Girls Take Flight in Free Women in Aviation Week Program

Great Article Reposted from the Contra Costa Times (CC Times)

By Karen Rarey
For the Contra Costa Times
Posted:   03/11/2013 02:00:46 PM PDT
Updated:   03/11/2013 04:29:55 PM PDT
Pilot Carol Andrews, right of Grass Valley, and Michaela Price, 13 of Brentwood

Pilot Carol Andrews, right of Grass Valley, and Michaela Price, 13 of Brentwood

Dozens of East Bay teenage girls took to the skies Sunday in small personal aircraft, flying thousands of feet above the Earth to experience aviation firsthand during Women of Aviation Worldwide Week.

“It was fun — it looked like a big giant board game with tiny little cars,” said 13-year-old Michaela Price of her first-ever flight above her hometown of Brentwood.  Michaela, along with a couple dozen other girls, took turns flying out of the Byron Airport.

“(On) the takeoff, like my stomach kind of turned a little bit, but then it went back once we were in the air,” Michaela said, grinning from ear-to-ear. “Then, the landing, once the wheels hit the floor, that was the bumpy part and everything else was smooth.”

The event, run by volunteers, was organized by Danville resident Jacquie Warda who also held a similar talk and demonstration earlier in the week in Livermore for a couple of young women, who also got the opportunity to fly.

“It’s hard to describe, because there isn’t anything you can do on the ground that is similar to it,” Warda said.

This unique feeling and the lack of women in the field of aviation is exactly why Warda wanted to share her experience with other young women. Each was awarded an inaugural flight certificate and given a book about women in aviation.

“People say it’s about being free, slipping the bonds of Earth,” Warda said.  “And what it does to your soul if it’s meant for you — there is only one way to find that out,” she added. “That’s one of the reasons why we’ve got to get people in an airplane or they will never quite understand the allure or the excitement or the thrill of it.”

Kadie Ukkestad, 16, couldn’t agree more, and after her first flight she is anxious to learn more about flying.  “It was so great being up there and controlling it. I had so much power and you were free to go wherever and you had open skies,” said Kadie, her voice still shaking after the flight.  Kadie said that she took control of the aircraft and was able to fly the plane over her house in Discovery Bay and her school, Liberty High, in Brentwood.  “It was cool; it got me so excited,” Kadie said. “We went about 120 miles per hour and (the pilot) said we were about halfway the height of Mt. Diablo.”

 Pilot Steve Radcliffe, of Livermore, and Kadie Ukkestad, 16, of Discovery Bay, get set to take a demonstration flight at Byron Airport on Sunday, March 10, 2013, in Byron, Calif. (Jim Stevens/Staff)

Pilot Steve Radcliffe, of Livermore, and Kadie Ukkestad, 16, of Discovery Bay, get set to take a demonstration flight at Byron Airport on Sunday, March 10, 2013, in Byron, Calif. (Jim Stevens/Staff)

Kadie described the differences she felt between being in an airliner and a small plane.  “You feel the little things, like (the pilot) said, ‘the potholes’ — we would shake a little bit because of the wind,” Kadie said.  As for landing, “it was way different than a big plane, the impact — it was kind of squirrelly in the beginning,” she said.

Warda said, “I don’t expect them all to walk away wanting to be pilots, but I want them to walk away asking questions.”

Flying is just one aspect of aviation, and Warda is hopeful that by providing these young women with a taste of aviation that they will take off in the field of aviation like she did 26 years ago.

“There are so many things that women can do in the aviation world,” she said.

“There is traffic control, maintenance — there are a lot of women in the military who go into the maintenance. They don’t want to fly them; they’re gear heads, they want to turn wrenches,” Warda said. “What’s a more cool thing to do than turning wrenches on an F-15 or an A-10?”

She added, “There’s dispatching. There is corporate aviation. Every corporate aircraft has a management team; somebody has to schedule the airplane.”

Women of Aviation Worldwide Week began as a single-day tribute event in 2010 celebrating the centennial of the first women to obtain a pilot’s license — Raymonde de Laroche on March 8, 1910. In the following year, the tribute grew to become a week of “Fly it Forward” with the hopes that pilots would take girls and women under their wing in an inaugural flight into the wild blue yonder and possibly into the field of aviation.

