The issue of mentoring from one generation of helicopter professionals to the next has been on my radar for a very long time. We must do everything we can to avoid the lack of qualified individuals being the obstacle that prevents us from growing and sustaining our industry.
In an effort to address this issue, HAI has implemented an outreach program to the next generation via Helicopter Foundation International, along with our existing mentoring forums and Military to Civilian workshops. We have also engaged the University of North Dakota to conduct a study on our behalf to identify our future needs in terms of pilots and technicians as compared to the developing shortage, and quantify the potential gap we must deal with.
Back in the dark ages when I first became involved in helicopter aviation it was an uneven and twisting path to gain entry into the industry, either through the civilian or military gateway. Keep in mind that these opportunities existed predominately for men at the time.
You had to be around in the early days of our industry to truly appreciate the obstacles that women had to deal with in pursuing a career in helicopter aviation. While completing army flight school, I got engaged in the philosophical topic of pursuing one’s dream in life, and I happily was. This led me to the side thought that if I had been born a woman I could not have applied to army flight school, since only male applicants were accepted at the time. I don’t know about you, but that would have been emotionally devastating to me.
Even if a woman wanted to pursue a civilian course of training and entered the helicopter job market at that time, she still had to deal with the existing prejudice and discrimination because of her gender. The then-current climate and attitude was unacceptable and inappropriate, but unfortunately the reality.
In the early 1980s I had the pleasure of meeting Jean Ross Howard, pioneering helicopter pilot who founded the Whirly Girls in 1955. Back then, there were only a handful of women helicopter pilots worldwide. Accordingly, there were only 13 charter members of the Whirly Girls representing the United States, France and Germany. Today there are over 1,900 Whirly Girls in 47 countries whose mission includes the advancement of women in helicopter aviation along with the promotion of camaraderie and networking opportunities. The Whirly Girls also provide educational and career advancement opportunities to its members to include a very robust scholarship program.
In short, I believe Jean Ross Howard and the other charter Whirly Girls members were the right people with the right organization at the right time. The good news is that over these many decades, professional, articulate and competent women pilots, technicians, executives and owners have taken their earned place in our industry, and we are collectively better for it.
I believe that one of the major reasons for this has been the Whirly Girls and its focus on and mentoring of young women interested in the helicopter industry. I have been impressed with how the Whirly-Girl family embraces, nurtures, mentors and provides a lifetime support network to these young women. The passion and commitment from one generation to the next is evident.
When I have attended various Whirly Girls events, I have witnessed the discussions and developing relationships between the young ladies who attended seeking guidance and advice about the helicopter community and those women pioneers who have proudly served in the industry for decades. You could see the comfort level developing in the eyes of the young attendees as they realized that someone will walk this path with them and have their back.
There is a message here — when you see something done the right way, no need to reinvent the wheel, just implement it in your activities.
HAI is proud to be a corporate sponsor of the Whirly Girls and have them as an Affiliate Member organization. HAI HELI-EXPO® would not be HAI HELI-EXPO without the Whirly Girls being there.
On a personal level, it has been my honor and privilege to work and fly with, as well as learn from, some of the most professional and competent people in our industry, who just happened to be women. To them I say, “You go, girl. Happy to have you in the helicopter community.”
Help me achieve the dream: no helicopter accidents. We can do it if we really want to.
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