Sunday, January 16, 2011

30 Dec, 2010, Oshawa airport celebrates 100th anniversary of female pilots

The Star: Oshawa airport celebrates 100th anniversary of female pilots
Carola Vyhnak
Urban Affairs Reporter

Oshawa, Canada -- There’s a little cheat sheet in the co-pilot’s seat of Lesley Page’s Cessna 172. It tells what to do in case of engine failure.

“Oops,” she says, taking it off the clip in front of her passenger. “You don’t need to see that.”

Then she explains why she’s constantly checking the ground from 2,500 feet up. “I’m looking for the best fields to land in if the engine fails.”

Oops indeed. But nice to know she’s got it covered if anything goes wrong. Especially since Oshawa Municipal Airport, from which Page is flying, seems poised to be named “most female pilot-friendly airport” in the world.

The title will go to the one that puts the most non-pilot girls and women in the sky in 2010. The worldwide competition is part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first woman to get her pilot’s licence, French balloonist Raymonde de Laroche.

Oshawa, the only Canadian city in the challenge that wraps up Friday, has been in a neck-and-neck race for first spot with Renton, Wash. As of Wednesday, Oshawa had flown 275 female newbies, while Renton had sent 228 airborne. Final numbers aren’t all in and the winner won’t be announced for two more weeks.

But, win or lose, the local attempt has introduced hundreds of people to the joys of flying, says Page, noting that only 6 or 7 per cent of the world’s pilots are women.

“Women just don’t look to aviation as something that’s possible,” says the Scarborough resident.

Page took her first lesson five years ago, after getting hooked during a “thrilling” trip with her husband, Jeff, who flies for recreation.

“That flight changed my life,” she recalls. “I’m looking out at the world from above and I feel free. It was exciting and uplifting.”

Deciding that “life is too short to be a passenger,” Page, 55, quit her high-stress senior management position with a retail chain to study aviation. Now she works part-time and flies “for the fun of it,” she says, quoting Amelia Earhart.

She and Jeff fly their four-seat Cessna to Florida and the Bahamas for vacations and to Collingwood for a “hundred-dollar hamburger,” which is what flying to lunch is called.

Since the competition began in March, Page, the event organizer for Oshawa, has logged 52 female passengers, including 12-year-old Jade Edgerton from Cavan, near Peterborough.

“It was really fun. I could see the CN Tower and I got to steer the plane and do flips and stuff,” she said, adding she had considered a career in aviation.

For single mom Meredith Jackson, soaring through the skies with her 16-year-old daughter was the “chance of a lifetime.”

“To me it was like a piece of heaven. My worries just disappeared and I melted up there.”

Councillor Bruce Wood, one of the two dozen Oshawa pilots who participated in the flying challenge, says the 10-month event across four continents put the city’s name “out there.”

“It’s put Oshawa’s reputation head and shoulders above the rest of the world.”

Taking the city to new heights, you might say.

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