Warda’s payoff for doing this: “The after smiles are always better than the before smiles.”

Reach Karen Rarey at

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“Aviatress of the World”: Raymonde de Laroche

Raymonde de LarocheThe Women in Aviation, International conference in Nashville is right around the corner.  It has been held in March since the organization was founded and it is no secret as to why this month was chosen.  March is nationally known as women’s history month to which we raise a toast to the influential women who have pushed passed gender barriers and paved the way for future generations.  More specifically, March 8th possesses a particular meaning in the canons of women’s history.  To begin, March 8th signifies International Women’s Day which began in 2011 when more than 100 countries joined together to celebrate the accomplishments of women worldwide.  Various nations have commemorated IWD since 1911 when it first began, focusing on the women who have worked tirelessly towards a more egalitarian society.  This day holds an even more special meaning to those of us in the aviation community, it is the date in which women entered into aviation.  On this day in 1910, Raymonde de Laroche became the first woman in the world to obtain a pilot’s license.

Born on August 22, 1882 in Paris, France as Elise Raymonde Deroche.  She initially pursued an acting career where she took on the stage name of Raymonde de Laroche.  It was not until 1908 when Wilbur Wright arrived in Paris to perform a flight demonstration that she became interested in flying.  She inquired with aviator Charles Voisin from whom she took flight instruction.  She earned License #36 from the International Aeronautics Federation (F.A.I.) on March 8, 1910 at the young age of twenty-four.  Several months later she entered the Reims air race as the only woman pilot.  Unfortunately a near fatal crash involving Laroche brought the race to abrupt stop to her aviation career.  She suffered multiple injuries which forced her to be grounded for a time, but it did not keep her from returning to the skies.  Laroche later went on to set new women’s flight records including her altitude record of 15,700 feet (4758 m).  She also won the Femina Cup for nonstop flying at a total of four hours.

In the summer of 1919, Laroche was determined to push the limitations further by pursuing a possible career as the first female test pilot.  She reported to the airfield at Le Crotoy to report for duty.  During a training flight with another pilot, the aircraft went into a dive on its landing approach resulting in the deaths of both the pilot and Laroche.

Laroche set the precedent for women around the world in aviation.  She inspired Harriet Quimby, Bessie Coleman, and other women to push through the gender barriers proving that they too could fly.  Happy International Women’s Day Raymonde de Laroche – this day is truly yours.

Below is an excerpt from Colliers Magazine written by Baroness de Laroche on September 30, 1911 about her experience flying in the presence of the Czar of Russia.

by Baroness de Laroche
from Colliers Magazine
30 September 1911
Transcribed by Dave Lam, 1-9-04

After practicing at Moumelon, and breaking my arm in a fall, I went to Helipolis, where I obtained by pilot’s certificate. I had hardly recovered from my accident, but I felt no apprehension on mounting my machine one more. What can I tell you of this first meeting, except that as soon as we took the air we were all seized by treacherous currents which flopped us about at the wind’s pleasure, although the atmosphere seemed perfectly calm. From there I went to Saint Petersburg.
The aviation ground was small. None of us was willing to fly, and yet we all decided to do so. On the occasion of one of my flights I mounted to a height of 150 meters, being enveloped by the smoke from the factory chimneys which surrounded the ground. I flew over houses, then above forests, and turned three times. In order to reach the ground at the end of the fourth turn I made a little curve, tacked, and stopped my motor at a height of 100 meters. It was my first volplane, so I was somewhat excited. To my great astonishment nothing broke. The Czar, who was present at this meeting, wished to congratulate me. He asked what my feelings had been, and I was able to assure him that his presence in the first place, and the houses and the landing ground, which was only 30 meters wide, in the second, had brought my heart into my mouth.
Then I set out for Budapest, where I successfully achieved a flight of 37 minutes. There again the factory chimneys, which served as pylons, so to speak, caused very disagreeable currents with their smoke. It was that flight which has left me with one of my most striking impressions. Nevertheless, in my opinion, the record for currents was broken at Rouen. There, being caught in a kind of tempest when I was in the air, I had to lower my equilabrator immediately and came to earth by the barriers that surrounded the aerodrome, where my biplane stood on end. If I had stopped my motor I should without doubt have fallen on the crowd. Happily, I had a little presence of mind left.

