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Girl Geeks Fly it Forward!

Where to next? Cockpit photo.

As we posted last week, it’s Women in Aviation Week this week, and thanks to the Fly it Forward program put on by Waterloo Wellington Flight Centre and the Breslau Flyers/COPA 26 (COPA is the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association), Girl Geeks in the Region were offered the opportunity to take a free small aircraft flight. How could we say no?

Photos here for the impatient.

As a side note, when I was little (aged 4-8) my family lived on Riverbank Drive, a little over 3km from the airport. My Dad, brother, and I would regularly take the dog for a walk from our place out to Breslau airport, as we called it then (not much more than a shed and a runway) and watch planes coming and going. Then Mom would drive out and get us to take us home. We moved north when I was 8, so I didn’t see the airport for a long time. Imagine my amazement to return to the Region years later and see what it had grown into.

As a result, I really wanted to check out what the airport was like now, and also what our Region was like from the air. When I was a kid, not only was the airport undeveloped, so was the area around it, which is no longer the case (as you’ll see in the photos). And with all this talk locally of urban growth, planning for the future, transit systems, etc., I wanted to see from another angle just what we’re working with, and toward. I was not disappointed.

Things kicked off at Waterloo Wellington Flight Centre (WWFC) yesterday afternoon with a brief press conference to share how Women in Aviation Week got started and how WWFC has gotten involved. Things began last year on a smaller scale, though they did fly 517 women and girls in 2013. This is extra amazing when you consider that they did that in ONE DAY (Saturday) and the weather wasn’t great. They were the third busiest airport in the world flying for that program, and the other airports participating had been doing flights all week.

Fantastic – no wonder WWFC has won an award for being the most female-friendly airport. Can’t wait to hear their numbers for this year.

Our hosts were Maureen Dennie, who was the brains of the operation, and who extended the invitation to local Geek Girls; Nanette Jozwiak, retired commercial pilot for Air Canada and continuing mentor and advocate for women in aviation; Gord Miller of the Breslau Flyers/COPA 26, assisting with logistics and those little details, like providing planes and pilots; Julie Phillips, COO of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Waterloo Region, members of which took a number of flights last year; and Kelly Steiss, project coordinator for the KW Princess Project, also encouraging girls to come out and fly.

There are LOTS of events going on this week at WWFC, so be sure to check it out! Girls and women can register for their free flights all week, and we also highly recommend attending the Talk Show this evening, to hear from some amazing women. Speakers include an Air Canada pilot, an aeronautics engineer, and an 11-year-old pilot-to-be, one of the big success stories from last year (she used to be afraid of flying).

So, to the skies! 🙂 After the press conference we went upstairs to sort out paperwork and for our pre-flight briefing from Alex, one of the student pilots at WWFC. Mostly common sense. Sit still and don’t touch things were the most important parts. Then we headed downstairs to get organized for our flights. The pilots, Ektaa and Jacqui, did their assorted pre-flight work, including weight calculations on us passengers to determine who needed to fly when and where. (Flying in small aircraft has no place for vanity…)

When all was ready we headed out onto the tarmac to meet our plane and have a quick photo op. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, though certainly quite brisk. We got ourselves situated in the plane, a four-seater Cessna (172, I believe). Agnes took shotgun, and I had the backseat to myself. After Ektaa did all her checks and prep, we headed down to our runway… then briefly paused to sort out a technical issue with Agnes’ headset. Minutes later, however, we taxied briefly, and then were off!

Waterloo Region from the air

The flights are a five-mile circuit at 3000 feet, and go for about 20 minutes. You see an amazing amount of the Region in that time. Ektaa said the best time of year for flights is the fall, since you get to see all the colours, and things are still green, but I thought the shadows, shapes, and monochrome of late winter was really striking, too.

We started off heading up to Waterloo, passing assorted towns and villages on the way, like Conestogo, Elmira, and Ayr. After flying around Waterloo we headed to Kitchener, and then down to Cambridge. After Cambridge we swung around to head back to the airport. The visibility was amazing, and you could even see shadowy outlines of Toronto’s skyline in the distance at times. I split up my time between gawking and grinning, snapping pictures, and tweeting and Facebooking a couple (tweeting from 3000 feet – had to be done…) The flight was remarkably smooth for such a tiny plane.

The descent back to the airport was really cool, as we just kept getting closer and closer to things on the ground, but being in the backseat I had no idea where the runway might be. Landing was smooth, and we only had to wait a few seconds before heading back to plane “parking”. Agnes asked Ektaa, our pilot, how she got into flying. Apparently her dad was in the military, and while he didn’t fly, he was a paratrooper and jumped out of planes. She thought that was cool, though staying IN the plane would be cooler. And the rest is history.

An amazing experience, and HIGHLY recommended, especially for kids. Huge thanks to Maureen and the rest of the team out at WWFC for making Fly it Forward for Women in Aviation Week 2014 possible. Register now for your own flight this week and spread the word!

Check out the rest of the photos from the experience here.

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