The Air Up There Podcast
Women in Aviation
It's Women's History Month and we're celebrating women in aviation! Before we glide into this episode, can we take a moment to celebrate the amazing women on the FAA podcast team who did all the groundwork to make this episode take flight? *round of applause*
Speaking of gliding and taking flight, the women featured in this episode know all about that and were excited to share their experiences with us. We talked with Lorry Faber, FAA lead test pilot; Marissa and Aerial (how fitting) Colclasure, a mother-daughter glider team; and Shannetta Griffin and Winsome Lenfert, an engineer and a pilot who lead the FAA's Office of Airports.
We celebrate the Bessie Colemans and Amelia Earharts of the world who paved the way in aviation today. This episode features stories of people who paved the way for women, and for everyone, in aviation tomorrow.
Listen in and be inspired. Happy Women's History Month!
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Welcome to The Air Up There, a podcast about the wide world of aerospace. I'm Kenya Williams. Today's episode celebrates women in aviation.
I'm DaiJah Metoyer. The names Bessie Coleman, Amelia Earhart, Willa Brown, and Betty Skelton are familiar if you studied the history of women in aviation. But what about aviation leaders blazing their own trails today? Like the women before them, this episode is all about women making their own history while creating a path for more people to enjoy the thrills of aviation.
That's right. DaiJah! First up, we meet a military pilot turned FAA lead test pilot. She's currently responsible for the team that tests new equipment and emerging technologies to ensure safety for pilots, passengers and people on the ground. Our Kristen Alsop spoke with Lorry Faber to learn about her adrenaline-packed world. She's flown countless aircraft and helicopters, but found a special love for gliders.
So Lorry, how did you even get started with aviation?
Well, I got started in aviation, because I was fortunate enough to go to the United States Air Force Academy, my class graduated 1500 students, and there were only 100 women in that class that graduated.
So you went to the academy, shortly after it was opened up to women to begin with. Right?
That is correct.
So you're a woman in a male-dominated school and now you're being sought after to go flying? What did that kind of what was that experience like?
Well, it was, it was very different. I went to a high school where it was pretty diverse. And women held a lot of leadership positions. And so it just never, I never thought about it before that to go to an institution where the ratio was so high. And for the first time, you know, it was presented to me that women can't go do things. So that was a unique experience in and of itself. Probably the biggest thing I've learned is trying not to focus on the first this or I'm the only female. What you really have to focus on is doing the best job you can do. If you just look at life, about focusing on that and focusing on your passion. That's all that matters. The rest of that whatever other people have, you can't change their opinions. But they you can definitely change how you handle the job and everybody's impression will change with you.
And so for you, you met the qualifications and you got to start flying. What was that like? And what were you flying?
Oh, it was great. So the first aircraft I got to fly while I was at the Academy was a glider. And I always tell folks, that was probably the most enjoyable experience I actually had because you have no motor. Basically I get towed up by another airplane tows me up into the air. So I like imagining when you see you know a tow truck, pulling a car or even on you know, if you go waterskiing, you see it being pulled behind a boat. Imagine the other airplane, basically with a rope tied to you know, basically tied to another airplane that has no motor and picks you up off the ground and you try to fly behind it. And at some point, it lets you go and you basically sail your way down back to back to the runway. But it was just it's very peaceful. It was really very interesting. And the control you know, when you finally fly with something motorized after that you feel the pressure and the inertia of the forces of the engines itself and the motor, but this is you're just dealing with basic physics. It's just a wonderful experience. I flew other, you know, basic trainer fixed wings for the Air Force. And eventually I went into helicopters after that. And at the time, because the combat laws were still prohibiting women to fly into combat zones. I flew a utility helicopter known as the Huey. And that was the kickoff of Desert Storm. And so I spent quite a bit of time flying a lot of the main generals back and forth to the Pentagon. So I had a lot of unique roles during the war that even though I wasn't in the war zone. Later on, I went into test pilot program and did a lot of test support. And basically while I was there, the combat laws got lifted from the Clinton administration. So I once again I got sought after and calls came. Hey, are you interested in flying some combat helicopters? And I definitely would be interested. It was something I had look forward to doing. And from there, I flew pave hawks, I began to do combat search and rescue. We traveled everywhere. And I had some very unique missions while I was over there. President Bush, Sr. came out and I actually got to fly him around while he was there. And he was an honest to God gentleman, but he went out of his way to actually meet me before I flew him because he was honest. He himself being a World War II veteran, he said I've never had a woman pilot and flying aircraft for me in my life. So I said I had to meet you face to face because I never thought I would see this day. It was precious. And then afterwards he you know, told me what a great job and if I wanted anything and I said yeah, I'd like a picture with you and my crew. He said, oh absolutely. And so it was, it was definitely an enjoyable experience.
