Marissa Naude wants to be an airline pilot.
The 21-year-old from Port Alfred, South Africa, is already on her way to achieve that dream as she’s a flight instructor at the biggest air school in South Africa, 43 Air School.
She was in Oshkosh for the first time this week for the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture, where she participated in WomenVenture with at least 2,000 other women on Wednesday.
It was exciting to be around other women in aviation; to hear their stories, understand the struggles and successes each other has in the field and generally be a part of what she said is an elite group of women.
And it’s not just a group of women with a common hobby – it’s more like a sisterhood, she said.
“You only know if you’re a part of it,” Naude said.
WomenVenture is a time for the women to connect through those shared experiences, to build up and support each other – and to celebrate the things each of them are accomplishing.
The women are pilots, mechanics, homebuilders, airport managers, flight attendants – name a role in aviation and there’s probably a woman representing it in the photo they took in Boeing Plaza.
For Naude, meeting other women and having conversations with them is not something she gets to do much of living in South Africa, where not very many women are pursuing careers in aviation, she said.
Her mentor is her father, who is also a pilot and is why her passion for aviation started at a young age.
“We don’t have the legends like you do here,” she said, referring to the Women Airforce Service Pilots who participated in the day’s events.
She met Rita Doyle, of Beaver Creek, Ohio, who’s also a pilot, while waiting for the photo. The two chatted and enjoyed each other’s company in the shade of another plane on view in the plaza. Doyle has been attending AirVenture since the 1970s.
WomenVenture is always fun and she always makes connections like she did Wednesday with Naude, she said.
“It’s exciting to see that many women in one place with a different kind of something in common,” she said.
And no one does aviation like women do, they chuckled.
Naude is one of thousands of young women who have found their passion in the sky or see an aviation-related career as their future.
Pat Prentiss, who was president of The Ninety-Nines from 2006-2008, said women are making more of a statement in the field.
“The door is opening wider and quicker,” she said.
When she entered the field in the 1970s, women were still striving to make their mark in aviation. There weren’t women mentors to guide others through the process. Instead, Prentiss learned from men, then worked hard to eventually fly corporate jets for 26 years before retiring.
Times have changes since she first entered the field, she said.
The key to keeping that momentum going, Prentiss said, is to continue exposing girls and young women to the field; providing them mentors and financial assistance.
The Ninety-Nines and Women in Aviation International have each awarded more than $10 million to girls and women who are breaking into the aviation field, and the number of applicants continues to grow.
The Ninety-Nines three-year-old Fly Now scholarship had more than 104 qualified applicants this year, Prentiss said.
The scholarship awards student pilots as they complete four milestones: pass the Federal Aviation Administration or equivalent exam, complete their first solo flight, complete a solo cross-country flight and receive the FAA or equivalent flight certificate.
Noell Dickmann: 920-426-6658 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ONW_Noell on Twitter.