Westminster’s female pilots soar through gender barriers

Westminster students Brooke Rogers and John Witford and Griff the Griffin represent the college at Girls in Aviation Day on Sept. 24 at the Salt Lake City International Airport. Westminster is one of four colleges that is part of Cessna’s 2016 Top Hawk program to receive a custom branded Cessna Skyhawk 172. Photo by Craig Knight.

Westminster students Brooke Rogers and John Witford and Griff the Griffin represent the college at Girls in Aviation Day on Sept. 24 at the Salt Lake City International Airport. Westminster is one of four colleges that is part of Cessna’s 2016 Top Hawk program to receive a custom branded Cessna Skyhawk 172. Photo by Craig Knight.

There are 39,621 female pilots in the airline industry in the United States—roughly 6 percent of the total number of of pilots, according to Women in Aviation International.

Despite aviation’s male predominance, Westminster College has done a good job getting more women involved in the program, according to Kristi Weeks, a junior in Westminster’s aviation program.

Weeks is the president of the college’s Women in Aviation chapter. She currently works at TAC Air, where she eats, sleeps, and breathes aviation (despite the health issues associated with breathing in low-lead fumes).

Woman in Aviation is an non-profit organization that was established in 1994 and looks to encourage women in aviation in any capacity.

“You go into a male-dominated field, and it’s a great feeling that everything is equal and the woman before me paved that way to give us those opportunities,” said Ashleigh Peppers, a 31-year-old pilot for JetBlue who is actively involved in Women in Aviation.

The Forum sat down with Weeks to learn more about what it means to be a woman in the aviation program at Westminster.

Q: What does it mean to you to be a women going into a male driven industry?

A: It’s gets me really fired up. We have some phenomenal female pilots at Westminster right now, and we’re hoping to get a lot more. Being in a program that’s so small, you would think that you could see the change. I’ve only had one class where I was the only girl in class, and it was fun because you get that rivalry.

Members of JetBlue Airways talk to children on Girls in Aviation Day on Sept. 24 at the Salt Lake International Airport. JetBlue Airways is a corporate member of the Women in Aviation program. Photo by Craig Knight

Members of JetBlue Airways talk to children on Girls in Aviation Day on Sept. 24 at the Salt Lake International Airport. JetBlue Airways is a corporate member of the Women in Aviation program. Photo by Craig Knight

Q: Why did you come to Westminster to be part of the aviation program?

A: Coming to the program was totally separate from my love of aviation. I went into my junior year of high school and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had been to a college career fair, and I saw Westminster and I had fallen in love with Utah. I had visited a couple of times, so I was like, ‘Sweet! There’s a really cool school in Utah. Oh, they have an aviation program? You can do that in college?’ I think that realization set me on a path to being here, and I’m super grateful for this experience. It’s been incredible.

Q: What is the aviation program like at Westminster?

A: You feel like a family in whatever course you're in and aviation definitely exudes that. We all know each other; we’re all flying. We don’t just see each other in class. We see each other out at the airplane. We chat about fueling. We chat about where we’re going to fly next time we go out. Aviation is all about connections, and Westminster does a good job starting that in your first couple of classes. You get to know the students that you’re with. You get to know your professors. It’s easy to talk to them and it’s really convenient to have someone there who’s willing to hold your hand if that’s what you need.

Q: What’s it like to fly an airplane?

A: It’s really cool to be that close to nature, which is part of why I love flying because I like being outside. I think people often forget that when you’re in a commercial airplane you’re in a tin can that’s strapped to a bunch of engines and you’re flying through the air—which was something we thought was completely impossible until the Wright brothers experienced the first flight.

Q: What’s your favorite memory flying a plane?

A: My first flight. When I lived in Henderson at the municipal airport, I actually got to fly a World War II C45 expeditor. We did a circle around Lake Mead, and it was my first time really getting that aerial focus of someplace that I’ve been on the ground. Watching the light glimmer off the lake was amazing. I will never forget that day.

Q: What’s your scariest memory when flying?

A: There was a thunderstorm rolling westward and I was flying out to Evanston, Wyoming, and we’re in the traffic patterns. So we’re getting prepared to land, and we’re doing a couple practice landings. We were really getting the turbulence and it was getting really bumpy and all of a sudden our wing dips. It dipped so far that I was terrified for a second and my instructor (said), “Step on the rudder!” It was one of those times where my stomach dropped and I was very grateful to not be alone.