It's quite impressive, honestly. I mean, you think about your career so far, and you go from a place where women can't even fly, supposedly, right, to flying the President of the United States and being in combat. How does that feel for you as a woman?
Well, I, you know, I looked at it more like as a feel for me as a person. But I'm very proud. I'm very proud, I'm very fortunate. But I think the, the driving force about everything is if you have a passion for something, you really, you can't let negativity get in your way you have to, but you also have to be patient and wait. And you have to remember that life's a lot about timing. And, you know, some things are going to be good, and some things are not going to be so good. And you have to realize that's part of life. And you have to always be prepared; you can't stop studying, you can't stop practicing, it is, there's always so much more to learn. So it is something I keep pursuing and practicing and looking for the next adventure. And with that, I think that's why I have such great fortune of pursuing my dreams.
What kind of advice do you give girls who may not even know that they want to get into aviation like yourself? You know, you didn't have a strong desire to get into aviation as a kid. But here you are.
Sure, one of the things that people don't understand when it comes to flying is that you're learning while you're physically moving. And everything's a decision maker; you just, it's not like a car, you can't pull over to the side of the road and say, Okay, let's talk about what happened. No, you're in the air in the, you know, there is no zero airspeed. So you have to kind of realize that everything you do has a consequence, and you can't go backwards; you have to constantly what they call be ahead of the airplane. And that phrase alone is kind of mystifying if you've never flown, so you have to almost think ahead as to what's the next thing that's going to come? What's the next thing that's going to come? And if you've played a lot of team sports, a good example is soccer. You know, you're running down with the ball down the field. Okay, where's my next pass going to be? Okay, where is my, my wing on? You know, who's on my left? Who's on my right, and somebody is also attacking you at the same time? Where are my openings to move? So that type of a skill is well practiced in a fast paced team sport.
So we should be recruiting more athletes?
Yes. Well you don't have to be a stud, you just have to understand the concept.
The work you do is so important. And I just kind of want to reflect again, and consider, you know, where you started, and the fact that you weren't even allowed to go into combat at first or perhaps even fly to now that you are the lead test pilot with the FAA, how does that feel?
You know, it's interesting, I don't, I don't really reflect on it as much I'm, I'm more concerned about everybody else, and what we do than I am and I think that's a big piece when I, you know, was younger, I think I worried about where I was gonna go or how I was going to be treated and how and like I said, if you focus on the work, you focus on each other, and how we're going to get there, I think you learn that the other piece of it is just not that just not that important as much as reaching your dreams. Focus on the job you're doing, and the next job will come. Figure out what it takes to be excellent. And it's a lot of sacrifice; it's not easy. So you have to figure out what you like to do, what you want to do and what you're good at. And the three things together will be really about reaching your dreams and your goals. I can definitely see the changes in our environment over the years. And I look around and I think diversity is just a wonderful thing. And I think it adds so much to the mix of that collaboration, which makes the work environment so much fun in all facets of life.
Thank you so much for joining me today and talking about your career and inspiring that next generation of women to consider a future in aviation.
Well, thank you very much for having me. And I hope this motivates any, I would say everybody out there who's listening regardless of being a woman or not that if you're interested in aviation or flying, to please pursue it.
Wow! From not being allowed to fly in combat to flying a former president, Lorry has shown that through persistence and hard work your career can soar. This next mother-daughter pair also holds a special place for the peaceful experience of a glider. Alison Duquette interviews Marissa Colclasure and her 13-year-old daughter Aerial.
With a name spelled like the aerial view she gets while flying, she was destined for a life in aviation. The "barefoot flying mom," as she's known on social media, has been in airplanes since she was born. And she's kept that tradition alive with her four children. In addition to flying with their mom, they attend the Soaring Academy, a non-profit glider flight school where they are surrounded by aviation lovers. The academy's early glider training might be a great way to begin a flying career.
