Women in Aviation: Coast Guard aviators of tomorrow

Hundreds of aviators from around the world have descended upon Reno, Nevada, for the 2011 Women in Aviation, International Conference. Pilots, mechanics, engineers and aviation enthusiasts alike are all taking part in this year’s conference devoted to the themes “Inspire, Enthuse, Innovate.” We look forward to bringing you daily updates from the conference, as Coast Guard aviators share their stories with those in the aviation field and learn from those with whom they share the skies.

Women in Aviation Conference

There are over 160 Coast Guard men and women in attendance at the Women in Aviation, International Conference. There are aviators here from every one of the Coast Guard’s 25 air stations, including those who have traveled from as far as Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, and Air Station Borinquen, Puerto Rico. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kelly Parker.

It was 1911 when small town girl Harriet Quimby moved from Michigan to New York. Inspired by the challenge of flying an “aeroplane,” Quimby took flying lessons and on August 1, 1911, became the first American woman to get her pilot’s license. In the 100 years since, women have gone on to fly around the world and launch into space. But despite these advancements, aviation continues to be a male-dominated field.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, of the nearly 600,000 pilots in the United States, approximately six percent are women. Additionally, women account for less than four percent of the more than 500,000 non-pilot aviation related jobs in the United States.

The aviation community in the Coast Guard is no different. Of the approximately 4,500 Coast Guard personnel assigned to air stations, only 4.5% are female.

To inspire more women to fly, each female aviator knows they must be an ambassador of the service. Whether they are refueling at a local airport, encouraging high school students at a career fair or just talking to a neighbor, they know every interaction and representation of their service counts.

“Being an aviator in the Coast Guard is so much more than just a job,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Lindsey Mathews, the only female aviation maintenance technician on her hangar deck at the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron based out of Jacksonville, Fla. “I kind of fell into being a mechanic but it is stuff that I would never get to do in the outside world. The guys and girls that I work with are so professional and on point. And when you’re not they pick you back up.”

And while every member is inspired to serve in their own unique way, Coast Guard aviators know to succeed once you have joined, you must continue to be inspired. Lt. j.g. Caitlin Mitchell Wurster, a pilot at Air Station New Orleans, joined to fulfill a lifelong dream but continues to be motivated every time she flies.

Lt. j.g. Mitchell Wurster at recruiting booth

Lt. j.g. Caitlin Mitchell Wurster shares information on becoming a Coast Guard aviator with Samantha Caldwell, a student from Puyllup, Wash., at the Women in Aviation, International Conference. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kelly Parker.

“I’ve wanted to fly since I was thirteen,” said Mitchell Wurster. “Once I learned about the Coast Guard and the opportunity to fly a helicopter to save lives, that is all I have wanted to do. It took a lot of work to get here, but it was all worth it. It is an amazing feeling when you find someone you have been looking for and know they will be going home to their family. ”

A career in Coast Guard aviation is tough but incredibly rewarding. It requires expertise in complex systems. It requires stamina. And mostly, it requires a drive to excel when the stakes are the highest and lives are on the line. Coast Guard aviators hope to inspire others to find this meaningful career, and are making a dent, one pilot, engineer, mechanic and swimmer, at a time.

“I’ve been wanting to fly for a really long time,” said Samantha Caldwell, a student from Puyllup, Wash., who stopped by the Coast Guard’s booth at the Women in Aviation, International Conference for a chance to talk to women already making a difference in the Coast Guard. “My first choice is the Coast Guard because it’s a good opportunity that sets you up for life. I want to serve because it is in my blood. My dad is a firefighter and I like to be there for people as much as I can.”

Good luck Samantha! We hope you’ll be a Coast Guard aviator of tomorrow and part of the next generation of women inspiring a life of service.

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