'If I could just get one girl to become a pilot ...'
March 12, 2011 at 6:03 p.m.
Updated March 11, 2011 at 9:12 p.m.
Kieran Garcia jumped out of a helicopter and bolted to the airport hangar, her body slouched from the overhead wind and both hands squeezing the sides of her head.
"My ears popped," the 10-year-old said through a nonstop grin.
Kieran was one of about 50 girls and women who took advantage of free helicopter rides at the Calhoun County Airport Saturday afternoon. Pilot Dianna Stanger offered the flights to girls who are members of a nonprofit organization as part of Women of Aviation Worldwide Week.
"I wanted to bring awareness to the fact that there are so few female pilots," Stanger said via a headset while flying over Port Lavaca. "We all know women pilots are better pilots, right?" she asked the four passengers with her.
One after another, Stanger took female crews on about 15-minute rides over the city and bay and identified points of interest, like their schools and homes.
Afterward, the girls were encouraged to sign up for the Young Eagles flying program and contests that could win them more free rides, scholarships and lessons.
"If I could just get one girl to become a pilot, it's worth it," said Stanger, who's been flying helicopters for more than 15 years.
That sounded just fine for Garcia, who, after her flight, penciled in "pilot" next to chef and artist on her list of potential careers.
"It looks fun driving in the air," she put it simply.
For 7-year-old Arianna Silvas, marine biologist still topped her life's calling, but the helicopter ride was "really, really fun."
"I was surprised at how the cows looked. They looked so small," Arianna said. "I asked if we were going faster than a car, and she said we were going way faster than a car. It didn't feel like it."
Beckey Boyd Gooden, who works at the airport with Stanger, said the idea behind taking girls up in helicopters was to provide them such a unique adventure.
"Sometimes kids' experiences are very narrow and limited," the former teacher said. "So things like this just expand their background knowledge so that they can write about it, talk about it."
Indeed several of the kids took their cameras to the sky, hoping to enter the Women of Aviation photo contest. Several more signed up to join Young Eagles.
"We're really trying to get young women interested in what was typically all male, and make them understand the sky's the limit - truly," Gooden said.
While she may have a few years on her flyer counterparts, 79-year-old Annette Pfeil was also on board with the mission of the day.
"I'm pretty fearless. I'm a daredevil," Pfeil said. "I grew up with three brothers, so you know - what they can do, I can do better."
Pfeil said she was scratching the helicopter ride off of her bucket list that day.
And if Kieran were still at the airport to see her, she most likely would have offered Pfeil some advice to spare her ears.
"Whenever you're going on an airplane, get gum," Kieran said.