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Aviation center shows girls sky's the limit (w/video)

By Kathleen Duncan
March 6, 2014 at 6:01 p.m.
Updated March 5, 2014 at 9:06 p.m.

Left to right: Estella Aguirre, 17; Elizabeth Arredondo, 17; Cynthia Resendez, 18; Ariana Ortiz, 17; Samantha Ortiz, 18; and Brittany Wallace, 18,  of Bloomington High School, wait their turn to fly in the Eurocopter EC120 at the Calhoun Air Center at Victoria  Regional Airport. Women of all ages were invited to experience free flights in a helicopter or plane as part of the Fly it Forward  challenge during Women of  Aviation Worldwide Week.

If You Go

• WHAT: Free flights

• WHEN: Through Sunday, weather permitting

• WHERE: Calhoun Air Center, 276 Hangar Drive South, Victoria

• HOW: Call 361-575-2359 to make flight reservations.

• For more information, visit calhounaircenter.com or facebook.com/ calhounaircenter.

"Oh my God! Oh my God!" "When we tipped down ..." "I know!" "I was sitting in front. It was so scary!"

Cynthia Resendez, 18; Elizabeth Arredondo, 17; and Brittany Wallace, 18, yelled to each other in excitement over the whirring of helicopter blades as they stepped off the Eurocopter EC120 at the Calhoun Air Center at Victoria Regional Airport on Thursday.

The girls were three of 62 girls and seven staff members from Bloomington High School who flew in a plane or helicopter as part of the air center's participation in the Fly it Forward challenge during Women of Aviation Worldwide Week.

The flights are offered through Sunday and are open not just to schools but to women of all ages in an effort to encourage diversity in aviation.

Jasmine Gordon of the Calhoun Air Center said that only about 6 percent of pilots nationwide are women.

"We're hoping to really inspire them by not only letting them fly, but by letting them experience it with a female pilot. Seeing that female pilot fly a helicopter or a jet, that's important. Most of these girls haven't had an opportunity like this before," she said.

As part of the challenge, employees at the center are hoping to get at least 650 women of all ages into the air from local schools and communities this week. They are flying with students from Palacios, Bloomington, Victoria and Calhoun County.

James Pieper, principal of Bloomington High School, said this is Bloomington High School's first year to participate.

"I think it's one of those unique and rare opportunities for young women. As a father of three daughters, I personally want us to present all possible opportunities to the girls to show them what they can do," he said.

Pieper helped prepare the girls for flight and chatted with them before and after they took their rides.

"I think initially some of them were a little apprehensive, but when they came off, they were really excited about what they had done. I think having just girls participate makes it less intimidating for them and even more special. I've got a school full of jealous boys back in Bloomington," he said with a laugh.

District counselor Toi Auten, 36, went on the helicopter ride with Elizabeth, Brittany and Cynthia. "They were all screaming and giggling and squealing. They kept grabbing onto me and laughing. It was really great," she said. As a female staff member, Auten decided to tag along with the students for fun.

"I just wanted to share in their excitement, especially for those girls that haven't ever flown before," she said.

The exhilaration was palpable as the girls clutched each other, laughed and shared stories after their flights.

Giddy with delight after her helicopter ride, Elizabeth was grinning ear to ear as she exclaimed that she'd do it again and again if she could.

"The best part was taking off. I screamed a lot; I had to move my microphone because I was screaming so much. It was really scary, but I loved it," she said.

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