As the tiny four-seat helicopter lifts off the tarmac at Langley Regional Airport, I grip my reporter’s notebook tightly, trying to ignore the slight turbulence as we start to gain altitude during Saturday’s drizzling grey weather.
If four-year-old Uma Lauridsen in the seat behind me isn’t afraid — and no four-year-old smiles that big for show — then I should try to calm my nerves.
Then I look down. Way down.
One thousand feet above Langley Township’s green patchwork of farmland, cars move like ants on the roads below. The shift in perspective is drastic, and the cockpit of our aircraft is silent as Uma, her mother Beverly Neufeld and I take in the view from our first-ever helicopter trip.
It occurs to me how lucky I was, growing up with parents who bought me as many toy airplanes as they did dolls, to know any high-flying dreams I was interested in were within reach.
And that’s just the message that more than 1,000 girls had the chance to hear during the Girls Fly Too celebration of women in aviation, held at the Langley airport March 8 and 9.
More than 1,200 girls and women were signed up to take free flights on helicopters and small planes at the event, which also featured opportunities to meet female members of the Coast Guard and Air Force and the chance for young girls to get up close and personal with the inner workings of the powerful machines that give us humans the capability of flight.
Representatives from the Vancouver Airport were on hand, outfitting ladies with Amelia Earhart-esque white scarves, and girls had the chance to talk education options with members of the University of Fraser Valley and BCIT aerospace programs.
While waiting in line for my flight amid the hum of propellers, I met Major Rhonda Stevens, a Canadian Forces flight navigator with more than 20 years experience.
When I ask her what she flew, she points to the mammoth bright yellow DHC5 Buffalo search and rescue plane from Comox parked 50 metres away. My eyes widen.
“I like that it’s a dynamic job, so you don’t always go to work for the same thing,” explains Stevens. She says out of her squad of 200, only three aviators — one navigator and two pilots — are women.
It’s not about barrier to entry, she insists, but about generating more interest among young girls.
“For my kids, I can set a good example,” she says of why she enjoys her work so much, noting that the need to remain physically fit, flexible and always learning are traits she prizes showing her six- and two-year-old daughters.
Back in the helicopter, the pilot sets us gently back down on solid ground, much too soon for the quiet but wide-eyed Uma. As cadets walk the three of us back to the airplane hangar, I look over my shoulder to watch the next group of excited girls step up for their turn in the air.
“Was it fun?” they ask us as we pass.
“Yes,” Beverly and I chime in unison.
Uma only has eyes for the whirring chopper taking off beside us.