Every female pilot has the same story:

She’s in the pilot’s seat, on the left-hand side of her plane. In the seat next to her is her nephew or her brother or her husband or her male friend. They land for fuel and when the fuel guy comes up to the plane, he goes straight to the right side and asks the man how much fuel he wants.

“Uh I don’t know, it’s her plane.” The right-hand-man responds.

“I don’t blame them,” Ramona Cox, a backcountry pilot, shrugged. “Most pilots are men.”

In fact women account for only six percent of pilots, 26 percent of air traffic controllers and nine percent of aerospace engineers. So the community of women in aviation is small, but also tight-knit. There are nine international organizations specifically tailored to women in aviation.

Some of those are broad and include women in all aviation careers and hobbies. The Ninety-Nines whose first president was Amelia Earhart is one of those general organizations.

And there are also more specific ones that tailor to individual professions like helicopter pilots (Whirly Girls), air traffic controllers (Professional Women Controllers) and corporate pilots (Women in Corporate Aviation).

“Everybody knows everybody else. Especially if you’re female.” Jan Squillace, a cross-country race pilot said.

Within aviation there are hundreds of career and sport possibilities. At the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual AirVenture festival in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, we met women aviators who spanned those possibilities.

There are female pilots and engineers and mechanics in all branches of aviation. And there are countless programs and scholarships aimed at increasing the number of women in flight.

“The plane doesn’t know whether you’re female or not and don’t let any man tell you different,” Mary Wunder, a retired air traffic controller, said.




When Shirley was 10 years old, she decided she wanted to fly. But in early 20th century, women couldn’t be pilots. When the air force needed more pilots in WWII, they began recruiting women and Shirley signed up.

“The girls always kind of hold back and I say, ‘I’m talking to you.’ There’s a great future for women in aviation.”


Linda is a retired software engineer who spent three years building her plane, a Rans S19, with her husband. Her plane has been airworthy for a year and the nine and a half hour flight to Oshkosh was its longest flight so far.

“It just sounded like fun and to have something to fly at the end was a bonus.”
Linda opens up her plane and to show off the inside.



When Cindy was a little girl, she always wanted to fly. But when she was growing up the only ways to get into flying were through the military or family money. So she became a CPA. When she married a military pilot, Cindy started to take flying lessons. Now she flies a 737 for United.

“It’s amazing. It’s hard to put into words. It’s such a blessing to do something you love.”



Kathy lives and works in the Milwaukee, WI area. She’s involved in a number of women in aviation organizations and she helped found the Waterford Hot Air Balloon Festival.

“You can never be unhappy around a balloon. It’s the color and the people.”
Members of the hot air balloon crew try to tilt the basket as the burners heat the air inside the balloon. Although there were only six balloons glowing at last year’s EAA festival, this was one of eleven that participated during Wednesday’s evening glow.

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Amy was doing great in the accounting program in her college. She was on the Dean’s list but she wasn’t happy. When she told her dad she wanted to work with motorcycles, he told her to look into planes because he needed a mechanic for his.

“It’s a motorcycle in the sky that you can turn into a rollercoaster.”

Carol has owned Rainbow Aviation since 1991. She teaches a variety of courses from flight lessons to aircraft mechanics. Her favorite aircraft to fly are Ultralights which are fixed-wing, lightweight, 1-2 seat aircrafts.

“Flying is better than Paris. It feels spiritual to me.”



Anna grew up in a tiny Ohio farm town. Her father was a pilot and she’d been around planes her whole life before joining the air force, where she built bombs.

“I think some women are intimidated by it. But I’m not.”



Cammie started flying 18 years ago and about 15 years in, fell in love with gyrocopters. Gyrocopters are like small helicopters that use an unpowered rotor and an engine-powered propeller to fly.

“As women we got to know more than the men. We got to be better.”
This photo shows the inside of a gyrocopter with the reflection of its blades.

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Minnetta is an Associate Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Iowa. She’s an organizer of the all-women’s Air Race Classic which has teams of two or three fly 2,600 miles in four days.

“When you talk to a few women who go by, they think it’s a scary thing. But each leg is just a cross country flight.”

Jan is a retired tech support manager and the safety officer of Wings of Carolina. When Jan was a student pilot, her friend said, ‘let’s go racing.’ Ten years later, they finally signed up. Now she’s competed twice.

“You have to fight against the tunnel vision because that’s very dangerous.”



Ramona Cox’s father was a pilot so all of her bedtime stories when she was little were about planes. When she grew up, she knew she wanted to be a backcountry pilot. So she started an online business she could run from anywhere and spent nearly four months living in the wilderness where she fished for her own food and hopped from hot spring to hot spring.

“I always left myself open to experiences. I ended up on boats on Lake Powell, and groups headed here, and seaplanes going to lunch. Just because of that attitude of, “I’m in.”



Debby started flying when she was 13 years old. When she grew up, she worked as a corporate pilot for Southwest and competed in aerobatics competitions. She’s a three time national champion in aerobatics and a 15 time highest scoring female.

“There are no limits. It doesn’t matter if it’s a man’s world. I can do everything a man can do only better.”
Debby Rihn-Harvey flies in the EAA Airventure airshow on Tuesday, July 26, 2016. She spoke to the crowd from the cockpit during her routine and encouraged young girls to do the tricks she was performing.



Dr. Nancy is one of five female professors in the Applied Aviation Sciences department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a prestigious aviation school. She teaches classes in human factors in aviation, ergonomics, and accident investigation. In her 22 years as a professor, she’s never missed a graduation.

“Find someone that made it and look at the obstacles they went through.”



Mary says that becoming an air traffic controller was divine intervention. She was learning to fly when she was fired from three jobs and decided to change careers and pursue something in aviation. She loved being a controller because she got to tell people what to do and they had to listen.

“It’s beautiful. You get an airshow every day. You see so many sunrises and sunsets from the tower.”



Linda Chism has been a fleet engineer for Alaska Airlines for 12 years. She works in maintaining and updating Alaska’s fleet of airplanes. A lot of that is updating the avionics, or electronic technology on the planes.

“You’re always trying to find a creative solution to the problem.”


See more of our photos from EAA Airventure 2016 below:

By | Hannah Doksanksy and Samantha Harrington