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Women guide girls in flight, breaking gender norms

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After a successful five days of camp, the girls are feeling confident and ready to go after a career in aviation.
After a successful five days of camp, the girls are feeling confident and ready to go after a career in aviation.
Photo courtesy of Liz Duca

Preteen girls from across the nation spent a week on campus building their knowledge of aviation.

Fourteen girls between the ages of 11 and 14 moved into Texas State residence halls June 26. While too young for college, they are old enough to participate in PreFlight Aviation Camp. The girls were given the opportunity to explore a career path in aviation through hands-on activities for five days, concluding with an actual flight lesson.

PreFlight Aviation Camp is a nonprofit organization founded by Texas State alumna Liz Duca, PreFlight Camp Director. This is the second year it has been held. The camp is led by five female instructors, or counselors, who had experience in the Air Force and are still active members or airline pilots. The instructors volunteer away from their full-time jobs to inspire young girls to be confident women in flight.

The camp provides meals and board with various activities such as a low ropes course, yoga, simulators and lessons on weather and aerodynamics. The girls get a 30-minute flying lesson with a pilot as well.

Texas State hosted and sponsored the camp. Redbird Skyport, San Marcos’ flight school, lent their facility’s conference space, simulators and control tower for the girls to learn more about and explore.

The flight lesson for the girls was in collaboration with Laterno University and the San Marcos airport. Laterno University has an aviation program located in Texas. A female pilot was sent to teach the girls how to fly one-on-one.

“It was a very exciting experience because I got to learn so many new things,” said one of the campers in an after-camp survey. “I came home with a new dream of becoming a pilot.”

At Texas State, Duca was part of the Air Force ROTC and joined the U.S. Air Force afterwards. It was after her time in active duty she chose to inspire the next generation of female pilots. She reached out to Texas State’s aerospace studies department to be sponsors of the organization she founded.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the number of female pilots has decreased by about 7 percent since 2010. In the U.S., only 6.7 percent of certified pilots are women.

Duca said her inspiration for starting the camp came after learning the statistics of World War II. During this time, the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots was created when there was a shortage of pilots in the air force. Women were trained become the first female pilots in history.

“We have had a low percentage of female pilots for far too long, and these numbers will not increase on their own, especially when a majority of pilots we see are men,” Duca said. “Exposure at a young age is important because it takes one interaction with someone who has done it to see (being a pilot) as an attainable goal.”

Aside from PreFlight, Duca and the other instructors participate in outreach events in other states throughout the year to promote aviation for young girls who may not be able to attend the camp. However, the camp is a very personal experience with a 3-to-1 student to instructor ratio.

This is the first year the organization will start a mentorship program. Camp attendees will be given the option of having a mentor to assist them in their goals as they get older. Duca hopes the girls grow from the camp, and believes experienced mentors can give advice and support to them as each girl moves along her career path.

As a non-profit organization, PreFlight relies on donations to be able to host this event. Half of the girls attended the camp this year through a PreFlight scholarship supported by sponsors. There is limited spacing for the camp. In order to be considered, girls need to complete an online application with an essay.

Kristen Franke, vice president of PreFlight and camp instructor, works with Delta airlines in her everyday job. Franke takes any chance she gets to talk to the youth about pilots and planes.

“We want them to know there is a whole network of professional women as examples, leaders and mentors that can help them to do whatever they want to do,” Franke said. “In a male-dominated field, there aren’t many female role models available.”

Since its first year, the camp has tripled its number of participants. Duca and Franke expect the camp to keep expanding. Eventually, they hope the camp can be offered in different parts of the nation and be ran by a full-time director.

To donate or learn more information about Preflight, visit their website.

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