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Getting women to soar to new heights - literally
She set her goals sky high.
Amy Somers, 26, has been flying the skies for eight years. She got her wings in 2005 and now has 1,000 flying hours under her belt.
“I love flying,” says Somers. “When I’m up there at the controls, high in the sky, it is just exhilarating. I feel really free and happy.”
Somers wants to share her passion with other women.
“Aviation is not yet a women’s world. Right now only about five per cent of pilots are women – but I think that’s because many women think that learning to fly is not attainable for them. They’re afraid they won’t be able to do it, so they don’t try.”
Training does require time and skill and its cost can be relatively expensive, she agrees. Somers was helped with a scholarship through her Air Cadet program, although she says most students pay their own way.
“The average cost of a private pilot licence is about $10,000 with ground school costing about $450 (plus tax) and then there’s the flying time. There are scholarship programs open to students. You have to take (at least) a 40-hour course and then you write a test in four subjects: general knowledge, meteorology, air law and navigation. People have the most trouble with the navigation part.”
For now, Somers is working as a charter pilot and flight instructor with Guardian Aerospace, which operates out of Prince George and Vanderhoof airports. When she’s logged more hours under a variety of flight conditions, she plans to make an application to fly commercially.
In the meantime, she hopes to interest other women in becoming air pilots, so she’s starting up a local chapter of Women in Aviation International (WAI).
Despite the name, the club welcomes male members although women are the prime focus, Somers says.
Members include a cross section of aviation and aerospace professionals: aeronautical engineers, pilots, flight attendants, maintenance technicians, air traffic controllers, educators, airport managers, business owners, dispatchers, artists, students and flying enthusiasts.
Club membership is good for networking and learning about employment opportunities and members receive Aviation for Women magazine which offers accounts of pivotal moments in aviation history and inspiring stories of modern day women aviators as well as scholarship information.
Blessed with a sense of adventure, Somers, who also drives motorcycles, moved here from Ontario. She says she’s very impressed with Prince George’s modern airport and runway, which underwent a major expansion and revitalization from 2003 to 2005.
“The runway is just fantastic – 12,000 feet long – (the third longest runway in Canada behind Calgary International and Vancouver International),” she says, her face lighting up. “I’m from London, Ontario which has four flight schools and lots of air traffic, so I learned to fly at a very busy airport. I usually fly a Cessna 150 or Cessna 172. The 150 is a two-seat trainer, the 172 is four-seat trainer.”
Guardian Aerospace is a big supporter of her efforts to make aviation more accessible to women, she says.
“We are lucky here in Prince George that Guardian Aerospace has agreed to sponsor Women in Aviation by giving us a location to have our meetings and they offer a discount to members taking ground school.”
After hitting the books, then comes the hours of required flying time. Experience is key, she says. Flying on her own, Somers has had no close calls or scary incidents to talk about – not like the heavy turbulence she experienced flying as a passenger over the holidays to visit family back home.
“When they said ‘fasten your seatbelts... tight,’ I knew we were in for some real turbulence,” she said, with a good-natured laugh. Most trips in small planes with students are uneventful except for the thrill and “look of awe” she sees in the faces of new pilots when they get behind the controls.
However, things can go wrong.
“One time I was with a student who was learning to do a spin. He missed a crucial step: positioning the control column forward to break the stall allowing airflow over the tail.”
Somers demonstrates with her hand.
“When that happens, the plane will continue to spin – even if you get all the other steps of the recovery – so you really need to push the control column forward.”
In this case, the student basically “froze” but Somers, using her instructor training skills, was able to level the plane off. Pilots usually practice manoeuvres at about 4,000 above ground to ensure recovery from an air exercise and can later reduce that to about 2,000 feet above ground, she said.
Tyrell Ukrientz, 20, a student pilot, says flying planes fascinates him. He loves it but admits it take care and concentration.
“For me, night flying is the most difficult thing I’ve done so far because you can lose your depth perception,” he said. Somers agrees.
“A lot of people are very visual so when they’re training to fly they have to learn to trust their instruments. You need to learn to fly from A to B using radio navigation not just visual flying.”
For more information about Women in Aviation International, you can visit their website at www.wai.org.
Check out www.guardianaerospace.net. You can sign up for WAI by calling Amy Somers at 250-944-0605 or Guardian Aerospace office at 250-567-2655 to pre-register.
First meeting is January 19 at 2 p.m.