(ALBUQUERQUE, NM) The Women of Aviation Worldwide Week "Fly it Forward Challenge" event at Albuquerque, New Mexico's International Sunport (KABQ) turned out to be an astounding success, with 712 free "first flights" in private aircraft given to females during the week of March 2-8.
The event was cosponsored by pilot Dianna Stanger, who flew 441 girls over four days in her EC120 helicopter, and by Del Sol Aviation and Cutter Aviation, two businesses located at KABQ. Other volunteer pilots who played key roles in introducing so many girls and women to flying included Ramona Cox, who flew 164 girls in her Cessna Turbo 206, plus Bobbie Lind, Zack Hererra, Susan Larson, Lanny Tobbing and Darrick Coffield.
The successful Albuquerque event was awarded with several titles from WOAW's Fly it Forward challenge. Stanger won the “Most Dedicated Female Pilot Worldwide” title, while Cox picked up the "first runner-up" in that category. Jasmine Gordon was honored with the WOAW Week's "Top Event Organizer" award for her work organizing the event at KABQ, and won $1,000 (CAD) for aviation or communication training offered by the members of the Institute for Women Of Aviation Worldwide.
Albuquerque International Sunport was awarded the 2015 “Most Female Pilot Friendly Airport Worldwide” title by WOAW as the aviation community that introduced the most girls and women to flying in a small aircraft during the week. No American aviation community has qualified for this title since Frederick, MD, won the title in 2011.
Throughout the seven days of Albuquerque's "Fly it Forward" week, expected large crowds from Albuquerque area schools, local Girl Scout troops, and the general public arrived at KABQ ready to be inspired. Gordon and Jodi Preston organized a total of 89 volunteers to staff the massive general aviation advocacy event, and coordination planned weeks in advance between KABQ Air Traffic Control, loading/unloading crews on the ramp and volunteer pilots ensured that the event ran smoothly.
A number of static displays and booths to let attendees learn more about aviation were included in the week-long event. Eric Auxier, a Captain for a major U.S. airline, spoke about the training required to become a professional pilot, and Cox, a "backcountry flying" expert explained how she flies her Cessna T-206 into tiny airstrips in the wilderness. Representatives from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and New Mexico's State Aviation Divisionand other exhibitors were on hand, and an Eclipse 550 Twin-engine business jet was on indoor display.
Since Women of Aviation Week's 2015 theme was "100 years of female pilots in combat," there was a significant military presence at the event. Lieutenant Colonel Michele Boyko of the USAF was among representatives of the U.S. Armed Forces present on Saturday and Sunday to discuss flight safety, joined by members of the U.S. Air Force 550th Special Operations Squadron and 150th and 58th Special Operations Wings. A USAF HC-130P/N “King” - the only dedicated fixed-wing, extended-range Personnel Recovery platform in the Air Force inventory - was also on static display.
Many parents said their children enjoyed the aviation event. "I'm pretty sure we have a future pilot in our Girl Scout troop," said Lisa Gunderson, "thanks for the amazing experience!" And Amy Scott Gibson said "Thank you so much for bringing this event to Albuquerque! My girls and I had an amazing experience today with our pilot, Ramona Cox. She is an excellent ambassador for women in flight!"
"Being a pilot for this 'Fly it Forward' event was more fun that I could have ever imagined," said Cox. "I flew mothers, daughters and military women, and watching their faces transform from anxious anticipation to sheer glee was amazing. I can’t wait for next year and would recommend the experience to all female pilots that have it in their hearts to act as role models for future generations."
Women of Aviation Worldwide Week (WOAW) is an international event that creates an opportunity to impact females on a very large scale. In "Fly It Forward" events around the world in 2015, volunteer pilots introduced 7,343 girls and women to flight in a small aircraft, a 28% increase over the 2014 final tally for free flights. Since 2010, the events have flown 21,656 free "first" flights worldwide.