Just Like A Woman
“You fly just like a woman.”
I am sitting in the left seat of a Piper, somewhere over the beautiful English countryside known as the Cotswolds. On my right is Bob, an experienced pilot and examiner in his early 60’s. He is checking me out for my complex rating. We’ve done circuits, a few different landing configurations, then flown out and up for general handling. I remembered my HASELL checks, managed to get the plane into the stall on my second attempt (something about it still makes me shiver) and I am feeling pretty good about the recovery. The steep turn to the left was a bit of a roller coaster but I was within limits when I turned back onto the straight and level. I didn’t panic during the practice false landing and I could swear I saw his mouth twitch into a smile when I had plenty of time spare for a passenger briefing. I thought it was going well.
His words fill the cockpit and time stands still.
I was no stranger to the attitude that women shouldn’t fly. I did my PPL training in southern Spain which was a unique introduction to Mediterranean machismo.
When I did my cross-country solo, I planned a straight-forward route from Axarquía to Granada, Granada to Almería and Almería back to Axarquía. I’d flown the run a few times and I was feeling quietly confident about it. Granada and Almería both have reassuringly large runways and very little traffic, a perfect combination. Everything went fine for the first leg, then I landed at Almería and strolled in to sort out the landing fee.
A red-faced man fired questions at me in Spanish: was it a private plane? Where had it come from? How long was it staying? A younger man stood nearby with a pad and pen as if ready to take notes if I contradicted myself. It was a bit odd but seemed to be going well until he asked about the pilot.
“That would be me.”
“No, I mean the person that flew the plane,” he said. Perhaps he thought it was a language issue.
“Sí.” I gave him a winning smile. “That’s me. I’m the pilot.”
He frowned. “You?”
“All on your own?”
I could feel the blush creeping up on my face, as if I’d done something wrong. “Yes, alone. Sola. I am the pilot of that plane.”
He stepped passed me and walked over towards the apron, looking out towards the plane, as if I had some able-bodied man hiding beneath the wing, ready to pop out and fly the plane when no one was looking.
I fumed inwardly. I was pretty sure he was airport security and had no business stopping me from getting to Ops. I bit my lip, kept the harsh words from escaping.
He shook his head and stormed out of the room. The young assistant stepped forward to follow him and then stopped, put his hand on my shoulder.
“I think that’s great,” he whispered, then rushed to follow his boss.
I grinned like a maniac all the way home.
So yes, I’d seen it before and I knew that there were men out there that felt women just didn’t belong in the cockpit. It wasn’t such a big deal for me, personally, flying for a hobby as opposed to fighting against a glass ceiling. Still, it pushed me through my PPL, made me strive for more than just competent. I wanted to be good, good enough to erode the stereotypes.
“You fly just like a woman.”
Today is important to me, today I am expecting to become a real pilot. And now this. We’re straight and level. The examiner, who seemed a very nice British gentleman when I met him an hour ago, is looking at me expectantly.
I blink again and promise myself I will keep my cool, whatever happens.
“Pardon?” The word comes out as a whisper.
A smile flashes across his face. “By which I mean, you have bothered to learn the theory of what you are doing rather than just jumping in the cockpit and going through the motions. It’s refreshing.”
“You mean, I passed?”
“Of course you passed! That was great. You need experience, of course, but who doesn’t! I’m utterly confident you will continue to apply yourself like you did today and make a very good pilot. That’s the airfield at your two o’clock, by the way, I want to see a flapless landing.”
I set up for the approach, trying to quell the semi-hysterical laughter bubbling in my throat. I passed! How silly of me, to assume that was an insult. I should know better. Women pilots – after all, it’s not some newfangled idea, just think about Amelia Earhart and Amy Johnson!
As the plane touches down, I allow myself a huge smile. That’s a comparison worth striving towards. I want to fly just like a woman.