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"Students given a history lesson on female pilots"



Saturday, March 15, 2003 

Students given a history lesson on female pilots
By CATHERINE KOZAK
The Virginian-Pilot


KILL DEVIL HILLS -- It's one thing to be an airplane pilot. It's another
thing altogether to tumble your aircraft in tight circles and to climb into
the air perpendicular to the earth. And it's really another thing to be a
woman who does it for a living. 

Schoolchildren visiting Wright Brothers National Memorial on Friday had
question after question for Patty Wagstaff, the first woman to win the U.S.
National Aerobatic Championship and one of the few female air show pilots in
the country. 

Wagstaff's presentation kicked off the park's two-day Women in Aviation
event featuring female aviators from World War II to modern-day military and
commercial flight to the Civil Air Patrol to NASA. 

Dressed in a white flight suit adorned with sponsor names, the 5-foot-4-inch
Wagstaff presented an impressive role model to the children, illustrating
that steely nerves and exacting aeronautic skills have nothing to do with
gender. 

``The best part about flying is the freedom it gives you, and also you make
your own decisions,'' she told the students who packed the visitors center.
``It gives me the most freedom I can have, but it also takes the most
discipline.'' 

The airspace Wagstaff needs to demonstrate her aerobatics was not available
Friday over the Wright memorial. But when she flies her flashy red, white
and blue Extra 300S in air shows and for movies, Wagstaff said she makes
only very precise, calculated maneuvers. 

``I'm very careful,'' she said in an earlier interview. ``I don't like to
get scared. I don't like the adrenaline, not knowing what's going to
happen.'' Since she's in the entertainment business, Wagstaff said she
doesn't mind the extra attention she attracts because she's a woman doing an
untraditionally daring job. But, she said, the bottom line is that she just
wants to be treated like a pilot. 

``I'm much less of an oddity than I was before,'' she said. 

For many years after the Wright brothers' first flight in 1903, only a
scattering of women dared to fly, most notably Amelia Earhart, who
disappeared mysteriously during an overseas flight. Then during World War
II, the Women Airforce Service Pilots -- WASPS -- were established, with
11,000 women piloting 78 types of military aircraft. 

After they were unceremoniously deactivated in December 1944, about 30 years
went by before female pilots were welcomed back into the military. Around
the same time, the first female pilots were hired by commercial airlines. 

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Meredith Sheldon said she has been qualified
to fly the AH-64A Apache attack helicopter for 4 1/2 years. She is one of
only three female instructors who can teach pilots how to fly the antitank,
antiradar aircraft, many of which are in the Middle East awaiting orders. 

Today, 631,762 civilian pilots hold active licenses, according to the
Federal Aviation Administration. Of them, 38,257 are women. 

``It's still quite a small majority,'' said Ky Adeduji, of Manteo. ``When I
started, it was less than 1 percent.'' Adeduji, 50, flew a Boeing 727 for
Eastern Airlines and was also an airplane mechanic. But her most memorable
work was when she was a pilot during a human airlift in Rwanda in 1997. 

``My father flew the B-17 in World War II in the 8th U.S. Army Air Force,''
she said, pointing to a poster depicting the plane. ``He taught me the love
of flying.'' 

With a banner ``LIKE FATHER, LIKE DAUGHTER'' displayed behind her, Adeduji
said she wants girls to realize that they can follow in their fathers'
footsteps -- or contrails -- as well as their brothers'. 

Adeduji's twin brother, in fact, works as a teacher and doesn't like to fly.
``He likes his feet flat on the ground,'' she said. 

Nancy Wright, 70, a member of the Ninety-Nines, the female aviators group
founded in 1929 by Earhart, was also inspired by her father, a pilot in
World War II. But she waited until age 49 to get her pilot's license. 

``I started flying in 1979, when my kids were all grown up -- I had five,''
she said. ``When the kids were all in college, I got in an airplane.'' 

Wright had traveled from Florida to work at the group's exhibit, a popular
force-and-reaction experiment where children put Alka-Seltzer in an empty
Fuji film canister, shook it and put it on the floor to wait for the lid to
pop off. 

Many of the hands-on exhibits were grouped together in the rear of the
visitors center after the tent where they were supposed to be was blown down
overnight, along with two portable toilets, by 40-knot winds. 

When the staff arrived at about 6 a.m. ``stuff was cart wheeling away,''
said Erin Porter, public information specialist at the park service's
centennial planning office. ``Everybody really rallied and got it all
together. 

``The wind is part of the story -- you've just got to roll with it.''


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