graciously apologized. It all goes back to the question — Would a man treat another man this way? Which brings us to the

I’M ONLY TRYING TO HELP FACTOR

Even men with zero flight training have been known to offer advice from the right seat. How many men have ‘helped’ women fly by adjusting controls from the right seat? This can be wonderfully handy with the consent and knowledge of the PIC; without consent, however, the mysterious change of power, radio frequencies and such can be hazardous. If a man wouldn’t touch the controls when another man is in command, then he shouldn’t do so when a woman is in command. After all, cockpit fights are such poor form. They destroy morale among the passengers. John King recommends professional cockpit resource management. “The co-pilot on a commercial airliner doesn’t fiddle with the throttle or adjust the gear without a command from the captain, they just don’t do that. Period. Ever. And you don’t make wild comments, as the co-pilot, in giving your opinion about this or that. All you can do is present facts. So you can say ‘sink is one thousand’ — that’s okay — ‘you’re too low and darn it you’re descending too fast’ is not correct because it’s an opinion.” Dennis and Janeen Kochan, of Winter Haven, Florida, flew for separate carriers and are flight instructors. Janeen, a guest speaker at Lakeland’s Sun ‘N Fun Fly-In, observed that “the tone in the cockpit, when couples are flying together, reflects their total relationship.” She’s met men who nag their wives and girlfriends of pilots whose interest in aviation stopped on their wedding day. Change of altitude does not change the relationship. Let’s call this the

FLYING PIG FACTOR

If the relationship stinks on the ground, it will stink in the air, too. For some couples, the happiest arrangement may be for the man to fly left seat. A woman who doesn’t want to fly the plane might enjoy reading the checklist aloud, setting the transponder, learning how to operate the radios and writing down instructions from controllers during flight. For couples to develop a sound working relationship in the cockpit, they must communicate clearly and honestly to establish their own ground rules. Because men hold 94 percent of the airmen certificates, men predominantly influence the future of general aviation by inviting women to fly.
Cessna Centurion 210

This is me with my favorite plane.

Here are a few suggestions for making flights more enjoyable for women. Allow a woman time to enjoy flying. Not everyone feels love at first sight. Some require courtship. Go the extra mile to make each flight a wonderful experience. This can mean waiting for good weather before taking up a skittish passenger. Start with brief flights and work up to long flights. Discover where she wants to go. Treat each other with the same courtesy you would use with royalty. Communicate clearly and respectfully. Never perform aerial stunts (slow flight, loops, rolls, spins, stalls) without the prior knowledge and eager consent of the passenger. The pilot in command is an earned title. Respect it. And finally, be prepared to share PIC duties if she becomes as enthralled with flying as you are. It can happen.