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Women With Wings Part One: A look at Female Civilian Pilots

By: Deborah Tuff Email
By: Deborah Tuff Email

There was a time when a female aviator was considered a joke, even though history shows women were flying experimental jets at 350 miles an hour during World War II.

Before that, Katherine Wright, sister of the first in flight Wright brothers was instrumental in getting her brothers flight off the ground.

And, in 1911, Harriet Quimby became the first female pilot in U.S. history to get her pilots license.

Now, we have other young women who are following the precedence set before them, like Randi Walding.

Walding says she wanted to fly since she can remember. "I've always been fascinated with it, every since I was little,” she says. “They (family) said I used to say I was going to be a pilot."

Now, the 25-year-old Louisiana native is living her dream as a pilot for her dad's company, Panhandle Helicopter Tours.

Mike Walding, Randi's Father says he is "Very proud of her because a lot of people don't get to live their dreams. This is something she's always wanted to do and she's living it!"

And, she says soaring above the beaches of Panama City Beach, Florida is something she's become accustomed to. "It's just freedom,” she says. “You're free; you don't think about anything but flying."

Randi does her daily routine and checks to make sure her R-44 helicopter fly's safely for passengers. And, even though she has her wings, Randi says the biggest thing she struggles with now is respect, especially when it's time for her to fly

"They look around for the guy and I'll go 'It's me!'. Some of them are cool and a majority of them are a little weary of it," continues Randi.

The reason Randi may struggle with respect is she's a minority. According to a December 2005 Federal Aviation Administration Report, only six percent of all active civilian pilots are female.

However, Randi says that didn't stop her love of aviation. A civilian pilot for four years now, she got her degree in criminal justice from Northwestern State University of Louisiana.

She planned to fly for law enforcement, but those plans temporarily changed and she headed to Vortex Helicopter School in Louisiana to earn her wings.

In the end, Randi says once she's given her passengers a tour of the beaches, they want another go round. She says, "Because once they get out they have a completely different story, they're not worried about a woman pilot. They say, ‘that was a good flight’.”

In the meantime, Randi says the only thing that would stop a young girl wanting to be a civilian pilot from actually becoming a good one is going to a bad school. "You look for a good flight school and go," concludes Randi.

In talking with Randi, she says the word 'no' doesn't exist in her vocabulary.

Although she gives tours she also flies in championship boat races. In these races, she flies in the air with eight other helicopters that hover over boats and take photographs, which she says is a challenge in itself.


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