“What on earth do you want a ladies group for? If a bunch of blokes set that up, you lot would be hollering and shouting about sexism! I just don’t know what you want from it.”
A valid point, I thought. The comment got me thinking. What was this new Women in Microlighting Facebook group meant to do for any of us women pilots?
Set up a few months ago by the BMAA, initially it didn’t feel like it was anything more than yet another Facebook group. But as the posts grew, and the numbers swelled – to include more than a sprinkling of gentlemen pilots too – the chat became more, and more interesting. It was now a place to post your achievements, and one to find a chorus of approval and encouragement.
Now I could answer the first question. And my answer would be, It is very daunting being alone out there in the flying world, and that is what most of us women pilots are – a lone voice in a club of men. And however polite, encouraging and supportive they are – and almost all of them are, certainly once you have your wings – they just aren’t the same as you. Of course we are all different, but I have found looking around and seeing what other women are achieving an incredible encouragement.
It’s a bit like being at gym, and the instructor is counting down the seconds as you hold that plank. Every bit of your body is yelling at you to give up right now but knowing that a bunch of other girls – again with a sprinkling of guys – are also in this with you, and they are sticking it out, helps with that countdown. If they can do it, I can too. And then you all collapse afterwards.
Don’t underestimate how challenging it is being so visible as a pilot. I once did a radio call check from Brookmans Park, a good few miles from home. My airfield and the guys in the air responded, but so did flying friends much further afield. I had done it properly, with the aircraft callsign, but at least two of the replies were, “Hi Nushin, read you five at Old Warden!” and the same from Stoke. I didn’t have a clue who I was thanking. James gets told by friends further north that they hear me “Leaving for the Wist”, in my Saffrican accent, all the time. Yes, think about that. They don’t say they hear him, because he is one of many. But calling on the radio as a woman, you don’t really blend with the static.
I did have fun the other day though. Membury is obviously a busy club and has been on the airwaves a lot in the past year or so, and I have always taken pleasure in hearing another woman calling in the air. Imagine my delight when I met her at Popham. “Next time I hear you on the radio, I’m going to just say, “Hi Cath! It’s Nushin!” Well, coming back on a long and bumpy flight from East Kirkby, I had that chance. No callsigns. I could do it too!
Your easyJet captain may well be a woman nowadays, but even I was surprised to see the visual representation of the gender graphics for non-commercial pilots. Think of a clockface, and a slice about the thickness of a minute. That’s the group that needs to grow, if we are all to be flying in years to come.
So now we have a little virtual club of women who are doing all manner of daring stuff and loving it. They go further than I would dream of, they get through tricky radio journeys, they fly in wild weather, they take their kids up without thinking about it, they fly different aircraft. It’s wonderful to experience. And when I am feeling discouraged, or like I don’t have the stuff it takes to make a pilot, or that I have wasted too many hours just getting to the water tower and back, I go to that virtual clubhouse and listen to someone’s pleasure in this amazing sport. And then I figure, if they can do it, I can too. And I plot a new route in the hope the weather will be flyable tomorrow.
Come and join us in our virtual club and celebrate how fast it is growing.