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Not All Aviation Firsts Belong to Pilots

Deborah Ale Flint photo courtesy of

Deborah Ale Flint
photo courtesy of

So often when we look at aviation history we make note of groundbreaking firsts made by pilots.  But what of those who stay on the ground?  Those individuals are just as vital to aviation, especially since they are the ones that keep us flying.  This month we celebrate for black history month a woman of the Bay Area who is a contemporary pioneer in the aviation industry.

Oakland International Airport is the second largest San Francisco Bay Area airport and fourth largest airport in California.  It is managed by the Port of Oakland which also covers the Oakland seaport and 20 miles of waterfront.  Established in 1927, the Port of Oakland is an independent department of the City of Oakland.  Over the years Oakland has been a prominent location in aviation history, including Amelia Earhart’s famed around the world flight which commenced out of OAK.  In 2010, the Port of Oakland added another mark in history when they promoted Deborah Ale Flint as Director of Aviation.  Not only did Ms. Flint become the first woman to hold this post in the airport’s eighty-three year history, she was also the first African American woman to hold the post of airport director in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Upon accepting her appointment, Flint celebrated, “I am excited and honored to be chosen as the Port’s Director of Aviation.  This action by the Board and Omar Benjamin represents another historical moment for Oakland International Airport.  Oakland has a rich history for pioneering and innovation, from the airport’s early days with Amelia Earhart to being the country’s first LEED Silver Certified airport passenger terminal.  I look forward to leading the airport team in providing a contemporary, convenient, and reliable choice for savvy passengers traveling to and from the Bay Area.” (Port of Oakland Announces Appointment of Deborah Ale Flint as Director of Aviation, 2010).  Way to go Deborah in following in the footsteps of Oakland’s pioneers in aviation!

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Gone West: Bay Area Native Maggie Gee, former WASP

Maggie GeeWASP 44-W-9

Maggie Gee
WASP 44-W-9

This past Friday, February 1, 2013, the aviation community lost a treasured pilot.  Margaret “Maggie” Gee, a former WASP, passed away on Friday, February 1, at the age of eighty-nine.  A truly unique individual, Maggie served as only one of two Chinese-American women pilots during WWII.

Hazel Ying LeeWASP, 43-W-4

Hazel Ying Lee
WASP, 43-W-4

Born Gee Mei Gue on August 5, 1923 in Berkeley, California, Maggie was the daughter of a successful Chinese importer and first generation Chinese-American.  Her maternal grandparents had immigrated to the United States to escape the Taiping Revolution.  They had settled in San Francisco’s Chinatown where Maggie’s parents met and married.  Due to her father’s wishes to not raise his children in Chinatown, the family moved to Berkeley prior to Maggie being born.

Maggie always looked to the skies while she was growing up.  She recalled her childhood, “When I was a young girl, the Oakland airport just opened and going [there] was something you’d do on Sundays to watch planes take off.  Amelia Earhart was a heroine at the time. You don’t even think about danger when you’re young. You think you’re invincible.”

When the United States entered the war, Maggie quickly volunteered for service.  She left during her first year of college to work as a draftsman at Mare Island Naval Shipyards located in Vallejo.  However, her desire was to fly for the WASPs.  Known as the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and later the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), these aviatrixes aided the war effort by relieving male pilots of their peacetime duties for combat operations.  A prerequisite to apply to such a program included a pilot’s license.   Once Maggie saved enough money, she moved to Mindon, Nevada where she could become certified in military aircraft.  Six months, fifty hours of flight time, and $800 later she earned her license.  Upon applying to the WASP training program, Maggie was accepted into class 44-W-9.  Of the 107 women in the class, Maggie and fifty-four of her colleagues earned their wings on November 8, 1944.  Her assignment transferred her to Las Vegas Army Air Field where she served as a tow target pilot for flexible gunnery training for male cadets.  This remained her duty station until the WASPs were disbanded on December 20, 1944.

