#girlsfly

Women in Aviation Week Post-Flight Debriefing

I always look forward to this annual event since getting more women involved in aviation has become my biggest life cause.  But then leading up to it, I start to stress about the weather, about people getting airsick, about someone not liking it.  I question why I put myself through the stress.  Will I really make a difference in someone’s life?  Will people remember this flight?  I tell myself not to fret about such things, especially the weather, since I can’t do a thing about any of them.  But since I want everyone to have a great time, of course I still worry about those things.  You could set your watch by my insomnia when I’d wake up in the middle of each night and check the weather, see that the forecast hadn’t changed since the last time I looked, think about how many times the forecast is correct versus incorrect, and hope that the predicted fog will lift sooner than forecast.  Having satisfied my curiosity but the outlook not looking any better, I could finally fall back asleep, restless though it was.

And the first day of my event nearly confirmed my fears of the weather not cooperating.  The low fog threatened to cancel the only flight for the day I had after the second one cancelled.  But, somehow, like magic, the clouds lifted *just* enough to fly the Lakefront Airport control tower supervisor and his two daughters over the city and then across the lake to see their house (they got an extra long ride since the other flight cancelled).

Taking off!  Photo by Matthew Cahn

Taking off! Photo by Matthew Cahn

I’m never sure if the kids are liking the flight.  They either talk nonstop about what they’re seeing or are totally silent, and I don’t know what to make of either reaction.  I ask every few minutes if they’re feeling okay to make sure they’re not about to throw up on the instrument panel or on me.  And once the flight is over and I can talk more, I ask how they liked it and get a subdued “That was cool” that I’m never sure if they really liked it or are just saying that to be kind.

Friday's happy passengers!

Friday’s happy passengers!

She looks like she belongs there!

She looks like she belongs there!

I walked them back into the terminal building and asked if the girls wanted to be pilots, and they both shook their heads shyly.  Ah well.  You can’t win ‘em all.  So I was delighted when their dad posted on Facebook later in the day that as soon as they got to the parking lot, they said they want to take flying lessons.  His exact words were “And I thought Catholic school was expensive!”  I love hearing that I influenced someone to take flying lessons, but I also feel sorry for the parents who have to pay for it!  I spared my parents that expense (though they certainly were not spared many other expenses with my odd hobbies growing up!) when I took up flying long after I had moved out.  You’re welcome!

Friday was a nice, easy day of flying with only the one flight after the fog lifted.  But I knew Saturday would be a long day, and of course I woke up in the middle of the night hoping everything would go smoothly.

We got started a little late on Saturday when my plane came back late from a lesson just before my flights, which then made all the rest of the flights I had late.  But it allowed me to get to know my first passenger a little better while we talked as we waited for the plane.  Bella is the cute daughter of one of our tower controllers, and she was full of energy and even more ready to go flying than I was!  We also share the same favorite color, so we bonded much better than I normally do with kids.  She and her dad came up with me for a couple of circles around the city to see the Superdome, all the skyscrapers downtown, the weird aquarium building, the French Quarter, the river, the parks, and all those houses and cemeteries we have dotting the landscape.

After the flight, Bella said she loved it and even gave me a hug on her way out.  That’s the kind of payment that makes me keep giving these flights for free!

Check out that look of authority with a wink and a thumbs up!

Check out that look of authority with a wink and a thumbs up!

My next flight was another special one since I had asked my best friend and his girlfriend if they wanted to come for a flight.  I joked with my best friend the night before that a lot of men see my posts about giving free flights to women and girls during the Women in Aviation week event and offer to wear a dress if they can come.  I always say “You can definitely come if you do that as long as I can take pictures!”  Sadly, no one actually takes me up on it.  But my best friend is different.  He’s a special case.  He’s never…how shall I put this?…taken life too seriously.  So when I mentioned the dress thing, and since he’s been a devoted Red Dress Run participant for years (it’s a popular bar hop event in New Orleans that sees nearly the entire male population of New Orleans wear a red dress), I saw that telltale sparkle in his eye and figured I’d be in for quite a sight when they showed up at the airport.  And I was not disappointed!  Luckily, his girlfriend is very understanding and takes his antics in stride.  He looked girlier than either of us did!  I get out of the plane from my previous flight to see him strutting up in a sleeveless red and black dress with a v-line neck, normally for cleavage but on a guy just shows chest hair, hairy legs, and a nice set of high heels that actually made me a little jealous of his shoes!  I laughed when I realized that this is a normal thing in New Orleans for a girl to be jealous of her guy friend’s shoes.  We took some pictures by the plane and even did a cover girl shoot with me egging him on “Work it, girl!  Work it!”

