I'm a 99 - Deena Schwartz with 67Echo

(Me and my Echo)  

Me:      “I’m a 99.”

You:    “What’s a 99?”

First and foremost, the 99s are women who love to fly!  Established in 1929 by 99 women pilots, the Ninety-Nines is “an international organization of licensed women pilots from 44 countries.   A non-profit, charitable corporation based in Oklahoma, the 99s is comprised of members who represent all fields of aviation.  We are pilots in the private and public sector for the airlines and for the government.  Whether we are pilots who are technicians and mechanics or pilots who teach or who fly for pleasure,  “virtually all women of achievement in aviation have been or are current members of The Ninety-Nines.”   To quote the 99s first president, Amelia Earhart,  we fly “for the fun of it!”

I first learned about the 99s while I was still in flight training.   Though I knew at the time that I could apply for a student membership, I decided to wait to apply after I had earned my pilot certificate.  I held it out to myself as a reward for achieving my goal.  After I passed my private pilot checkride, I purchased a Cessna 182 from the Civil Air Patrol.  Two weeks later, with my high performance endorsement, I got to solo my own plane for the first time.  Then finally, in the fall of last year, I sought out the 99s and attended my first meeting.

My introduction to the Chicago 99s was at Schaumburg airport in October 2017.  It was well attended and I was fortunate to get acquainted with many of the members that first day.  I found a rich and diverse group of women pilots – Older, younger, corporate/commercial, sport and private.  I loved meeting kindred spirits who also look up every time a plane flies overhead.   Since then, it has been wonderful to spend time with others who don’t get bored “talking  plane” and who get just as excited as I do listening to a good landing story or a recent adventure.

Recently, on an on-line Facebook group, I read, “You won’t fail if you don’t quit”.  This was a supportive response from one aviatrix to another who had just described her failure on a check ride.  I reflected on my own experiences when I read her post. I had struggled during my flight training. My journey was 5 years of ups and downs. In fact, six months before I held my temporary airman certificate in my happy, relieved and hot little hands, I had just about given up completely. I would not have continued my flight training or passed my private pilot check ride if it had not been for the support of my own aviation community.   I was lucky.

Jamie Beckett wrote  a wonderful article that highlighted the AOPA’s staggering research from 2011 that indicated a student drop-out statistic of 80%.  Yep, only 2 of 10 student pilots complete flight training. How is that possible?  There are many reasons why student pilots quit their training.  When we look at why people succeed or fail at anything in life, without a doubt, as the AOPA points out, the richness of the community is a factor.

As I dove further into reading about the statistics of women completing flight training, it opened my eyes to something a bit more.  At this time, when more women than ever are pushing the boundaries, entering and holding high-demand, high-paying, high-power positions not only in the fields of aviation, but in healthcare, business, finance and politics,  it seems to me that we could use our collective strengths to help one another succeed. We can do more.
In retrospect, I should have joined the 99s early on in my flight training. I encourage any aviatrix, at any training level, to become a member. In addition to the benefits of training scholarships, the most important aspect of the 99s is the support, guidance and fellowship of this aviation community. Although I later found support in the aviation community at my home airport, I would have benefitted from the like-minded fellowship in my early hours as a student pilot.  No doubt, a lot of time, money and tears could have been saved.
Some have asked why I have even taken up flying so late in my life.  The only answer is, “for the fun of it”. It’s not a bucket-list thing – it’s just a living-life thing.  So, while 2018 marks my fiftieth year on this earth, it also marks my first full year, expanding my horizons as a private pilot and member of the 99s. I’m looking forward to traveling more, reaching out and meeting other 99s here, there and everywhere. I would love to do the AirRace!  (I’m working on my instrument rating at the moment).  So, fellow 99s and aviatrixes at large, if you find yourself in need of a landing stop near Galt (10C), give me a holler. If it’s a “flying kind of day” and I’m not working, my hangar door will be open!