Monday, June 13, 2011

Introduction to flying Introduction to flying
By Colleen Rustad,
For the Argus-Courier

The Marin chapter of the 99s, an international organization of women pilots, is introducing Petaluma Girl Scout troops to the world of aviation and sharing a perspective on the world that can only be experienced from thousands of feet above the Earth.

The 99s was established in 1929 by 99 women pilots. The mission of the organization is to promote the advancement of aviation through education, scholarship opportunities and networking while sharing their passion for flight and preserving the unique history of women in aviation.

Amelia Earhart was the first president of the 99s. Today, the organization represents women in all areas of aviation including commercial pilots, helicopter pilots and air traffic controllers.

The Marin 99s is a tightly knit group of 17 pilots, most of whom fly out of the Petaluma Municipal Airport. Cindy Pickett, chairwoman for 15 years and a pilot for 20 years, says that her chapter is known for “not being big on meetings, but just loving to fly.”

In winter and spring, a group of three to six planes fly to coastal destinations such as Half Moon Bay, Eureka or Monterey. In summer and fall, the 99s take long weekends flying to Colorado, Mexico or Alaska.

The motto of the Marin 99s, “Women Flying with a Passion,” extends to reaching out to communities in need. “After the recent tornadoes, I made contact with a woman in Alabama and through the network of the 99s, I was able to put together a relief effort that collected a week's worth of supplies and clothing,” says Pickett. “After Hurricane Katrina, we sent 484 packages to a shelter.”

Eager to share her love of flying and educate young women about aviation, Pickett contacted Petaluma area Girl Scout leaders to invite their troops to tour the Petaluma Municipal Airport and learn about aviation careers as part of Aviation Week in March.

The outreach to the Girl Scouts resulted in 37 girls at all levels of scouting touring the airport, watching demonstrations and having some classroom time on flight science. Pickett even took one of the older cadets flying.

In her presentation, Pickett tells the girls that there are many reasons for becoming a pilot. “I started flying because my husband and I had a love of the national parks and geography. Flying was a way to get to more of these remote places. You get to see the richness of the planet and a broad sense of the footprint of humanity,” says Pickett.

Brenda Verza, leader of a Junior troop of seven Petaluma fourth-graders, says that the meeting was a great opportunity for the girls to learn about all the aspects of aviation, from planning a flight, which includes maintenance and mapping, to actually sitting in Pickett's plane and touching the instrument panel and talking on the radio.

The Marin 99s plans to continue their aviation education through one-on-one programs with Girl Scout Cadets who are typically 12 years old. The girls will be able to earn an aviation badge.

Currently, only 6 percent of pilots are women. Pickett emphasizes that now is a particularly good time for young women interested in flying to become pilots because many commercial pilots are reaching 65, the mandatory age for retirement, so there will be increased demand for pilots coming through the ranks.

Pickett says that anyone who is interested should contact the Petaluma Municipal Airport, which she says has a wonderful community of pilots, and talk to people in flight school.

“Also, get in touch with the 99s. All of us are dedicated to mentoring and promoting any woman's interest in flight,” she said.

More information about the organization is available at

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