Women in Aviation International, not just for women aviators anymore

  • Published
  • By Maj. Shelly Funk
  • 336th Air Refueling Squadron
I had the opportunity to attend the 23rd-annual Women in Aviation International Conference, March 7-10, in Dallas, Texas with my co-workers Captains Jennifer Boman and Kim Link. The first conference, held in 1990, boasted an attendance of 150. This year more than 3,000 people showed up.

The first thing I noticed about the conference was the diversity. There were airline suits, flight suits, business suits, jogging suits, leisure suits; high heels, low heels and lots of shiny boots. Anyone in or interested in the aviation industry was welcome and it seemed in attendance. The farthest attendees came from WAI chapters in Nigeria and China.

There was an amazing feel of camaraderie throughout the aviation field. There were military and civilian pilots, navigators, aerospace engineers, maintainers, controllers, and medivac, as well as representatives from airlines, the FAA, colleges and universities, professional organizations. Also in attendance were vendors, entrepreneurs, students and scholarship recipients, women who teach counter-terrorism to the airlines, do the books for Boeing, and even a few precious Women Air Service Pilots who flew in WWII.

Military services and universities sent recruiters to answer questions from potential members. Scholarships were awarded by the organization. Some employers were accepting resumes for pilots and maintainers right on the spot. One major carrier gave away an aircraft and two engines to deserving colleges. The MediFlight air evacuation team even managed to get an actual Bell helicopter into the exhibition hall!

The highlight of the conference was the keynote speaker, Z. Nagin Cox, who works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. Her presentation on the Mars Exploration Program fascinated an audience of 2,000 people and gained her instant aviation celebrity status. Halfway through her slide show of the outer solar system and Martian landscapes, we were ready to turn in our wings for desk jobs at JPL! She received a standing ovation and was immediately swamped by admirers. So we were surprised and thrilled when she showed up in the front row of the "Women in Combat" seminar, which consisted of a panel of Air Force Reservists including our three pilot representatives from March!

The best part about Women in Aviation is that it's open to everybody. That includes, you, gentleman readers. Ten percent of its membership is men.

Apparently the U.S. Coast Guard already knew this, because they had the largest number of flight suits at the conference -- and about a third were men!

Does Coast Guard come to mind when you think of aviation? Isn't aviation our (Air Force) territory? Let's outnumber them next year!

The 24th Annual International Women in Aviation Conference will be held at the Opryland Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee, from March 14-16, 2013. For more information, visit www.wai.org.