After the war, Maggie returned to U.C. Berkeley where she completed her degree in physics.  She went on to a career as a physicist and researcher of nuclear weapons design, fusion energy, and other related fields.  A lesson to take from Maggie, “I learned from the flying experience that if there’s something you really want to do, pursue it,” Gee attests. “I wouldn’t listen to others that say you can’t do it. I would consider it a bigger challenge.”  Blue skies Maggie and may your legacy be forever influential to women in aviation.

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Monthly Hangar Talk – January 2013

WAI Breakfast

The members of WAI-SFBA had a great meeting to kick off the new year!  Bay Area resident, Ryan Kaher, graciously invited our chapter to host our January get-together in his hangar at San Carlos Airport.  The weather turned out perfect to keep the hangar doors open so that we could watch taxiing planes while talking about wings.  We also enjoyed meeting new members, including Kelly Pappas and Janet Hitt.  Welcome ladies!  For anyone who may have missed our last meeting, do not despair!  We meet on the third Saturday of each month.  For those who have connections to other locations to host our meetings, please let us know.  Thank you to Ryan for an amazing venue site to kick off the year!

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Excerpts from Bay Area Aviation History

This post was written a few years ago, but it still worth the read.  It is a small history of the Bay Area of which many may not have known.  The author, Sarah B., is a resident of the Richmond District and she discusses the various aspects of the Bay Area.  Sarah decided to visit Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos and something caught her eye to which she wrote about.  The theme of this article is about one of the first tractor propeller designs in Northern California.  Known as the “Gonzales No. 1 Tractor Biplane” two 15-year twin brothers, Will and Arthur Gonzales, built their biplane glider and flew over the Richmond District.  Sarah has included some great pictures from the archives to retell this fascinating piece of Northern California aviation history.

The Richmond District’s place in aviation history.

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SFBA-WAI Co-President Pursues Tailwheel Endorsement

Hi Everyone!  We hope you had a wonderful holiday season!  We are back in full force for a fun and exciting 2013.  To begin, we have some exciting news about one of our chapter members!  Our Co-President, Kelly Hoffman, has been awarded the 2012 Tyler Orsow “Flying for Fun” Scholarship to receive 10 hours of tailwheel training generously donated by the EAA Mother Lode Chapter in Calaveras and Springfield Flying Services in Columbia.  An accomplished aviator, Kelly is currently a Single Engine Land and Sea pilot with her instrument rating.  We look forward to seeing what she’ll do next!  Congratulations Kelly!

Terry Campbell and Kelly Hoffman

Tyler Orsow’s mother, Terry Campbell (left)
and Kelly Hoffman

The scholarship is in honor of another esteemed Bay Area pilot, Tyler Orsow.  Tyler’s aviation career began at the early age of 14 when he soloed in a glider. On his sixteenth birthday he soloed in several aircraft including his first built powered airplane.  On his following birthday, he received his pilot’s license.  He continued on to receive his glider license, CFI, MEI and A&P certificates. Tyler was an MES instructor for Sierra Seaplanes, worked at the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards Air force Base and also ferried a myriad of vintage and experimental aircraft cross-country for new owners.  Many of us also remember him from Bud Field Aviation in Hayward where he managed the beautiful aircraft in that renowned hangar.  The story of this amazing pilot comes to a tragic end when ferrying a Grumman Goose from overseas, Tyler,along with his mentor Chuck Kimes, Landon Studer, and Joshua Hucklebridge died in a plane crash shortly after take-off. The aviation community will deeply miss these individuals.

In remembrance of the aviators before us:

“RETURN”Up at last it’s been so long,
Back to blue where I belong,
Whistling wind through cockpit seams
Clears my mind for unborn dreams.Sunrays strike her gleaming skin,
The ship glides smooth, as now I trim,
A flat world left begins to round,
My engine’s drone the only sound.Clouds reach out to mist my wings,
Oh! how much I’ve missed these things,
Long I’ve waited, far below,
A wanderer lost, nowhere to go.

But here the sky becomes my friend,
Inside my heart begins to mend,
A sagging spirit spring to life,
Far above the vexing strife.

A touch of toe, a turn of hand,
She dips her wing on my command,
No questions does she ask of me,
As if she knows we’re finally free.

Ahead the towering billows rise,
An airborn skyline dwarfs my size,
White cathedrals row on row,
Ramparts washed in golden glow.

