“Girls in Aviation Day” Seeks to Close the Gender Gap in Aviation – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

If you’re leaving town soon, think about your pilot. This person is probably a man. In fact, 95% of all pilots in America are men.

It’s a harsh reality that the daring women of aviation are trying to shatter. Girls in Aviation Day, a special conference to be held in Dallas and around the world next week, aims to attract more women to the skies.

Reach for the heavens

The Escaped Women have been making headlines lately. This week, the first black female pilot of a spaceship took off from Space-X. Over the summer, local aviator Wally Funk, a member of NASA’s so-called Mercury 13, became the oldest person to ever be in space.

It is a story that is played out over the generations.

Funk, from Grapevine, has herself broken the mold of runaway women for the past 60 years. She was the first female aviation safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board and for the Federal Aviation Administration.

Two months ago, NBC 5 covered an evening watch for its trip to space. A room filled with dozens of female pilots from the local chapter of The Ninety-Nines and Women in Aviation International, which are national organizations dedicated to women in the aviation industry.

It was there that we met Deborah Hecker, who has made the accompaniment of women on the run her lifelong mission.

“When you step into a field that is really not traditional, I think you really have to have a strong will and dedication to just persevere and keep going,” she said.

She took a rather unconventional path to the heavens.

“I got a degree in international relations and really didn’t know anything about aviation,” she said. “I didn’t know women could fly. I thought you must have been in the military.

After graduating from Michigan State University, she traveled and eventually accepted a job as a waitress while studying for LSAT. At the time, a friend whose father owned a freight business told her that she should become a pilot instead.

His original road to law school was derailed when this friend offered him a flying lesson for his one-year birthday.

“I was addicted,” she recalls.

Deborah Hecker

After that, she stopped studying law. Through her work as a waitress, she spent years working to pay for more flight lessons and eventually bought her own plane to save money.

“It’s one thing to fly an airplane, but it’s another to understand the mechanics behind an airplane. I had a degree in international relations rather than a science field, but you can study and learn how to do it, ”Hecker said.

It paid off. Her hard work led her to a career in cargo and regional aircraft. Eventually, she made it to the pilot’s seat at American Airlines.

“I feel like our office is the best there is,” she said.

She is now a captain with nearly 30 years of experience to her credit.

“A lot of people are very passionate about aviation at a very young age. Especially if they’ve been exposed to it. I was never exposed to it, but found it later in my life. And I definitely had an amazing career, ”she said.

But it is in the minority in its industry. Of all pilots in the United States, only about 5% are female.

“We have about 750 female pilots at American out of 15,000. But there are still quite a few of us,” she said.

The same is true for other airlines in the United States and in many parts of the world.

“And that really hasn’t changed since the 1970s. Even though we try to promote this as a great and viable career, it still hasn’t really moved the dial,” Hecker said.

But there is an effort to change that through mentors and programs, including the upcoming Girls in Aviation Day – hosted by Women in Aviation International. The idea of ​​”bring your daughter to the conference” originated many years ago and has grown into an annual tradition for the past seven years in Dallas.

Girls aged 8-17 are linked to female role models in various aviation professions. Mentorships are established and dreams are aroused.

In addition to the Dallas event, there will be over 60 other events around the world. During the 2019 conference, they were able to reach 20,000 young women around the world.

Hecker herself has become a star in the WAI Local and National Organization.

She even started the “Keep Flying” aviation scholarship with one of her best friends at United, to encourage young pilots in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. So far, they have offered $ 180,000 in flight training through their connection to WAI.

“It can be a mechanic, a pilot, an air traffic controller, an engineer, an aviation law, a design, a manufacture – the whole aviation career is all encompassing,” she said. “Our job for all of us who are in these areas is to move that dial. And encourage more people to join us.

More people love Sydney Harper. Her love for flying began only at the age of 16 when she was taken on a discovery flight to see if a path in aviation was something she wanted to do.

