Category Archives: aviation

Aviation and Gender Bias

I learned to fly to fly before I learned to drive.  Going to the airport and getting in a plane is as normal to me as getting in a car is to anyone else. I started to work when I was 13 years old and saved every penny I made to pay for my flying.  It was my dad’s airplane, but I had to pay for part of it.  That’s who he was – he was a “you don’t get something for nothing” kind of person.  By the time I was 16, I was holding down three jobs and maintaining straight As in school.  I wanted to fly in the military, but they didn’t allow women at that time.  So I stuck it out and worked hard.  I detoured my career, was successful enough to retire at 43, then pursue my passion.

I never asked for special treatment.  I never complained when I was flying night freight that some of the freight hangars didn’t have women’s restrooms.  I used the nasty restrooms with the men and never thought twice.  I used the pallet jack to move truck transmissions off the back of the DC-4 in Detroit. I’ve climbed on the wing of a DC-4 to measure the fuel level in the main tanks, and I’ve pumped oil out to the engines during flight.  I’ve flown powerful people into Aspen, Colorado, where every approach requires precision and finesse.  I’ve flown into East Hampton, New York, and into Ocean Reef, Florida, on Key Largo.  These are challenging runways, short and narrow, not runways that are two miles long.

About a year ago I read an email forwarded from Leonard Brunasso, a retired Delta Air Lines pilot who is now a check airman for Omni Air.  The email was titled “The Age of the 707/DC-8” and it begins, “Those were the good ole days.  Pilots back then were men…”  You can just guess how far it went downhill from there, as he went on to insult every category of people except for white male pilots. From what I can gather, taxpayers paid for Leonard’s flight training in the Air Force.  He refers to pilots “in the good ole days” as real men and refers to flight attendants as stewardesses who appreciated a little sexual harassment, and were “proud to be combatants in the sexual revolution.”  He went on to say these women didn’t have any “plastic or composites” in their pectoral regions.

Rarely am I offended, but having been subjected to blatant sexual harassment and abuse in the cockpit, I have a few things to say to Leonard.  I am beyond angry.  I am furious.  I am sad.  I am, unfortunately, flooded with memories of clowns just like this guy who didn’t think I belonged.  The ones who objectified women.

I’ve taught over 1000 people to fly and I have an impeccable record.  I’ve shared my love of aviation with literally thousands of people.

I’ve endured sexual harassment in every form possible.  I had to sit through an oral exam for 8 hours for a multi-engine rating, purely because the check airman didn’t think women should fly.  I’ve had a check airman stalk me and a chief pilot try to push himself in my hotel room.  There was no question what was on his mind.

During nursing school, I would instruct in the wee hours of the morning and then go to the hospital in Charlotte for clinicals, then I’d go to the airport and fly afterwards.  And I kept my grades up while I was doing it.  I am as proud of my RN as I am my ATP and CFI.

I learned instrument flying with nothing more than needle, ball, and airspeed.  I’ve made the decision to go or not, when flying fuel to some of the most remote villages in Alaska in a DC-4.  I’ve manually calculated how much fuel to take on, and looked at prog charts to see whether it was even safe to go.  I didn’t have dispatch to calculate weight and balance for me, tell me how the weather was, and determine whether I’d be released to fly or not.  I made those decisions, on my own.

I worked my way into the cockpit with my skills and abilities to fly.  I’ve been pinched, grabbed in inappropriate places, and even been physically assaulted by other pilots.  I’ve been asked whether I ever felt guilty taking a job away from some poor man trying to feed his family and when I’ve adjusted the temperature in the cockpit, I’ve been asked if I was having hot flashes.  I knew when someone was having fun and when the line was being crossed.

When I first became a flight instructor, there were only about 4000 women in the US with commercial pilot certificates.  I was one of the youngest, since I was only 18.  Today, 40 years later with my Airline Transport Pilot certificate, I am one of only about 8000, still only about 6% of all pilots.  I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.  I’ve got more than 45 years in the cockpit plus I’ve earned a PhD, started 4 successful businesses, and have tried to be the best person I can be.  I’m happily married to a retired Delta pilot who recognizes and appreciates my brains and my talent.

I want to say all kinds of ugly things to Leonard, but it would do no good.  I just hope that someday, this brand of pilots is replaced by kinder, more respectful human beings, by people who don’t care whether you are male or female, provided you can competently perform your duties in the cockpit or in the cabin.

