TRAVERSE CITY — The aviation industry isn’t a secret, but getting in isn’t always easy.
“It’s not a secret, but if you don’t know anybody in the industry, it’s really hard to figure out how to start asking the questions to figure out what you want to do,” said Kate Hauch, president of the Northwestern Michigan College Chapter of Women in Aviation International.
“We kind of want to make those avenues available — when people have questions, we can point them in the right direction to find the answers,” Hauch said.
One such avenue is Girls in Aviation Day, an event hosted by WAI chapters around the world that’s designed to expose girls 8 to 17 years old to aviation careers such as mechanics, air traffic controllers, airport managers, pilots and engineers, Hauch said.
WAI is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the encouragement and advancement of women in all aviation career fields and interest, according to the WAI website.
Thirty-six girls made their way to NMC’s Aero Park Campus Saturday for WAI’s fifth annual GIAD, she said. This year is the second time the NMC Chapter held the event.
Participants got the chance to pilot a Cessna 172 and UAS — unmanned aerial systems, or drone — in simulators. They also learned about the symbols on aeronautical charts and how the charts are used to navigate; studied the four forces of flight — lift, drag, thrust and weight — and built paper airplanes to see how aircraft design reacts to the forces; learned the phonetic alphabet; and more.
Eden Simkins, 12, of Traverse City, said the drone simulator was her favorite part. For big sister Jubilee Simkins, 13, it was learning how airplanes work.
“I’m going to be working on my pilot’s license,” Jubilee said. “I wanted to learn a little bit more about it.
“I’ve always had an interest in it, but I never realized that, ‘Oh, I could actually become a pilot’ until a couple years ago,” she said.
Jubilee can start training now, but has to wait until she’s 16 to take a solo-flight and 17 to take the practical exam, said Beckie Simkins, the girls’ mother.
When asked if she also wanted to be a pilot, Eden said, “No, I just want (Jubilee) to take me to Paris.”
About 6 percent of commercial and corporate pilots are women, Hauch said. The number of females working in the industry behind the scenes is even smaller — for example, only 2 percent of professional aviation mechanics are women, she said.
It’s not a surprising statistic, Hauch said — she herself was one of two females in a class of 24 when she started at NMC. Hauch graduated NMC in May with an associates degree in aviation flight technology and currently is a flight instructor.
Right now, there’s a huge need for pilots and people are pushing to attract a more diverse population to the industry, she said.
“We kind of just want to let young girls know that this kind of career exists,” Hauch said of GIAD. “We want to let them know that these things exist and we’re here to help them if they need any help.”