We're looking at your social media, so I thought we'd start there, because you had a really great quote. I think it was on your Instagram account that I wanted to just share with our audience. You say, the sky isn't the limit to your dreams. It's the beginning. So I thought that was a great jumping point off for us to talk about what got you into flying, what you fly, how you ended up sharing your experiences with your daughter, Aerial. So Marissa, why don't you tell us a little bit about how long you've been flying and kind of how you got started?
Yeah, absolutely. Well, first of all, thanks so much for having my daughter and I here today. I've been flying for almost 20 years, and I grew up around aviation, was in an aviation family. So it wasn't abnormal to go to the airport on the weekends and take to the skies and you know, a little single-engine airplane. So there's just a lot of great childhood memories with that. And so I think from an early time in my life, you know, I realized that that dreams aren't limited. They're not confined to just your, your own thoughts and way of thinking. So kind of like on the quote that it's a sky isn't the limit; it's the beginning. A lot of times we think that there's like this ceiling to what our dreams can be. And the more you start exploring the sky, you realize how, how much more of it there is, you know, and so I think that that kind of went hand in hand.
Well, you've obviously been a really great influence on your daughter and exposing her to aviation. So was there someone in your life when you started out that was either a mentor or kind of shared their experience with you?
Yeah, my, my Dad flew and so there was a lot of VHS tapes. That was the cool thing back then, at home. And that was in the 80s, too. So it was just you know, any cool movies, you know, like the Disney Flight of the Navigator. Flying was, you know, really prominent, but you know, my Dad always encouraged me to, to fly.
Do you remember the first time he took you up?
I was an infant when he went the first time I went flying? Yeah. But um, I I there's not really a time where I don't remember flying. So it's yeah, it always seemed like a second home.
And Aerial, how about you? Do you remember kind of the first time you went up in an airplane and what that felt like to you?
Yeah, it felt really amazing. It's a really captivating.
Let's talk a little bit about what you fly. Because everybody I think always thinks of oh, you must be flying around in a Cessna or a Piper Cub. But you find something a little different, which is really a great entry into aviation. And that's gliders. And what does that feel and sound like when you're up in a glider?
It's really amazing. You get an adrenaline rush. When you're taking off the way you sit there and you get ready for a flight. And then you take off and you're soaring free. It's really captivating.
It's quiet. So usually so when you're getting towed, you know, behind a tow plane, you do have you'll hear the wind and what not. But then as soon as you release, it gets really quiet. And that's really it just it's magical. Feels like you're on this magic carpet ride kind of it's very peaceful, very serene. I was always intrigued with glider flying.
Would you recommend glider flying for someone who's just starting out or wanting to get into aviation?
Absolutely. Some of the best students I've ever had as a flight instructor were glider pilots. And even the Miracle on the Hudson Captain Sully, he was a glider pilot. I mean, it teaches you great energy management skills and you're always thinking and feeling and I think it helps sharpen your piloting skills.
Now let's talk a little bit about Aerial and Aerial share with us. How old are you?
How long have you been flying with your mom?
Five years. That's really impressive. So what are your plans moving forward? Do you think you will keep flying or would you like to fly other aircraft eventually?
I like flying. I don't think it would become a career eventually. It's a really fun activity. And I'd rather be into something maintenance instead.
She's really mechanical.
I heard that about you. I heard that you are really good mechanically. You like to fix things?
Well, we have some jobs here at the FAA. We call them Tech Ops. They support the air traffic control system. And they are very smart people. And they keep our all the equipment going. So you might want to look into that in the future.
Now, what do your friends think about the fact that you find,
They think it's really cool. It's different from everybody else's activities, and they think that's cool. You know, it's something else.
And it is different, but I think what, it's probably different compared to your friends at school, but there's a huge aviation community out there that loves to share the experience with young people. Have any of your friends ever asked you about it?
This school is a really good place to start. It's very friendly and supportive. You get to fly and learn. And it's a really good place to start.
The school she's at is a nonprofit, Southern California Soaring Academy, and they fly a lot of middle and high schoolers. So there's not a shortage of kids her age there. So what seems kind of what might be abnormal when she's there. It's like there's lots of kids her age, and they're all at different levels of you know where they are, if they're going to solo Aerial still has a ways because of her birthday's in the summertime, she can't solo until she's 14. So it's just it's a really neat way for her to get involved with the community too.
That's great. Now, what's the best part about flying with your mom, Aerial?
It's, it's always fun every single time. We get to travel. It's so freeing. I love it.
