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Girl Pilot...
The Next Generation?


I have just returned from a few glorious days up in Portland (OR) where we enjoyed the birth of our first grandchild, a lovely little girl named Caitlin Grace. This was my first actual encounter with this whole birthing process, and while not actually "in the room", I was close enough on the fringe to feel the positive energy flowing freely from behind the closed door.

Proud parents Michael and JJ chose to bring Caitlin into this world at a birthing center, a very peaceful and spiritual place in SE Portland that was about as far removed from a traditional hospital birth as one can get. With a Certified Midwife leading her team of Midwives-in-training and other assistants, Caitlin arrived into a loving environment that will be the catalyst to a life filled with positive love and optimistic motivation.

And since I am a one note song these days about flying, of course the first question everyone is asking me is...when will I be making Caitlin her own set of keys to the family Cherokee 235...aptly named "Katy" in a strange sort of coincidence. My response is to first explain the following:

Everyone who knows me knows my feelings about girls (and women) flying. I have always said that the sky is no place for gender bias, and that a female is as welcome as any man to chase clouds around the sky with me. Young girls are general aviation's secret weapon, the one demographic that can cement GA's future. If GA can entice just a few young ladies per year to take flight lessons and achieve the freedom that comes from earning your private ticket, we will create a whole new wave of pilots who will be in our community for decades to come.
Caitlin is being born into an aviation family, but it is not guaranteed that she is yet an "aviator". My father was nuts about flying, I am obviously completely addicted to it, and Caitlin's daddy Michael is an aviation enthusiast who will one day be a licensed pilot. In our travels in 27W, he has demonstrated an aviator's hand on the "stick" and is a natural pilot. Like all of us, he must wait for the day when his finances and life responsibilities line up favorably so he can take his lessons and earn his ticket. But as I contemplate passing my love of aviation on to the newest member of our family, I must consider this:
I believe there are "pilots" and their are "aviators"...and we all know the difference. Ernest K. Gann describes an "aviator" as someone who, in the middle of a conversation, will stop talking when an airplane flies overhead, staring at the flying machine intently. He/she will be lost in the mystique of flight for those fleeting moments that the plane drones by...and will stare in completely wonderment at how the craft manages to stay airborne. "Aviators" never stop living their dream to fly...while pilots just get in, fly a route, and get out, sort of like driving a bus.
We will not know for some time whether Caitlin is interested in flying. It is a given that like most kids, she will naturally like airplanes, especially the one DooDah (apparently my given Grandpa name) flies her around in. But as she grows and matures into a little girl who can grasp the whole concept of flight, I will do everything I can to bring out the inner aviator in her...if one is in there waiting to come out. If she shows an interest in learning about how "Katy" works, what keeps her in the sky, and how we can fly from Portland to Disneyland with ease, I will help her learn...happily.

If she takes no interest in actually flying the plane – like her mommy – then that will be perfectly fine too. Our daughter-in-law is lovely on so many levels, and was initially not all that fond of small planes. But in the last few flights as a passenger on our way to California, she has grown to accept GA air travel as a safe and efficient means of transportation.

As a brand new DooDah, I am proud as can be. To see this beautiful little girl arrive into such a crazy mixed up world has given me hope that our future will be bright. Caitlin's parents have taught me a great deal about spirituality, about the way we need to think about life on this planet, in this universe. The ability to fly above the crust of this rock we live upon transcends the gap between this often dreary human life and the one that allows us to "slip the surly bonds" and FLY.

Make no mistake, just taking off with such a precious passenger as Caitlin will be golden. But if she ever asks me to show her how to fly, and looks up to me for guidance down the path that ends with her pilot's license, I will have achieved one of my personal goals. That will be to help create my "pilot replacement", the one aviator to continue my quest after I inevitably lose my medical years from now. Words cannot describe what it will be like for me to blast off in the right seat of a very cool composite all-glass plane, flown with precision by a brilliant young woman with a heart of gold and a steady hand on the yoke.

When that happens, my life's journey will be complete.

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