My best friend who took *Women* in Aviation Week seriously and showed up dressed for the occasion!

My best friend who took *Women* in Aviation Week seriously and showed up dressed for the occasion!

This was his "sexy" pose

This was his “sexy” pose

Right in the middle of my six flights on Saturday was my brother, his wife, and their two kids.  None of us were sure if the kids would like it or not.  I had taken my niece taxiing around in the plane years ago to get her used to the noise (neither of the kids like loud noises), but this was our first time actually flying.  So I took my brother and my niece on the first flight of the Seidemann family, and my niece liked it so much she asked if she could come on the next flight!  I think my brother may have liked it even more than my niece!  He’s heavily involved in cemetery preservation with his work for the state Attorney General, and he must have snapped a picture of every little cemetery in the city (and we have a ton)!  He even pointed out a few that I had never noticed before, and I’ve been on this merry-go-round once or twice.  My brother, who has never liked any kind of flying and who I wasn’t sure would come, even said that he could see how flying could be addictive and was surprised how smooth it was (thankfully that was one of the smoothest flights of the day)!  We then loaded up my sister-in-law, offloaded my brother, and put my nephew in.  As Lakefront Airport sits right on Lake Pontchartrain (which technically is not even a lake since it opens into the Gulf of Mexico and is actually an estuary, but who’s counting?), many of my passengers commented on how huge the lake looks even from the air.  My niece thought it was the ocean, and I can easily see the confusion when you look across and can’t see land on the other side.  Lake/Ocean confusion aside, another happy set of Seidemann passengers!

I had one last flight after my brother’s family to end quite a long day of flying.  Saturday’s passenger count was 13 people and 13 smiles getting out of the plane, the perfect ratio!

I could relax a little Saturday night as I knew Sunday was a shorter day with only two flights.  Even still, my mind will not let me sleep all night, and I had to get up to check the weather and worry about it some more.  I skipped my morning run so I could get some extra sleep and was pleased to see a nice, clear blue sky when I woke up.  Sigh of relief.

My first flight was the Airport Director’s daughter and her friend, and I realized that there’s a direct correlation between age (teenage) and number of selfies taken.  I thought about reminding them that there was actual scenery out the window, but I suppose everyone enjoys flying in her own way!

She has clearly mastered the art of selfies!

She has clearly mastered the art of selfies!

We lined up according to height...starting with the plane

We lined up according to height…starting with the plane

My next and last flight of the day was another tower controller’s daughter, her fiancé, and her fiancé’s brother.  The fiancé was the most nervous passenger I’ve ever had, and I worried that he’d really freak out once we got in the air.  It was his first flight ever, not just in a small plane, but ever.  I’ve taken a few people on their first flight ever, and they are always a little nervous.  But every time in the past, as soon as we got into the air, they forget the nervousness as they plaster their face to the window and marvel at the view.  I was hoping he would do the same, but I was starting to wonder.  I went through my schpeel about if you feel slightly dizzy or queasy, let me know right away and we’ll come straight back to the airport.  He went on and on about his life insurance policy and who would get his money if he died.  I asked him multiple times if he really wanted to go.  I’m not going to take anyone up who doesn’t want to go.  He said he was ready.  I wondered if this was going to be the story I end up telling around the airport about some crazy passenger who flipped out once we got airborne.  But all the worrying (his and, ergo, mine) was for nothing.  We hadn’t even reached our city tour altitude of 1,500 feet before he said he wanted to buy a plane and have me fly it.  Phew!  It was slightly bumpy, but everyone said they felt fine when I asked.  He was totally calm when we got out of the plane and took lots of pictures standing next to the plane.

A Girl and Her Plane!

A Girl and Her Plane!

That’s a wrap!  Total passengers: 21 (mostly women, a few men, and one dude in a dress).  Hopefully a few of those will become regulars at the flight school.  Total flights: 9.  Total engine running time: 5.5 hours.  And I’m happy to report that on Sunday night, I slept like a rock without having my mind wake me up to check the weather.  Until next year, happy Women in Aviation Week!

