Female aviators focus of Auburn airport open house

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AUBURN — Hundreds of adults and children viewed a variety of aircraft and learned about aviation opportunities for women at an open house and fly-in at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport on Saturday.

A line formed at the airport terminal building before 8 a.m. for a pancake breakfast, and from that point on sunny skies and many exhibits drew visitors into experiences with small and medium-sized aircraft.

Lori Plourde of Bridgton, an organizer of the event sponsored by the Katahdin Wings Chapter of the Ninety-Nines, said the target audience was “women interested in aviation,” and the aim was to emphasize career options, volunteer opportunities and personal enjoyment of aviation.

She said only six percent of the nonprofessional pilot population is female.

“We have planes coming in today from Houlton, from several New England locations, from upstate New York and beyond,” she said.

“It’s a great day for this.” she added. “Most of the planes are open for visitors to climb aboard and a lot of the pilots are giving free rides throughout the day.”

Olga Mitchell was one of those visiting pilots who was offering rides in her sleek Cessna 177 Cardinal II, which she had piloted to Auburn from Cape Cod.

For lifelong references in aviation for females, Mitchell would be hard to beat.

“I started flying in 1954,” she said. “There was a gap of 18 years, and then I got my license.” She has been an active pilot ever since. Mitchell was a physicist for AT&T’s Bell Labs in New Jersey for 40 years.

Officers and cadets of the Lewiston-Auburn Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol handled numerous duties at the event. Lt. Col. Warren King of Auburn showed visitors the fully computerized features of the Cessna 182 G1000 aircraft that he delivered to the local CAP chapter just a few days ago. It came straight from the Kansas factory with only 45 hours of flight time.

Inside the terminal building, Col. Daniel Leclair, commander of the Northeast Region Civil Air Patrol, demonstrated drones. They included small units that buzzed around the room to larger models outfitted for photography.

There was a waiting list for rides right through the 2 p.m. conclusion of the open house. For many families, it was the first chance for their children to go up in small planes that ranged from two-seat sport and racing aircraft to four-seat general aviation planes.

Liz Maynard and Jim Gerry conducted tours of a LifeFlight of Maine fixed-wing plane that is used for a variety of medical transportation purposes.

At information tables throughout the terminal building, visitors learned about the Katahdin Wings and the International Organization of Women Pilots’ connection with famed female aviator Amelia Earhart, its first president in 1929. Many other facts about females in aviation were presented.

Each of the event’s participants emphasized the wide range of interests for females in aviation. Samantha Bassett, an air traffic controller at Portland International Jetport, said there’s a lot of interest among young people in air traffic control.

Mallory Brooke, meteorologist with WMTW-TV8, showed the importance of weather to aviators.

Information about college courses leading to Bachelor of Science in Aviation degrees was offered by the University of Maine at Augusta and by Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts.

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