It's very freeing. Yes. Obviously, your mom loves flying with you.
Marissa, what's the best part about flying with your daughter?
I think it's the how the seasons change. You know, kids grow up quickly. And when I first started flying with them, they were still somewhat passengers. But I was teaching them little things that you know, was it within their realm, you know, what they could understand. And now they're in the, you know, the pilot's seat learning. Your role as a parent starts changing too the older they get to where you come along beside them. So it's a really neat front row seat of watching that, being there to support them.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our audience? Maybe someone who has never even been up in an airplane?
I would recommend looking into some of the soaring communities and stuff and taking an introduction flight. But yeah, there's lots of scholarships and opportunities available, too.
That's great advice. Well, thank you, Marissa and Aerial, for joining us today on The Air Up There. It's been great talking to you. And I hope you do well. And good luck to you, Aerial, when you solo in the next few months.
Thank you so much for having us here.
It's been great.
It is so great to see Aerial finding a common passion for flying and even exploring the mechanics of aircraft. Finally, we've got a special conversation between our own Shannetta Griffin and Winsome Lenfert. An engineer and a pilot now lead the FAA's Office of Airports. They share their love of aviation and how they are paying it forward for the next generation of leaders.
So really happy to be here. Happy to be here with you Winsome so we can have a little conversation today. So look forward to it.
So Shannetta, how did you get into aviation? How did you come into airports?
You know, that's really a funny story, Winsome, because I think about how I got involved. And really it was by accident, actually. So when I was in high school, I had a career counselor that came in, he brought in a model of a building that was being built right close to my school, my high school and talked to all about architectural, mechanical, electrical engineering, and then started to talk a little bit about the roadways and the bridges and the dike drainage and how the water went into these catch basins. And so I really became more excited about that. But when I decided to go to college, I said, okay, I want to be an engineer, but I really want to be a structural engineer. So I wanted to be the one designing the roads and the bridges. So the first company that I took a job with after college, really I was doing those bridge calculations and it was so monotonous, the same calculations, same calculations, but this company also did small airports, they did some regional airports where they started where they were working on taxiways and runways and all that site development. And so I just asked, Hey, is that something I can learn more about? And so my supervisor gave me an opportunity to do that. And I fell in love really? I mean, it was just because airports and they say all the time airports like mini cities.
Well, it's funny you said that because I actually I started out wanting from day one to be in the aviation industry, I mean, from high school, and I wanted to be an airline pilot. And that's all I wanted to do is fly airplanes. And so I got to college, got into the professional pilot technology program, somebody said, Hey, why don't you get an admin degree because you never know when you're going to lose your medical. So I said, okay, so I added an aviation administration degree, business minor and all that never had a thought that I'd ever use it because I want to fly airplanes. When I graduated, the industry was really not hiring. Unlike today, I would, I would love to be here today. They, we need pilots so bad today, but back then not so much. And so I ended up working a job for the State Department of Transportation, flying aircraft and doing airport inspections. And so after I did that, for a while, I actually got to help write regulations for airport safety for the state and help change Indiana administrative code. And I thought, man, that's pretty cool. I have influence over the safety and operations of airports all over the state. So I ended up getting my master's degree in public administration, and then got on board with the FAA as an airport inspector. And then I was hooked. And I found my love, really, it was aviation safety policy and providing oversight and ensuring that we make sure all passengers maintain safety to their destination. It sounds like both of us were open to those changes in our paths that led us to our passion, and really the careers that make us happy today.
Well, and you know, Winsome, that's exactly right. So as we as women in these positions, and certainly the fact that when you think about aviation, it's come a long way, in regards to opportunities for women, and we want to get more women interested in the aviation field. How do you work to try and get more women just involved in the STEM industry and STEM students and all these things?
It's always being aware that you're a role model and looking for those opportunities. So a few weeks ago, I was actually flying on an airplane, and I saw a young lady and she was wearing this sweatshirt. And it said Federal Aviation Administration drone pilot. And she looked to be about high school, college age and I walked up to her, I said, Hey, I love your sweatshirt. Where did you get it? And she said, off of Amazon. And I said, Wow, that's pretty cool. I didn't know they sold those. But I said, are you interested in aviation? She said, Yeah, I actually, I have my drone pilot operating license and stuff. So I said, oh, that's pretty amazing. I said, you know, talked about what she was going to school for in IT. And I shared with her the FAA's internship programs and talked a little bit about opportunities working for the FAA. And so there was an opportunity that, you know, it wasn't a formal setting, it wasn't a classroom, it was just two people flying through the system and happen to come across each other and, and share that information.
