Girl power was front and center at the Girls in Aviation Day at the Culpeper Air Fest Saturday morning.
More than 100 young women, ages 8-17, toured booths at the Airport prior to the 19th annual Air Fest – learning about professions in aviation.
Kelly Murphy, Director of Communications and Editor-in-Chief for Aviation for Women magazine, smiled broadly as she greeted the girls lining up at the 8:30 sessions. This marked the fourth year for Girls in Aviation Day – held internationally – but hosted for the first time at the Culpeper Air Fest. The girls learned about various professions in aviation – engineering, pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers, Coast Guard and more from a staff of volunteers.
“There are so many job opportunities in aviation, not just a need for pilots – mechanics, air traffic controllers, aircraft engineers and what we want to do through Women in Aviation is to reach out to girls ages 8 to 17 and let them see all the opportunities,” Murphy said.
Women in Aviation provides $500,000 in scholarships each year to students going to college to study disciplines associated with aviation. Murphy said the Girls in Aviation Day focused on networking and mentoring, helping match girls interested in certain fields with professionals.
“Our day is dedicated to having all these different stations where they can meet female engineers, pilots, mechanics and female drone pilots,” Murphy said. “It’s about them seeing positive role models and being able to ask questions.”
Murphy, the daughter of late Culpeper pilot JJ Quinn, said it only made sense to host the Girls in Aviation Day at the Culpeper Air Fest. Last year they were based in Manassas, but outgrew the program there. Dovetailing the day with the Air Fest was a perfect marriage, she said.
“We hope to remain here for many reasons,” Murphy said. “To have our event during an airshow is amazing.”
Girls in Aviation Day was featured at 95 events throughout the world involving 15,000 girls. The Capital Region Chapter, for which Murphy has been a part of for more than 20 years, has about 200 members. She said that without the involvement of her father, she probably would not have been interested in aviation – and that is the role she is trying to fill for the young women involved with Girls in Aviation Day.
“It’s a gentle push, so we feel like we’re very supportive,” Murphy said.
The day started with the first group taking to the tarmac to fly model airplanes with the Culpeper Model Barnstormers, paired up with a “buddy” but giving the girls a first-hand experience of piloting a RC plane.
They then moved into the Girls in Aviation tent where they met professionals like Amerre Deiters, with United Airlines, and were able to learn about the physics of flying.
David Boyd, from Battlefield High School’s robotics team Ilite Robotics, clapped as young girls showed an interest in coding robots.
“By getting them early, we get them focused, they get a little experience as they go into college,” Boyd said. “It’s the young ones that really inspire me and that I love working with the most. I think when they are at this age, they get so excited with everything they can do. That’s the big thing, letting them realize they have the potential to do what they want to do.”
He said the goal is to make STEM as accessible to children as youth sports is, and remarked that it’s important to get young women involved and explain to them the significance of women in the technology field – pointing out one of his role models is Grace Hopper, an American computer scientist and United States Navy rear admiral.
Across the tent, Melinda Viterri with the Aviation Youth Mentoring Program from Washington, D.C. looked on as her students worked with girls to teach them how to fly on an FAA approved flight simulator.
Purchased for the group by the Royal Aeronautical Society for approximately $10,000, the flight simulator is as realistic as it gets – teaching aspiring pilots how to check gauges, adjust the throttle, take off and land.
“For me it’s like the center of my life to make sure we can inspire the next generation and offer them a great flight opportunity,” Viterri said.
Ariana M. Yactayo, 15, a sophomore at Seton Home Study School, said she will cherish the opportunity she received to learn from strong women.
“I really enjoyed Girls in Aviation Day at the Culpeper Air Fest on Saturday; the people involved with the event were utterly kind, helpful, and open,” Yactayo said. “I think it was greatly important to see strong, positive, diverse, female role models in STEM because more girls could relate with their skills and goals, and have a deeper understanding of things – it really enhanced the experience we had with all of the activities and stations. I would definitely do this again, even return to volunteer or bring my younger sister once I’m past the age range, and I recommend it to other girls.”