“Once we got to the top of the clouds it was so beautiful, it was so awesome,” she said.

Sydney harper

Sydney Harper of DFW is on a new journey to become a pilot.

Like Hecker in her early years, Harper said she was addicted to theft. At 19, she already has a private pilot’s license.

“If you had asked me two years ago what I would do after high school, I wouldn’t have told you I would fly planes,” she joked.

She is now part of the American Airlines Cadet Academy, on the way to becoming a commercial pilot one day.

“They aim to help you and take you to the next level. Help you cross safely and make you a great pilot, ”she said.

Harper said she also sees many other girls like her excelling in the program.

“If you’ve got a passion for it, they’re going to work hard and they’re going to get there,” she said. “I’m not going to say you have to like it right off the bat. There are going to be frustrating days. And there are going to be days when you work on a part of something that you’ve struggled with and you finally get it, and you finally understand. And that’s just the greatest feeling.

Look ahead

Hecker says the aviation industry needs more passionate people than ever before.

“As we move forward, we know there will be shortages of pilots, mechanics, engineering and air traffic control,” she said. “Sometimes all it takes is for someone to tell a young woman that they can do it. To put her mind in this space she has the confidence to do it.

And as so many young girls are discovering their potential through groups like Women in Aviation International, the hope is that more people can realize that the sky is literally the limit.

“And that’s not even the case, you can go to space,” Hecker said. “Many of us have an explorer’s heart. And it’s really all about adventure and going to new destinations, seeing what you see from the cockpit. People can see through the side windows, but what we see from the front of the cockpit is pretty amazing.

Deborah Hecker

American Airlines Captain Deborah Hecker.

Girls in Aviation Day

When: Saturday Sept. 25, 2021, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Or: Memorial Air Force National Aviation Education Center at Dallas Executive Airport (5657 Mariner Dr., Dallas TX 75237)
Cost: To free. Places are limited and reservation / ticket is required. Click here to join. For more information, visit www.waintx.org.


  • 12 practical activities
  • Flight simulators
  • Air Force, Dallas Police Department (Helicopter), Trainer Aircraft, and Personal Aircraft / GA Aircraft on Display
  • 14 exhibitors
  • Special program for high school girls with in-minute mentoring
  • Stock market information
  • Deepening sessions

Girls will not be flying in planes during the event. Each participant will receive a drawstring backpack with the 2021 Aviation for Girls magazine (which has an 8-page detachable section with activities), an aviation section activity, a keychain, a temporary tattoo, a bandana, a sticker and the fun WAI Aviation Girl patch.

“This event will help girls in North Texas discover the exciting careers available to them as engineers, astronauts, aircraft maintenance technicians, pilots, dispatchers, air traffic controllers and dozens of other jobs. within the aviation community, ”said WAI North Texas Chapter President Lauren Featherstone. “The girls will also meet role models from all areas of the aerospace industry and in all
STEM roles in a fun, safe and supportive atmosphere.

Precautions against covid19

  • All volunteers and exhibitors will be masked
  • Masks are encouraged for participants and will be available for children and adults at the door
  • Weather permitting, giant hangar doors will be opened to promote air circulation
  • Weather permitting, the static aircraft display will be outside
  • The facility has specialized air filtration systems in certain areas of the facility

Virtual opportunities

Families can search for virtual opportunities on the event website.

Girls who are unable to attend a Girls in Aviation Day in-person event are welcome to order their free kit with Girls in Aviation Day materials, activities and loot at www.waistore .org.

In 2020, due to COVID, WAI canceled all in-person events and developed the free Aviation For Girls app for children to use at home. The app offers hundreds of hours of interviews, tours, virtual flights and activities. They will be releasing new content on September 25 to celebrate our 7th GIAD. It can be used on a desktop with the link.

Search for Aviation for Girls in your smartphone’s app store or scan the code on the leaflet below:

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