By Dorothy Bliskey
There are many reasons people decide to take up flying, but Ruth Mack put it this way: “I just need to leave the earth. There is a feeling when you leave earth like no other.” Sharing that feeling with others has become one of the things she enjoys as well.
Ruth met fellow flight enthusiast Chuck Swain when they served on the State Recycling Board together, and through him she met other pilots. They all wanted to take her flying, and once she went up, she was hooked. As she puts it, “Eleven months and $3,000 later, I had my pilot’s rating.”
Now she flies at least every other week (weather permitting) and takes part in competitions like the EAA Pumpkin Drop, landing competitions, and she visits family and friends by air. “My favorite flying companion is my husband Jim, because he loves it even if it is bumpy. We fly to Green Bay, or the Dells, or to Traverse City, MI to visit his brother. Many times, I watch his softball games from the air.
“I work for Loeb and Company, and I have flown to Indiana where they have a facility and often fly to Waupaca and Reedsburg,” Mack added.
Flying Young Eagles with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, church groups, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts has been most rewarding for her. She has taught Sunday School for forty-four years and has taken some of her students up as well.
Krys Brown is another woman that shares Ruth’s love of aviation. She is not only actively involved in flying, but her full-time job is acting as the Facilities Manager/Director of Line and CSR Services at the Watertown Airport, which means she essentially runs the airport. She keeps the airport plowed in winter, mowed in summer, and all the maintenance up-to-date.
“I work very closely with the city on all compliance and regulations as well as doing the annual budget and minutes for the Airport Commission. I work as Director of Payroll and Manager of CSR’s and line department and assist the human resources department.” Brown shared a number of duties probably never mentioned to female students on high school career day in years past.
Krys loved to travel with her family when she was younger. When she graduated from high school, she was sure she wanted to be an airline attendant just to travel and see the world. That didn’t pan out, but her finance professor at college was a pilot, and that piqued her interest in flying (without having to serve coffee).
“Female commercial pilots are growing in numbers, but the percent of women at the controls is still small. Although there are 59,419 female pilots, only 6.6% of them are career commercial pilots and flight instructors. At the same time, in the past five to ten years, the numbers and the interest have increased.”
“There are now five decades of pilots known historically for flying around the world in the military, space programs, and other aviation careers. The rising (number of) professional female pilots has been growing around 3,000 per decade since 1960,” adds Brown.
Krys now flies strictly for fun and going to meetings and events with her ‘Ninety-Nine’ female pilot friends. The Ninety Nines is an international female pilot group. It was started by Amelia Earhart in 1929 with 98 other female pilots. (Spouses can join and they are called the 49 1/2-ers). The group meets once a month for aviation activities and promotes advancement of aviation through education, scholarships, and support. They share their passion for flight, but to quote Amelia Earhart, they ‘fly for the fun of it!’
Women who flew military aircraft in WWII may have thought it was fun as well, but they were serving their country. They went from being a gamble for the US to true heroes. Quickly realizing that women can fly as well as men, the United States asked women to learn to fly every type of military aircraft. As a civilian group of over 1,100 women, they tested aircraft, flew cross-country, and 38 of them died during service. Yet after just two years, the program disbanded and the women were given a thank you and told to go home.
These women were finally recognized and honored in 2010, and they have been given veteran status. There is a fundraiser to enhance the WASP memorial (Women Air Force Service Pilots) and $38 is being requested from current women pilots for the 38 women who died in duty during WWII.
Raising awareness, offering encouragement, and fundraising for scholarships are things present-day female pilots do individually and within their organizations.
Mary Gasper is another local female pilot and the FBO (Fixed Base Operator)/Airport Manager for Wisconsin Aviation at the Dodge County Airport. “I think that aviation offers many opportunities for women, and I highly recommend that they investigate the options in the field,” offered Gasper.
She is responsible for running the operations for the Dodge County Airport. She enjoys her duties of fueling, cleaning, and hangaring aircraft along with providing training, air charter flights, and pilot services.
Mary started work at Wisconsin Aviation in Juneau in 2002, two days after she obtained her private pilot’s license. In 2011, she became the manager.
“Some people are surprised or amazed when they find out I am a pilot. They usually ask questions about learning to fly. One gentleman inquired about an introductory flight for his two teenage daughters. (He was introducing them to aviation as a possible career.) He was pleased to meet a female manager and pilot,” said Gasper.
“There are events here at the Dodge Co. Airport that introduce people to flying and create awareness. In previous years, the Badger Honor Flight has held dances to raise money for flights for veterans.” Mary went on, “We also hold career fairs sponsored by radio stations WBEV/WXRO/Good Karma Brands. We have two pancake breakfasts each year, one in June sponsored by our local EAA Chapter 897, and one in August sponsored by the Lions. We hold pumpkin drops and a joint Chamber event each year with Beaver Dam, Juneau, Horicon, and Mayville Chambers.”
Mary enjoys the Airventure in Oshkosh. The booth At EAA for Wisconsin Aviation and the business of the airports all around keep them all hopping. Many people fly their planes into surrounding airports and need car rentals, hotel reservations, and of course, refueling.
Each of these three pilots participate in as many things as work allows. Their love of flight is evident in their encouragement and support of young women (and men as well) learning about aviation as a career, or perhaps an avocation.
Whether it is visiting a son in Colorado Springs for Mary or flying to business meetings for Krys, or Ruth showing a ten-year-old grandson how she will preflight the plane, there are many ways to model women who fly.
The book Women Who Fly is a children’s book that shares the stories of women like pioneers Harriet Quimby and Marjorie Stinson as well women involved in space flight like Sally Ride and Judith Resnick. But what is better than learning about an aviation career from real pilots? We have women right here who are pioneers in the industry! These three women pilots may not fly across the Atlantic like Amelia Earhart, but when they do fly, they open a new view of the world to young people.