Below the world lies bright and new,
I wish that all could have my view,
To see a landscape trimmed by sea
In all it’s beauty , given free.

No cluttered highways bar my way,
No signs are posted, lest I stray,
My road is endless, paved in blue,
Its path is known to oh so few.

No street lamps stand along the side,
No blinding headlights mar this ride,
By night the moon casts light so soft,
The stars, my signposts, held aloft.

This life we have will pass to quick,
To live it all, now that’s the trick,
I’ll take my chance among the clouds,
Too long I’ve blended with the crowds.

In side I know a dream’s a dream,
And sometimes things aren’t what they seem,
But who’s to say just what is real,
To me it’s simply how you feel.

I thought my wings would let me fly,
A pilot soaring through the sky,
But so much more they gave to me,
A chance to live, a chance to be.

by Patrick J. Phillips

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Airplanes, Ships, and the Women Who Serve on Both: the U.S. Navy

Blue Angels Fly Over Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco celebrated its annual Fleet Week with the arrival of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard this past weekend. It is a time honored tradition beginning in 1935 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt thought it necessary to reinstate our Naval presence on a global scale.  At the time tensions started to heighten in Europe with the onset of WWII and FDR prepared necessary precautions, such as strengthening our armed forces.  To rally American citizens for military support, FDR organized military personnel to be present at the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition in San Diego. The initial purpose of the event centered around exhibits on history, arts, science and industry, but it would evolve into what it is today: the celebration of our Sailors, Marines, and Coastguardsmen. The event is open to the public allowing civilians to meet with military service members, tour their ships, and become familiar with our nation’s defense.

Glenn Hammond Curtiss
The Father of Naval Aviation

One of the exciting aspects of our area is that It is the birthplace of naval aviation. On January 18, 1911 the first aircraft successfully departed and landed on a ship on the San Francisco Bay. To accomplish this feat, modifications were made to the Pacific Fleet’s armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania by Glenn Hammond Curtiss. Known as the “Father of Naval Aviation,” Curtiss forever changed the structure of the American Navy with his innovative designs for naval aircraft. He began with the aircraft carrier design by retrofitting the Pennsylvania with a 120 by 30 foot platform. The platform included a series of ropes with sandbags attached to the ends to which the hooks on the airplane’s landing gear would catch and bring to a rapid halt. The Pennsylvania’s crew rigged a canvas along the perimeter of the deck in case of overrun or if the airplane swerved towards the edge of the ship. Fortunately, no such emergency occurred and pilot Eugene Ely flew the Curtiss pusher biplane both on and off the platform. Initially, the Navy saw no benefit from the aircraft carrier design and decided to forgo its construction (the British Royal Navy would take the lead in its development). However, the U.S. Navy asked Curtiss to build a seaplane that could be transported on the deck of a battleship. On January 26, 1911 Curtiss successfully demonstrated the first practical seaplane in San Diego Harbor. The plane landed next to the battleship on the water and then raised onto the deck of the ship. Thus marked the beginning of naval aviation in America.

Modified deck of the USS Pennsylvania

Curtiss Pusher Biplane landing on the USS Pennsylvania. Notice the sandbags on either side of the platform








1973 -First Four Navy Women chosen for Flight Training Pose at Pensacola, Florida in March 1973.
(left to right): Lieutenant Junior Grade Barbara Allen, USN, Ensign Jane M. Skiles, USN, Lieutenant Junior Grade Judith A. Neuffer, USN, and Ensign Kathleen L. McNary, USN

