‘Women Take Flight’ event inspires girls to set their sights high

By Brenda Sullivan - ReminderNews
Windsor Locks - posted Thu., Nov. 7, 2013
Jacqueline Senez and her 4-year-old daughter Natalie have fun at a flight simulator at the New England Air Museum’s ‘Women Take Flight’ event. In the background are her daughter Briana and friend Kira. Photos by Brenda Sullivan.
Jacqueline Senez and her 4-year-old daughter Natalie have fun at a flight simulator at the New England Air Museum’s ‘Women Take Flight’ event. In the background are her daughter Briana and friend Kira. Photos by Brenda Sullivan.

If there was one clear message conveyed by the New England Air Museum’s "Women Take Flight" event, it was that the sky’s the limit when it comes to the careers – and adventures – women can enjoy in the world of aviation.

Careers represented at the Nov. 3 event ranged from a record-breaking balloonist to a Navy helicopter pilot who flew supplies into combat zones.

Some of the women saw themselves from a young age behind the controls of an aircraft, whether a glider, a seaplane or a Boeing jet – or even behind the lens of a camera, flying around the world. In many cases, they were among the first women to break into these careers.

Others discovered their dream and the confidence to pursue it in their 40s and 50s.

This never-say-never attitude was most dramatically demonstrated to hundreds of youngsters at the event by 30-year-old Jessica Cox, who, in 2008, entered the “Guinness Book of World Records” as the first armless person in aviation history to earn a pilot’s certificate.

Cox flies a 415C Ercoupe – using her right foot to hold the yoke (steering wheel) and the left to operate the pedals. A documentary about her life is currently in production. http://www.rightfooted.com/movie

Today, she travels the world, encouraging young people and adults to embrace their differences and persevere in achieving their dreams.

"When we say we ‘can’t’ do something, we can’t – when we say that, it becomes real. That’s why those two words don’t exist in my vocabulary," said Cox, who holds a license that allows her to drive any vehicle without specialized controls, has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do (she wields nunchucks with her feet), surfs, holds a degree in psychology and recently, married the man she loves… she tied the knot with a wedding anklet.

While telling her story, Cox demonstrated one of the first tasks she taught herself using her feet – tying her shoelaces – which is where her signature motto, “Thinking Outside the Shoe,” comes from.

"I knew on that day in the playground I was going to have to do it differently," she said. Instead of putting on the shoe and tying the laces ‘bunny ear’ style, she tied the laces first and then slipped her foot into the shoe. This technique would also work when, as an adult, she began flying lessons and had to strap herself into the pilot’s harness… connect the straps first and then slide under them.

Being aloft has also been a dream come true for aeronaut Kathy Wadsworth, who fell in love with ballooning after meeting someone in 1974 who was about to attempt crossing the Atlantic in an Aerostat. Six years later, she had her own company and would find herself flying over the Andes.

Asked what her most exciting experience has been, Wadsworth laughed and said, "There are too many ‘most exciting’ experiences in 34 years of flying."

"I’ve had a fantastic life because of ballooning," Wadsworth said. She added that taking people up in a balloon is always exciting. "It’s like sharing a new experience every time you go up," she said.

In the same way, one of the best experiences of being a Navy helicopter pilot is being part of a team, said Elisa Raney, who served 25 years in the military, including flying "bombs, bullets and dried potato flakes" into combat zones during Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

She credited her father, who worked for NASA, for supporting her dreams. "I was always interested in aviation, and my dad raised me to believe little girls can grow up to be astronauts, so there was never a doubt in my mind."

Among other guests at this event were representatives of magnet schools with a focus on science and technology, a group called Girls with Wings, members of a race team for The 99s – International Women Pilots Organization, the Society of Women Engineers and the author of “Military Fly Moms.”

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