Up in the air

Local chapter of flight club for women offer young women solo flight scholarship

By Chris O'Neal 05/29/2014

 

The history of aviation is a spectacular one, filled with aviators who are solidified in history as heroes as often as they are icons, soaring into the realm of mythology. Think Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart. Earhart became the icon for women around the world who wished to take to the skies and became the first president of The Ninety-Nines, an international club for women aviators. Now, the Ventura County chapter is looking for the right young woman to award a scholarship to assist with obtaining a pilot’s license.


The Ventura County Ninety-Nines is one of the largest chapters, made up of more than 100 women across the county. Ventura County is unique in that it has several airports from which to depart, making it easier for prospective and veteran pilots to train and take part in flights.


Martha Phillips, president of the Ventura County chapter, has been involved with the organization for several years and is heralding the Karen Johnson Solo scholarship, a $3,000 prize for a young woman aged 16-20. The scholarship, in its second year, is given out in conjunction with the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and is named after Karen Johnson, a former chairman of The Ventura County Ninety-Nines.


Johnson was a skilled aviator who was involved in youth training and activities in Ventura County, says Phillips. On a patrol near Delano, California, in January 2013, Johnson’s helicopter went down, leaving no survivors. In her memory, the scholarship was created.


Phillips says that the number of women aviators across the country is low but growing.


“In Ventura County, we have a little higher percentage than the national average of women with pilot licenses,” says Phillips. The national average is around 6 percent. “In our own chapter, we have at least four airline captains.”


The applicants for the Karen Johnson Solo scholarship will need to write an essay on why they wish to learn to fly. Last year’s recipient was an 18-year-old flight student from Oregon. The scholarship funds students through their first solo flights.


“She finished her license within three months and went on to win another scholarship,” said Phillips.


Funds for the scholarship come from a combination of the members of The Ventura County Ninety-Nines and the rest from a grant given to the chapter by Light Speed Aviation. For the past five years, the chapter has won the grant with winners chosen by the number of votes received online.


The VC Ninety-Nines also awards scholarships for pilot efficiency and emergency maneuvering courses, to name a few, which are funded from sales at the Camarillo Air Show, among other sources, says Fundraising Chair Susan Liebeler.


“There are lots of pilots everywhere, but the density is much higher out here,” says Liebeler. “There is no one more active than our chapter.”


Liebeler says that the Karen Johnson Solo scholarship was based on a model created by Bob Schiff, an aviation legend who lives in Ventura County. The times have changed since Liebeler trained for her license, however, and students now move more quickly toward completion.


“These scholarships really go a long way for kids,” says Liebeler. “That’s why we set it up just for young people.”


The Karen Johnson Solo scholarship will be awarded during the WomenVenture activities at the EAA AirVenture flying convention in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in July.


The chapter gives six annual scholarships for varying ages, but the Karen Johnson Solo scholarship is a national prize. Voting for the Light Speed Aviation prize is open now.


For more information on The Ventura County Ninety-Nines and the Karen Johnson Solo scholarship, visit www.vote99s.com or www.ninety-nines.org.

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