And you've probably heard me say it about what I think my purpose is. And I believe that that's a part of my purpose is giving back and being the first African American female to graduate from the University of Toledo in the College of Engineering. And then even in this position, being the first African American female. But one of the things that I always go back to with that, in that I love this quote, about being the first but making sure you're not the last is really what kind of drives me when it comes to not just women in in this area, but just students across the board. And I get so energized when I'm sitting and talking to students, and just you see their eyes kind of just light up, when you hear about engineering, and you hear about the airplanes, and you hear about the different things. But one thing that I think is important for all of them to realize is that even like you said, you wanted to be a pilot, there's so much more around aviation, than just being the pilot. They can go and work at an airport or in the industry anywhere, and you can still do finance, and IT and, and, and HR and all the things that they go to school for, but they don't really recognize it. Because, again, that point about education and just talking about it is so important. Do you remember when we talked to some of those students in the internship that they were here, and they're excited about what they do and what their opportunities, and now we've hired a couple of them. So, you know, that's, I think that that's a part of what we have to do in our positions because we won't be here forever. And they're our future. We've got to find ways of which to engage and make sure that we're bringing other women that come behind us. You know, this is historical for you and I to be kind of in this space as two women leading this, this, this organization, but how do you feel about the positions that we're in, and the fact that we need to pave the way for the future generation of women in aviation?
So you know, this is always a hard question for me, because I really want to make sure that we're paving the way for everybody who wants to be in aviation. There's so many opportunities in aviation today. And our industry has become so broad in it with new entrants, UAS, advanced air mobility, commercial space. And then just even all the opportunities that we have with our transportation system and our airlines and airports today. And so you really want to make sure that we're paving the way for, for everybody to access. But as the aspect of for women is one is doing my job to my best ability, setting that example, showing that women can do this job, and they can do it very well. And so I think that is, that is number one is, you know, creating that expectation that women can do this. And they're good at it. Right. And that's the first piece. The second piece is that communication piece, I think a lot of it is that young women today don't know about these opportunities. And so it's, it's going to those schools, especially in communities where they're not exposed to this, you know, they've never had an opportunity to go visit an airport; they don't get to travel in the system. So I think, you know, in those two aspects of one educating about, you know, what's available, and two is setting that example, that women can do this job, and they can do it. Well, I mean, you, man, you're breaking barriers all over the place. So I mean, what do you what do you see as that pathway?
Well, you know, I think you hit the nail on the head as to setting the example. You know, I have, I have six brothers. So my example was, you know, we're going out and playing football and basketball and everything else. But I think that what they instilled in me and taught me even as a female with all of them as brothers, it was the example, you know, if I'm going to be around other young girls, what am I going to share with them? You know, and I think about my daughter, and the example that I want to set there. This isn't something that is so far stretching, you know, there's so many opportunities, there's so many things that we can do, but how are we going to one bring people to the table, and then how are we going to make sure that there's anything that's that we're going to do in anything that they want to do that they have the capability to do? Like you say, you can do this job, and you can do it well, or you can do any job and do it well, but they have to have training, they have to have support, they have to have sponsorship, they have to have mentorship; we have to be able to provide that, and we have to be able to show the way that says we're going to give those opportunities. So I think it's really about like you said, we got to have opportunity for everyone because the industry is is lacking, especially when it comes to the engineering or the technical sides. It's lacking. So we want that opportunity for everyone. But young women need to know that these are the types of things they can do. I think you're doing an awesome job of being that example. I want to be an example.
Well Winsome this has been great talking with you today, just kind of sitting just having a conversation. And I hope our listeners have enjoyed it as well, too. So I just asked that we just keep doing what we do as the leaders of the Office of Airports with the FAA, and thank you for working with me every day.
Sounds great, Shannetta. This has been fun.
I love that — You may be the first, but make sure you're not the last. And that's our show for today.
The Air Up There is a podcast from the Federal Aviation Administration. If you liked today's episode, remember to subscribe and share it with someone else. You can find the FAA on social media. We're @FAA on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, and @FAANews on Twitter and YouTube.
On behalf of the entire team of women who produced this episode, we wish you a very happy Women's History Month! Thanks for listening!