Local pilot invites women to try flying for free

Local pilot invites women to try flying for free

(Natalie Crofts/KSL)

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TOOELE — Only about 6 percent of pilots in the U.S. are female, but a local man is working with an international organization to help to change that.

Pilot Patrick Wiggins volunteers with Women of Aviation Worldwide to take girls on their first flight for free — and gives them the controls. In the past two years, he has taken about 50 girls and women up for their first flying experience.

"I've never been in an airplane before, so it was cool that on my first time I got to fly it," said 16-year-old Katie Gale, who flew with Wiggins Saturday.

As NASA's solar system ambassador to Utah, Wiggins is most well-known for being an astronomy buff. However, he said his first love is flying. He is mostly retired now, but was in the air force for 26 years and started flying in 1969 when he took lessons at an airport off base. After returning from serving overseas, he picked the lessons back up to earn various licenses and become a flight instructor.

Wiggins discovered the Women of Aviation Worldwide campaign online and wrote to the organization saying he would be more than happy to help, even though he only has one X chromosome. The organization's main push is during March, but Wiggins does the flights year-round, depending on weather. He described himself as being "but a tiny cog in a very vast machine."

"Any excuse to get up in the air is a good one for me, so if anyone wants to go flying let me know," he said. "I'm not entirely joking about that. Sometimes I'll say that and people will go 'Oh, ya, sure,' and I think they don't think I'm serious, but then suddenly I'm showing them a fight schedule and telling them how to contact me."

The flights take place during the day at the Tooele Valley Airport when the weather is good. In order to qualify for the program, participants need to have never flown a plane before.

While the focus of the campaign is to get more girls in the air, Wiggins said he "doesn't discriminate" and will take boys up as well. Participants under the age of 18 have to bring a parent to the airport with them.

Photo credit: Natalie Crofts/KSL

"There is a lot of talk of an upcoming pilot shortage where the airlines and such may be having trouble finding pilots, so we like giving this little freebie and taking them up flying, and hopefully they'll like it enough that they might follow up and take lessons, and who knows, end up wanting to be a professional pilot someday," he said.

After the flights, almost everyone shows interest in learning more, according to Wiggins. He hasn't been participating in the program long enough for any of the girls to have had enough time to earn a commercial license, but several have started lessons.

Wiggins said one of his favorite flights was with a girl who was 9 or 10 years old. She was bouncing in her seat the entire time and wanted Wiggins to try various maneuvers. He adapts each flight to the level of his co-pilot.

"I've had people take the airplanes off, I've had people land the airplanes, I've had people do turns and the whole thing," he said. "Different people have different levels of comfort, shall we say. Some people, as a matter of fact, are perfectly happy to sit there and look out the window and I'm happy with that."

Lilly Hearle, 20, and Shelly Gale, 20, were part of the group that flew with Wiggins Saturday. They would like to try and get a pilots license if they can find a way to fund lessons. Allysa Gale, 24, said she and her cousin Katie Gale were laughing through their flight.

Photo credit: Natalie Crofts/KSL

"It was pretty scary to go up there, especially when you sit down and feel the plane move, but after being up there for a few minutes it's a lot of fun and you forget about it," Shelly Gale said.

Those who are interested in participating in the program can contact Wiggins by emailing 4099wiggins@gmail.com. A GoPro video of a flight with Wiggins can be viewed on KSL.com's YouTube channel.

"Women can fly just as well as guys can and there have even been a few studies, I hate to admit it, that (say) when it comes to stress and things like that, sometimes the women handle it better," he said. "So let's get both genders in the cockpit and up in the airplane."


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