The National Aviation Hall of Fame’s inaugural Wings of Women Conference was held on July 20, as part of the annual enshrinement activities the same weekend. The daylong interactive education program brought 55 high-school age girls from southwest Ohio together with 15 volunteer mentors.
NAHF created the conference, produced under the auspices of its SkyReach educational program, to underscore its commitment to serve as a catalyst, encouraging the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, pilots, astronauts and dreamers. The WOW objective is to provide valuable interaction with inspirational mentors and leaders from across the aviation spectrum. Mentors shared personal perspectives about fulfilling career choices that offer a wealth of opportunities, but in which women continue to be under-represented.
Students for the inaugural event were selected in advance from a variety of public, parochial, home and charter schools throughout southwestern Ohio, based on teacher recommendations and a brief essay submitted by each girl articulating her desire to attend.
The conference began with a continental breakfast on the grounds of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, where NAHF enshrinee Harriet Quimby, as portrayed by mentor Connie Tobias, addressed participants. The late Quimby was the first American female to earn a pilot’s license. Tobias is a US Airways Airbus captain and the first woman to fly a Wright 1903 replica.
A tour at the NAHF Learning & Research Center highlighted the 13 women enshrinees honored by the Hall of Fame so far, including two from the Class of 2007, Evelyn Bryan Johnson and Sally K. Ride, who were formally inducted at the enshrinement ceremony held the next evening.
At the Hope Hotel Conference Center on Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Nadine Nagle, a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots during WWII, and Sarah Rickman, WASP historian and author, captivated the teenagers with a presentation. Smaller groups of students then participated in four 45-minute breakout sessions with individual mentors of their choosing.
The luncheon keynote speaker was Col. Colleen Ryan, 88th Air Base wing commander, the first female to serve as commander of WPAFB. The conference closed with an appearance by the late Bessie Coleman, as portrayed by Coleman historian Sandra Campbell. Coleman, an NAHF enshrinee, was the first African American to earn a civilian pilot’s license. Campbell serves as manager of Small Aircraft Directorate, FAA.
WOW mentors included historian and dramatist Betty Darst, adjunct faculty, Wright State University, and author-historian/flight instructor Ann Cooper. Emily Howell Warner, who wrote her biography, “Weaving the Winds,” with Cooper, discussed her breakthrough as the first female captain of a regularly scheduled U.S. jet airline, and Pat Wagner talked about her life as an air show pilot and wing walker.
Other mentors were Capt. Elaine Bryant, executive officer for Chief of Staff, HQ AF Material Command; Dr. Peggy Chabrian, president and founder, Women in Aviation, International; Dorothy Cochrane, curator, general aviation, Smithsonian Air & Space Museum; Dr. Deborah Grismer, chief, Control Design and Analysis Branch, Air Force Material Command; Lynda Meeks, former Army helicopter pilot, Flight Options Beechjet 400 pilot; and Mary Poplawski; FedEx Corporation Airbus 300 first officer.
NetJets and Signature Flight Support were inaugural co-presenting sponsors. Additional support came from the Air Force Association’s Wright Memorial Chapter, EAA Chapter 48 and the Southwestern Ohio Instructional Technology Association. The WOW enshrinee biography booklet was created in part with a grant from the Wolf Aviation Fund.