Aviation women gather in Wanaka
NZAWA patroness Rhona Fraser and Trish Stephens head off for a flight.
History has shown that New Zealand women have never been afraid of breaking new ground or leaving their mark in a traditionally male dominated world. Whether it be by changing the way we vote, making record-breaking flights across the globe or by being great role models for their nearest and dearest, Kiwi women have helped shape our nation.
Women in non-traditional roles (both vocational and recreational) are definitely more common today and are more readily accepted, thanks to those who blazed the trail for us all.
Aviation is a field where women have always been a minority, but recent times have seen some changes in the number of young women taking to the skies. Just look at your local flight training school and almost certainly there will be female instructors and students.
Over Queen’s Birthday Weekend the annual gathering of the New Zealand Association of Women in Aviation (NZAWA) was held at beautiful Wanaka. This was the 53rd time this group has come together for a time of friendship, flying and fun, but after all these years this flock of women pilots still has the same focus and they all look forward to meeting up with friends old and new.
This year was the first time I had been to a NZAWA rally and I had the pleasure of taking my younger daughter Olivia with me. She has just gained her PPL in our Piper Cub and was keen to meet up with everyone.
The great thing about this group is the diverse range of people who make up its membership. There are those who have led the way for the youngsters joining today, and a few of them are foundation members and are still enjoying the rallies today. These are very special ladies who have touched so many with their warmth, experience and their love of flying.
I was delighted to finally meet some of the women I have heard of for so many years and never met. They had lovely stories and memories to share, and I look forward to meeting up again next year. These foundation members still help guide the group in the spirit with which it first formed.
Some of the members are our most experienced women airline pilots, some were at the start of their flying careers, others have had a long enjoyment of recreational flying and still more were just fresh to the delights of being a pilot.
The diversity of experience was matched by the range of aircraft flown by them. If it had wings or a canopy of some description and could fly, there was someone in the group who flew it. This was evident on the Saturday when the Wanaka airport community opened its hangar doors and many members took advantage of the chance to fly something new. There were helicopter flights, Pitts Special aerobatic flights and the chance to fly a Tiger Moth, while members enjoyed taking one other for rides.
Saturday was also competition day and, despite a very gloomy forecast, Wanaka produced great flying weather. With trophies on offer for every aviation discipline and all experience levels, there was something for everyone.
After a busy and entertaining day at the airfield everyone gathered for the evening at the Edgewater Resort. Saturday night is traditionally full of entertainment and is skit night. The theme of this year’s rally was “River Deep, Mountain High”, which produced some very inventive costumes and hilarious skits. Tina Turner (aka Sue Telford) was in attendance and set the mood for the evening. The entertainment continued as the dancers amongst us boogied the night away to music by Ivan Krippner.
What a great end to a fantastic day!
The bad weather forecast for Saturday arrived during the night and we woke to thunder, rain and strong winds, a chance to sleep a little later and gather for the AGM. This is always an important part of any organisation and it was great to see so many present and having their say at the meeting. It was decided that the 2014 NZAWA rally will be held at Dargaville, a popular choice.
In the afternoon we all had the pleasure of listening to two inspirational women tell us about their journeys into aviation.
Firstly we learned a lot about the finer points of ballooning from Pauline Hickey of Hamilton. Pauline is a very experienced balloon pilot and took part in last year’s World Hot Air Balloon Champs in Michigan, USA, making her the first woman from New Zealand to compete at world level.
She described how challenging but rewarding the experience was and how much she gained from being able to compete at this level. Pauline has overcome the major challenge of breast cancer to compete and continue with her ballooning goals, including recently setting a New Zealand women’s ballooning altitude record of 11,409ft. She went on to educate us all about the technical side of launching and flying a hot air balloon. There will probably be quite a few women giving ballooning a go after meeting Pauline.
We also listened in awe to Capt Christine Walsh from The Boeing Airplane Company. Christine is the deputy chief pilot of the B737 and B737MAX programmes and part of the B787 flight test team. With a BSc in Aerospace Engineering and an MBA to her credit, she trained as a pilot and rose with remarkable speed through the pilot ranks at Boeing.
She is an Associate Fellow with the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and worked on industry task forces with the FAA, JAA and ICAO with regard to fatigue risk management and human factors. Her engineering expertise, her passion for flying and her tenacity have led to the remarkable career she has today.
Christine shared her warmth, compassion and humour with us all throughout the weekend and to say that she inspired us is an understatement. It is hard to imagine what her life must be like, as it is so far removed from our own; however Christine enjoyed our weekend with the same enthusiasm as the rest of us.
With the weather still raging outside, many took the opportunity to have a little snooze before the main presentation dinner. We were in for a real treat, as the venue this year was the Wings and Wheels Museum at Wanaka airport. We arrived to find beautifully laid tables amongst the stunning collection of vintage cars and aircraft.
The NZAWA has a fantastic collection of trophies, and with due ceremony these were presented to their worthy recipients by Christine Walsh. A glance over the names on the oldest trophies reads like a who’s-who of New Zealand women in aviation.
There was also a moment to celebrate significant achievements with the presentation of milestone badges. This year’s recipients were Ann Barbarich (15,000hr), Lee Maisey (10,000hr), Faye Blainey (a visitor from the Australian AWA, 1000hr) and Trish Stevens (1000hr).
The awards were followed by another rally tradition — the garter ceremony. A tray of frilly women’s garters was produced and all the helpful blokes were lined up. Each was required to lift his trouser leg and be “gartered”.
We were treated to fantastic southern hospitality and great food throughout the weekend, and the work put in by the Wanaka organising committee was awesome. It is not for the fainthearted to host a rally with over 80 in attendance from all over the country, and this team did themselves and everyone proud. Everything ran smoothly, they had chosen the perfect venue at the Edgewater and the range of donated prizes and sponsorships was brilliant.
Monday morning brought the arrival of improving weather and those with early flights home from Queenstown left by shuttle, with the remainder gathering for a see-you-next-year breakfast at the hotel before departing. I caught up with Gerald Telford at Queenstown on the following Friday and he said that all the northern women had got away in their aeroplanes by Thursday.
What a great time we had, and thank you to everyone who helped make it happen. As we left, the calls across the carpark were, “See you in Dargaville!”
- Report by Neroli Henwood, photographs by Steve Worley
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