published Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

The sky is the limit for Girls Inc. of Chattanooga

Kathleen Watkins, right, asks pilot Rebecca Gibson a question about airplanes from inside the pilot's seat Monday during a Girls Inc. of Chattanooga trip to Wilson Air Center.
Kathleen Watkins, right, asks pilot Rebecca Gibson a question about airplanes from inside the pilot's seat Monday during a Girls Inc. of Chattanooga trip to Wilson Air Center.
Photo by Allison Love /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Six girls who had never been on an airplane spent Monday afternoon at Wilson Air Center with a female pilot.

"I just want to get up there," said 13-year-old Angel Townsend, while standing near pilot Rebecca Gibson at the airport.

Angel linked arm and arm with other girls to walk from the lobby to the Caravan 10-seater airplane.

The girls didn't go for a ride. Gibson just gave them an inside tour of the plane.

Angel's first career choice is to be a psychologist, but if that doesn't work out, she's going to be a pilot, she said.

Girls Inc. organized the afternoon of aviation inspiration in recognition of November being National Aviation Month.

Madeleine Dougherty, Girl Inc.'s program educator, said the trip was a way to introduce the girls to another male-dominated field.

"Flying is breath taking," said Dougherty who has friends who are pilots and travels in airplanes at least three times a year.

Before visiting Gibson at Wilson Air Center, some girls in the group didn't even know what a pilot was.

"They just kept saying the plane person," Dougherty said. "This is exposing the girls to a new career that they would not have thought of."

If one girl is inspired to think about a career that she never thought of before, then my job is done, she said.

Dougherty also talked to the girls about careers in medicine and robotics.

Gibson came to the airport wearing a tan leather jacket and blue jeans. With her hair pulled back in a ponytail and wearing sunglasses she seemed like any other airport visitor until she introduced herself as an airplane pilot.

She's been flying since she was 7 years old. She's been a pilot since age 17. She's 33 now.

According to the website, womenofaviationweek.org, less than 6 percent of certified commercial pilots were women in 2010.

Gibson's love affair with planes started when she and her dad took a plane ride together. While waiting for the plane to take off he asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She rattled off a chef, a mommy and a ballerina. Then the plane started and her eyes fixated on the blue sky and white clouds she saw outside.

"I was glued to window," she said. "About that time, my dad elbowed me and said 'you know you could be a pilot'."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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