Not only is the Navy the first to incorporate airplanes into their fleet, but also are the first branch to officially train women pilots. 1973 marks the year in which women were accepted in to flight training beginning with Lieutenant JG (Junior Grade) Judith Neuffer. The following year Barbara Allen Rainey became the first woman to graduate the program, closely followed by Judith Neuffer, Rosemary Bryant Mariner, Ana Marie Fuqua, Joellen Drag, and Jane Skiles O’Dea. Of the original six women, one is living in the Bay Area: Joellen Drag. Commander Drag was the first woman helicopter pilot to graduate from flight school in 1974. As for the other women, they also proved successful in the careers. Several went on to have their own commands while continuously setting “firsts” in their respective fields. For example, Lieutenant Commander Rainey was the first woman to be jet-qualified flying the T-39. In 1990, Captain Rosemary Mariner was the first female to command an operational aviation squadron. At the time of her retirement, Mariner had 17 carrier landings with over 3500 military flight hours in 15 different naval aircraft. Captain Jane Skiles O’Dea was the first woman not only to qualify in the C-130 Hercules, but also first female Navy aviator to obtain a command as well as promoted to Captain. O’Dea logged over 3,000 miles in C-130, C-1A, T-34, and EC-130Q. Unfortunately, Lt. Commander Rainey did not live to see her fellow colleagues break the gender barriers. She had been recalled after switching to the Naval Reserves to be an instructor pilot. On July 13, 1982 Rainey and Ensign Donald Knowlton were killed when their T-34C crashed while avoiding another aircraft during touch and go landings at Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Florida. President Bill Clinton eloquently praised her service during the 1995 groundbreaking ceremony for Women in Military Service for America Memorial, “Her story reminds us that even in peacetime, those who wear the uniform face danger every day.” Let us not forget these extraordinary women who pushed through one of the most elusive fields in the professional world. Their endurance and sacrifice will continue to inspire future generations of female aviators in both the military and civilian sectors.

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Palo Alto Airport Day

Palo Alto Airport Day with (from left to right) Dakota, Kelly, Pam, and Melanie

We had fun at Palo Alto Airport Day this past Saturday, September 22!  We met with many women of all ages interested in the field of aviation.  We handed out homemade lollipops to the kids and our flyers to all interested in joining our chapter.  Hopefully we will see a few new faces at the next breakfast meeting! 

We also had the pleasure of speaking with one young woman, Dakota, who is an 8th grader from East Palo Alto.  She is working on a school project in which students picked a subject they are interested in, research it, and then present it in May 2013 to her class.  She is looking for any assistance that our group can give.  If you are interested in helping please email her advisor, Tina Nelson, at

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SAWIA & WAI-SFBA Meet Again in the Bay Area!

Laura Ilunga

A couple of weeks ago we had the fortunate chance to host a member from S.A.W.I.A. (Southern African Women in Aviation and Aerospace Industry), Laura Ilunga.  Our Co-President, Kelly, and Director, Sandra, first welcomed Laura in Las Vegas, Nevada.  After enjoying the sites, they brought her back to the Bay Area to meet the rest of the chapter. We all had a chance to speak with Laura about her experiences as a helicopter pilot with the South African Air Force.

Laura is a remarkable individual and incredibly humble.  Kelly described her as “an amazing, selfless woman who also happens to fly.  Her personality shines and her aviation background makes her sparkle.” Sandra further remarked that Laura’s visit helped her to better understand the importance of face-to face relationships.  Quoting from Forbes magazine, ” I’m convinced meeting face to face does three things better than virtual meetings.  It captures trust, it inspires positive emotions, and it builds relationships.  Personally, I hope the massive growth of cell phones, texting, email and teleconferencing doesn’t prompt us to forget these basic facts of human life” (“Why We Need to Meet in Person,” Forbes, Feb. 2011).   Our chapters met through Facebook, but the personal interaction between the members of the groups has strengthened our bond.  We will rely on virtual communication to stay connected with our sisters overseas, we will never turn down the chance to visit with them.  Thank you Laura for coming to see us!

The WAI SFBA Chapter Meets Laura Over Appetizers in Palo Alto

A note from Laura about her visit:

To the Ladies of WAI-SFBA,

I had a super time in the bay area. I mean Sandra’s family just welcomed me in & Kelly, Kim and Pam took time off work to spend some time together.  Kelly and Sandra flew out to Vegas to show me something different; some good friendships continue to grow.
Meeting the group members was so much fun and a really great opportunity and I’m just glad that all those women and the couple men came out to get together as aviators. That was a really great gathering. The skydiving was also unforgettable. An experience of a lifetime which I must definitely do again.


Some highlights from her trip:


Sky diving with a few of our members: Laura, Kelly, & Kimberly

Sandra, Laura, & Kelly in Las Vegas

Thanks to Facebook for connecting our chapters!







Check out SAWIA’s Facebook page and website:



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