Pilgrimage to Mecca, Part 2

After the mostly sleepless night, exhausted but knowing that we were still lucky to be there, we decided to make the best of it and walked around the airport, enjoying the airplanes on display and the constant buzzing of anything that has ever flown.  I guarantee that if something has flown, has tried to fly, or has hopes to fly in the future, some version of it will be at Oshkosh.  It’s that comprehensive.  You overhear a lot of “Wow I didn’t know that still existed!” or “I haven’t seen one of those in fifty years.”

We took our chairs across the field to the ultralight grass runway to watch a three-hour long helicopter airshow.  About twenty minutes into the show, it started to rain.  Rain is no big deal, but it started to pour, and I had my laptop in my backpack that I wanted to keep dry(ish).  We ran into a large tent and waited it out with everyone else who had been watching the helicopter show.  It only lasted about ten minutes, after which time we all meandered out and chose something else to do now that the helicopter show was no longer going on because of the rain and threat of more.  We walked in a light drizzle to meet my controller friend after he finished his shift.

His offer to stay on the extra bed in his hotel room still stood, and we eagerly took him up on it.  He even leant us his car so we could go get our luggage from the tent and meet him at the hotel later as he caught a ride there with another controller.  Just as he handed me his car keys, the skies opened up yet again.  Having lived in New Orleans for most of my life, it takes a helluva hard rain to catch my attention.  This one did.  We ran under another large tent, but the wind was blowing so hard that even on the far leeward side of the tent, we were getting soaked.  Nothing like a good horizontal rain for an impromptu shower since we didn’t take one last night!  We saw a few people running into an open door in a nearby building.  I had no idea what was in there, but we ran for it anyway.  We were more concerned with staying dry than with trespassing.  It turned out to be a storage closet, and six strangers all jammed happily into it, joking about the odd circumstances.

Once again, the rain only lasted about ten minutes, but it was one of the hardest rains I’d ever seen.  Just as it was letting up, another couple seeking shelter ran past and told us that a homebuilt biplane that was tied down had broken its tiedowns in the strong wind and flipped over onto a Thunder Mustang.  Not good.  Now I started to really worry about my plane and how it had fared in the wind.

Under the remaining drizzle, we briskly walked the 15 minutes back to my plane to check on it and our tent.  From a distance, we could see that the plane was fine and still tied down…but the tent was flattened.  As we neared the tent, we could see that the only thing still slightly propping it up was our now-drowned luggage.  The wind had broken one of the poles holding the tent up.  We tried to stick the pieces of former tent pole back together to hold the tent up, but there was no way it would stay.  Well, that settles it, not that I was second guessing moving into my friend’s cozy hotel room.

I got inside the tent so I could hold it up and assess the situation inside.  I picked up Joelle’s suitcase to pass it to her outside the tent…and it gushed water.  Ditto with my suitcase.  So now we had not a single piece of dry clothing between what was on us and what we had in our suitcases.  Each of our sleeping bags weighed about fifty pounds, and it took both of us to drag them out one at the time and hang them open on the struts of the airplane to dry.  Water poured off them when we hung them up.  It looks a little funny seeing water pour off a sleeping bag hanging on an airplane.  About that time, my controller friend texted to tell us there was a dryer in his hotel.

After getting lost on the way to the hotel (boy, this just was NOT our day!), we spent the rest of the day with said dryer, drying our clothes rather than looking at airplanes as we had flown seven and a half hours to do.  It took two dryer cycles in an industrial dryer to totally dry our thoroughly soaked stuff.  It was while we were sitting on the folding counter in the hotel laundry room, tired, a little dazed, and still soaked since we couldn’t strip naked to dry the clothes we had on, that I began to rewrite the lyrics to “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” in my head:

“Hello muddah, hello fadduh,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Here I am at Camp North 40                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Oshkosh is very entertaining                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        And we had a tent until it started raining.”

