The Liberty Gazette
August 5, 2014Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Up to Mitchell, South Dakota we flew, in pursuit of another AirVenture Cup Race trophy and more points on the board for the national championship in the Sport Air Racing League. Post race plans were the typical – land at the finish line just outside of Oshkosh, fill the tanks, and fly in for another exciting week-long aviation celebration with a million other people.
But this one would be different for me. This year I would commit the week to Women Soar- You Soar, a program of the Experimental Aviation Association aimed at encouraging young women, ages 13-18, to follow their dreams and learn about careers available in aviation. Even today I know of women who have experienced that belittling attitude that says women should not fly airplanes or become engineers or be interested in math or science.
Now in its twelfth year, Women Soar – You Soar’s Chairperson, renown aerobatic Hall-of-Famer, and Southwest Airlines captain Debby Rihn-Harvey, asked me to join her group of mentors for the girls coming to camp at AirVenture this year.
First, the invitation alone is an honor, but now having spent a week with 87 teenage girls, each making plans for an exciting future, mentoring is as encouraging to a mentor as camp is to the campers.
In small groups the girls had mentoring sessions, seminars, and workshops that included welding, fabric aircraft repair, and woodwork. They went up into the World’s Busiest Control Tower (busiest one week out of the year) and climbed into vintage airplanes for an up-close feel of the cockpit. They watched a daytime airshow and a nighttime airshow, and spent a couple of hours with seven of the remaining WASP – the Women Air Force Service Pilots of WWII. Two of our campers were interviewed for a television show about the program, chosen for the interview because they had already soloed an airplane before camp started.
These amazing young women brought enthusiasm, creativity, skills and manners and enriched every one of us who came as mentors.
I was fortunate to spend a lot of time with one of the two who had already soloed in an airplane, as she was in my group. A couple of years ago she was shy and unsure of herself. Then she joined the Civil Air Patrol and her experiences there have completely changed her, giving her confidence in who she is and what she wants to do.
For these girls being in school and around their peers but having very different goals than most of their friends can bring feelings of isolation. Coming to an all-girl aviation camp lets them share their passion for aviation with others like them.
Not all of our campers want to be pilots. Some are interested in biomedical engineering, some want to be photographers, some aren’t sure yet what they want, but they know they like aviation. For this reason, mentors with varying backgrounds, all touching on aviation, were chosen so that the girls could be exposed to the variety of opportunities available, and to begin networking for their future.
A state director in math education who aspires to be an astronaut, a flight surgeon, an airline pilot, an aerospace engineer, an air traffic controller, a member of the NTSB, along with myself and others have spent a week with a group of girls who will someday lead, invent, and make the world a better place.