Phenomenal Women

By Deborah Hersman

Last week, I had the privilege of attending EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI.  As aviation buffs know, AirVenture has evolved into one of the world’s largest “fly-in” jamborees and each year brings together more than 500,000 pilots and aviation enthusiasts from around the globe.

While there, I had the honor of attending the Women in Aviation International’s (WAI) annual “WAI Connect” breakfast, which celebrates women aviators. The day started with a re-enactment of the life of Harriet Quimby by Connie Tobias, a 30-year aviation veteran and US Airways captain with more than 20,000 flight hours.

Tobias brought Quimby to life and conveyed the daring and courageous spirit of the first female to earn a U.S. pilot’s certificate.  A journalist by profession, in October 1910, Quimby went to the Belmont Park International Aviation Tournament to cover the races. It was there that she was bitten by the flying bug. Seeing the men racing above her, she declared “I can do that.  And I will.”

From left to right: Connie Tobias as Harriet Quimby, Marty Wyall and Deborah Hersman

And she did.

Quimby’s story is one of determination and drive and perhaps above all, a “can do” spirit. She simply would not take “no” for an answer.  She broke new ground then and, thankfully, women in aviation are still breaking new ground today.

During breakfast, I had the pleasure of meeting two remarkable women — Marty Wyall and Anna Dietrich. Wyall, a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots or WASPs, flew trainers during World War II and with her sister WASPs, broke barriers, challenged norms, and helped pave the way for women to fly in the military. Dietrich is Chief Operating Officer and one of the founders of Terrafugia, Inc., the company that is breaking new ground with its flying car.

As I told the WAI membership, these two women’s pioneering accomplishments echo Harriet Quimby. Just like Quimby, they knew what they could do, went after it, and did it.

My challenge to the more than 200 women gathered at “WAI Connect” was this:  Live up to the legacy of Harriet Quimby, Marty Wyall, and Anna Dietrich. Dare to be different, redefine normal, and strive for the extraordinary.  At the same time, bring forward the next generation of aviators. Show them how to be daring, but teach them to fly safely.

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