The next day, after being dropped off at the airport, we first went to check on the status of the drying of our things hanging on the plane.  It had rained again during the night, but it must not have been a windy rain since our sleeping bags, enjoying the shelter of the wings, were now dry.  The tent, however, had breathed its last breath and had now completely flattened under the weight of the rain.  I didn’t want to put it wet into the airplane, so we unstaked it and hung various parts of it on the airplane to dry.  I tied the “rain guard” (HA!) part to the propeller so that it could flap in the wind like a sail and dry faster.  I did NOT want to spend the whole day sitting around making sure the stuff didn’t blow away while it was drying.  I came here to see airplanes, not defective, leak-prone tents!

Just as we had everything hanging out nice and cozy to dry…it started raining.  I quickly threw everything back under the wings on the wet grass.  Clearly it was just to annoy me because the rain stopped within minutes.  This whole rain dance thing was becoming highly unamusing.  After a couple hours in the sun and wind, now *mostly* dry, good enough for us, we threw it all in the plane and headed out to the flight line to enjoy the afternoon airshow.

It was a veritable smorgasbord of aircraft: Zeros, Pitts, Extras, Mustangs, Stearmans (Stearmen?), AWACS, the Red Bull aerobatic helicopter, the Goodyear blimp, and all manner of fighter jets doing all sorts of fun things that make me completely jealous.  The blimp apparently flew past a little earlier than planned, and the announcer said “Well, that’s the first time I’ve ever been able to say that the blimp was *early* for something!”  There were pyrotechnics set off from the far side of the runway to re-enact Tora, Tora, Tora with airplanes buzzing in every direction in mock bombing runs.  The young kid behind me didn’t understand what was going on and kept asking, “Mom, why are they trying to shoot down airplanes?”  She was terrified.  Her mother just kept telling her to be quiet.  Poor kid.  Finally, after the same question about thirty times, the mother told her that they were not trying to shoot down the airplanes but that the airplanes were acting like they were dropping bombs.  Then “Mom, why are they dropping bombs?”  But she and her brother each claimed a plane and cheered it on to shoot down the other.  Hey, any way you can stay entertained.

Because of the drying out of our clothes on Thursday and the drying out of all other things on Friday, we never did get a full day to play in our aviation playground.  And since the weather was looking like it would get worse Saturday afternoon, we decided to head out Saturday morning, hopefully avoiding the summer afternoon thunderstorms around New Orleans by arriving early evening.

Both times that we went to get a weather briefing from the Flight Service tent near the North 40, we were standing waiting our turn in line when a man (a different man each time) cut in front of us.  Only when we approached the briefer when it was our turn did he say “Oh I thought you ladies were with that guy.”  Of course.  Because we’re women and therefore would automatically not be pilots but just be here with our guy.  It never ceases to amaze me.

Once again, though, being a woman pilot comes with some advantages.  The airplane had sunk a bit into the wet ground, and there was no way just the two of us could push it out into the open so we could start it without blasting anyone behind us.  There was a group of four men chatting a few planes over who were more than willing to help two women pilots push their plane when I asked nicely.  We put our “VFR” sign in the window so that the volunteer flaggers on the field would know where to direct us for departure.  The active runway was 27, the same one we landed on.  I was beginning to wonder where, if at all, I could do my pre-takeoff checks since I couldn’t see anyone in the line of airplanes taxiing in front of me stopping to do it.

Just as I touched the taxiway leading up to the runway and was listening to the tower frequency (still no talking to the controllers, just listening), I heard “White and red Cessna, clear for takeoff.”  I looked around and asked Joelle “Do you think that was for us?”  Then, again, “White and red Cessna, clear for takeoff.”  Guess that’s us!  So much for doing the pre-takeoff checks!  I gunned it and said goodbye to my beloved green dot on runway 27.  They were launching planes off about every thirty seconds, so I was keeping my eyes peeled for slower traffic in front of me and faster traffic behind me.

The ride back home was only slightly less pleasant than the ride up there.  We hit some pretty bad turbulence for about an hour before we landed to fuel up in Sikeston, Missouri, again.  Then closer to New Orleans, we dodged an area of severe precipitation.  But, all in all, a great trip!  We were, however, looking forward to having a bed for the night (one for each of us!) that was neither on the wet ground nor a shared hotel bed as we sought refuge from our camping disaster.

My only regret for the trip is that we had to spend so much time drying our things out after the storm and therefore lost a lot of time we should have been spending checking out all that Oshkosh has to offer.  So…I hope that the stars will align for next year and I can go back.  But I think next time I’ll skip the camping.