I am a female airline pilot. Women airline pilots make up less than 4% of the pilots in the United States and less than 1% if the worlds airline pilots. Unfortunately, that number hasn’t changed much in the past 10 years. I think Princess Awesome is precisely what the girls of the next generation needs! Girls (and the world) need to know that it’s okay to love airplanes, rockets, trucks and trains! It is possible to be anything you want to be, including a princess who flys airplanes!
I’ve had many hurdles on the road to becoming a pilot, mainly because I think society isn’t used to seeing ladies in certain male-dominated professions. After 20 years of flying, I still get mistaken for a flight attendant. Just last night, the lady Uber driver that picked me up from the airport in my full pilot uniform and hat, asked me what it was like to be a flight attendant. Sometimes I even get corrected when I tell people what I do for a living. They ask me how long I’ve been a flight attendant and I say, “oh, I’m a pilot”, and then they swear up and down that I had said “flight attendant” earlier in the conversation.
When I was learning to fly, a man once asked me why I wanted to be a pilot. He then proceeded to say “Women don’t fly. If God had intended women to be pilots, he would’ve made the sky pink and not blue.” I love thinking of all my fellow female aviators when the sunset fills the sky with beautiful pink hues. The sky IS pink!
One of my very first flying jobs was for an aviation insurance firm that owned a small corporate aircraft and they needed a backup pilot. The company immediately sent me up with the head pilot to familiarize me with the aircraft. After a week of flying with him (and barely touching the controls), I asked when he was going to let me land the airplane. He chuckled and said “Women can’t land airplanes! Have you ever seen a woman throw a football?”. Needless to say, I never got to land that little airplane. But I sat quietly (only fuming on the inside) for a year until I got hired on with the airlines.
I’m sure glad I didn’t let that guy stop my pursuit of flight. I’ve never been asked to throw a football while flying, but I was asked to be in a few commercials with Seahawks Quarterback Russell Wilson because of my piloting skills. I’ll let Russell continue to throw the football while I’ll continue to grease my landings!
I have 3 young daughters now. One of my goals is to encourage and support anything they chose to pursue. I really don’t want any of them to forgo a passion simply because it’s not “typical” for girls. I want them to break the mold, just like Mommy, and I hope they are celebrated for doing it!
Erika Walker Jackman is a pilot for a USA-based commercial airline. She has three awesome young daughters.