WAI 2022: Enriching, encouraging and enlightening

A Lufthansa ERJ-190 pilot who previously flew the 737 and the legendary Queen of the Skies, the 747.

A former flight attendant who is now pursuing her pilot’s license and intends to fly helicopters with law enforcement.

An author who fought to ensure her grandmother — and other members of the WASP — received equal recognition at Arlington National Cemetery.

A U.S. Navy pilot who flies the SH-60 Seahawk — the naval version of the Army UH-60 Black Hawk.

A former U.S. Air Force Thunderbird pilot and the first woman to fly the T-7 Red Hawk.

Me and Caroline “Blaze” Jensen. She used to fly with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team, and last year became the first woman to fly the Boeing T-7 Red Hawk trainer. I attended a virtual session with her a few months back as part of a leadership program I’m in at Boeing, and jumped at the chance to meet her.

These are just a few of the incredibly smart, kind and inspiring women I met at this year’s International Women in Aviation Conference — and that doesn’t even touch on the dozens of industry colleagues I mixed and mingled with at the Exhibit Hall, which featured more than 100 exhibitors including airlines, manufacturers, military branches, schools and more.

Over the course of three days, I attended a number of leadership and educational seminars. All of them were so enlightening, but very different in terms of content and tone. One of them was on flight test, and another was on resiliency. One featured a former astronaut and two U.S. Space Force guardians, and another talked about the early (and I mean early!) history of women in aviation, including balloonists in the 1800s.

During the conference’s opening general session, there were some very, very powerful speakers, including Niloofar Rahmani, the first female fixed-wing pilot for the Afghan Air Force. With the support of her parents, Rahmani went against all odds to follow her dream of flying in war-torn Afghanistan. But after receiving death threats from the Taliban — not just against her, but against her family — Rahmani moved to the United States where she was granted political asylum. She has since learned to fly the C-130. Also during that session, we all stood for the Ukrainian National Anthem. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was misty-eyed.

I feel very fortunate to work in this industry. While it’s unthinkably large, it feels so very small. As a lifelong introvert, aviation has helped me to break out of my shell over the course of the last several years. It’s equally as comforting as it is exhilarating to be in a room full of people who you know share your passion. And it makes it that much easier to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger, because you know within a few seconds they won’t feel so “strange.”

I’m grateful to have been able to attend this year’s conference in Nashville, Tennessee, and look forward to sustaining these new friendships and putting into practice the many lessons I learned.

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