Saturday, March 12, 2016

Girls get up close, personal look at aviation

Sylvia Teal, 9, of Bushnell, left, gets ready for her flight with Judie Betz of Weirsdale in Betz' RV12 "Bella Rosa" aircraft during the E.A.A. Chapter 812 Young Eagles Rally For Women In Aviation at Ocala International Airport in Ocala, Fla. on Saturday, March 12, 2016.

OCALA — It was all about girl power at Ocala International Airport Saturday morning.

Girls aged 8 to 17, including members of the Young Eagle youth group of the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 812 of Ocala and the Dunnellon High School Air Force Jr. ROTC, got a close look at the world of aviation —some enjoying their first flight into the wild blue yonder — during Women of Aviation Worldwide Week.

The girls joined in a ground school class, took a tour of the airport tower, got a look at a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter and Florida Forest Service fire operations helicopter and chatted with pilots and crew members.

Breanna Bergeron, 16, a junior at Dunnellon High School and Air Force Junior ROTC member, was one of the about 25 first-time flyers.

“It was amazing. I was nervous but once we got up it was smoother than a car, (then) there was some turbulence. I would do it again,” Bergeron said. She said she might take up flying as a hobby, but for now, is considering ground crew and the medical aspects of aviation.

The international weeklong spotlight on women’s roles and opportunities in aviation is held during the week of March 8 to coincide with the anniversary of the first female pilot and International Women’s Day in 1914, according to the Institute for Women of Aviation Worldwide Week, a not-for-profit group supported by organizations and business “to foster gender balance, thus growth, in the air and space industry.”

The local event was spearheaded by CarolAnn Garratt, 61, Gainesville area resident who made three separate around-the-world flights in her single-engine Mooney airplane in the 2000s.

“About six percent of all pilots now are women. We would like to get that up to about 60 percent,” Garratt said.

EAA Chapter 812 provided the flights for the girls and additional support for the event. Warren Levin, Young Eagle Coordinator for the chapter, said the Young Eagle program began in the early 1990s to introduce youth to aviation and nearly two million youth have flown in the program.

Connie McConnell, a retiree and pilot and member of the "Wing Nuts" group who lives in Leeward Air Ranch, led a ground school class. She was drawn into aviation by her father, a pilot, around 1976.

The Blackhawk medical evacuation helicopter, a 2008 model, was flown in from Jacksonville's Cecil Field by Florida National Guard C-Company members, all female, CW3 Stacey Jaffett, pilot, Staff Sgt. Shonnah Adams, medic, Pfc. Kathryn Emery, crew chief and mechanic and Capt. Thea Iacomino, pilot, easily got the attendees' attention.

The four crew members, with service ranging from about 10 to 20 years, were deployed to Iraq in 2011 and evacuated wounded soldiers under combat conditions.

Chris Johnson, 33, of Coleman, looked on as his 9-year-old daughter Kaitlyn sat in the Blackhawk pilot’s seat, while Lovia Teal watched her daughter, Sylvia, also 9, look over the aircraft's passenger and cargo area. Vannette Hooten, 14, Lovia Teal’s sister, also looked over the Blackhawk.

Master Sgt. Kevin Gunter, leader of the Air Force Junior ROTC group, said the girls showed a “high interest” in the aircraft.

Marie Fredieu, pilot of a 1965 Florida Forest Service fire operations UH-1H helicopter, fielded questions about the chopper which can handle a 2,400-pound suspended water bucket for use in fire suppression.

“We have to fly low near the trees,” said Fredieu, a National Guard member who is trained to fly the Blackhawk. She was deployed to Iraq with the Army in 2011.

Ada Law, 15, daughter of Bob Law, president of EAA Chapter 812, seemed comfortable in the pilot’s seat of the Blackhawk, but said she still might prefer a jet.

“I like speed,” Ada said.

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