Today I read a Facebook post where someone shared an article about a crash.  There were no women involved in the crash, but he prefaced his comments by saying he knew a woman who had slept her way into the right seat of one of these jets.  He went on to say she bragged about it, and that he respected my record and my professionalism.  I know he does; I value his friendship.  But why is it necessary to comment on one random woman, when her situation is totally unrelated to this crash?  Why not talk about the incompetent men who make it to the left or right seat because they know someone or because they have the money to persist?  Or the man who carries a flight bag full of porn on every flight?  Incompetent men exist, but why do aviators only highlight the women?  Misogyny?

Honestly, I just wish people would accept other people for who they are.  Be kind.  And stop spreading messages that promote hate.

Link

My father is furious.  My mother is ready to kill me.  Daddy’s gone through the time on the engine and my mother has gone through her gas card receipts and they know what I’ve been up to.  My weekly trips to the beach have to stop.  I’ll never forgive the line boy at the Myrtle Beach airport.  He said to my dad, “What are you doing flying Suzanne’s airplane?”

I could have gotten away with my scheme for all four years of college if he hadn’t opened his big mouth.  My girlfriends and I only went once a week and our grades were good. We never skipped the same class two weeks in a row.  Who were we hurting?  Well, maybe we were hurting my chemistry grade, but I really didn’t care.  I hated that class.

My mother tells me that there is a job opening at a local hardware store.  I’m to report on Monday morning.  She has it arranged already.  I’ll be working in the toy department, since I’m not exactly a tools and hardware type of person.  This is horrible.  This place is smelly and the aisles are crowded. It is a place where I would never go voluntarily.  I am pissed.  Maybe I should steal the plane and run away again.

I show up at work and learn the various boring things that I’m supposed to do.  I walk around and look at the toys, wind a few up just to be obnoxious, then go back to the counter and hang out.  The more I can wind up, the more obnoxious the noise.

At the end of the day, I am informed of the closing routine, and know immediately I’m going to hate it.

“Suzanne, please get the vacuum and vacuum the aisles in the department, then wipe the counters so everything is spotless for tomorrow,” the boss demands.

One of the guys I’m working with is selling Amway.  He sees this as a temporary job, though I have my doubts he will ever get rich with any kind of multi-level marketing.  He goes to all of these meetings that are kind of like pep rallies.  He tries to get me to go.  No, thank you.

I see this job as a sentence to hell.

I wonder if vacuuming is my job because I’m the only girl but I bit my tongue.  How do you turn on a vacuum?  I am not going to ask for help.  I can figure this out.  If I can fly a plane I can do anything.  I find the switch and start to vacuum.

On Aisle 3 I confront the biggest cockroach I’ve ever seen.  I quickly suck that bastard up with the vacuum cleaner before it can get away.  I finish and I go home, but not before I stop at the library and look up alternate careers.  My mother may have squashed any dreams of a career in interior design, but I can do better than this.

And I did.

Revising my father’s eulogy

I began the eulogy by saying the Webster Marlowe his friends in Palatka knew was not the same man I knew as my father.  I think I truly believed that until last Sunday, before I received a call from Patty.

Sunday started out like any other.  We woke up, showered, and went to choir rehearsal at Christ Church.  It should have felt good but it didn’t.  I didn’t feel right.  I wasn’t happy to be there.  It wasn’t anything particular; I knew the music and I love our choirmaster, but I just felt off.  I got the car keys from my husband and told him I would see him after church.  He was concerned, but I told him I was okay.  I just needed some time.   I needed to be.

I went out to the car and as soon as I opened the door my cell phone rang.  It was a number from Jacksonville, Florida, so I assumed it was Mayo Clinic or something.  Normally I would decline the call, but I hit the button and said hello.  The caller said she found my name when she was searching online for my father, Webster Marlowe.  Patty had been on a trip to Haiti with him and she found my blog post.  She said her plan was to build a hospital in Haiti with Daddy’s name on it.  She said she was honored to have helped him.   She talked of his hard work and his compassion.  The more she talked the harder I cried.  Then she gave me the phone number of another of Daddy’s friends, Donnie.

Donnie opened my eyes.  I knew my dad as an entrepreneur, a business owner, and as a person who was highly creative, but I never connected this with the man who seemed to be obsessed with Haiti. When I heard the story, though, I knew. It clicked.  Daddy was never one to turn down someone in need.  If a problem needed solving, Daddy would figure out how.  My mother reminded me how he once fixed an oil leak on our Cadillac by running a hose from the leak back into the engine.  My dad could fix anything.

On his first trip to Haiti, his job was to do handyman type work for the Baptist church.  He was to fix broken hinges and rehang doors; he was to do anything that required a hammer and a saw.  As he was working, a man approached with a wooden leg and carrying a piece of wood.  “Can you help me with a new leg?“ the man asked.  Daddy told him he didn’t know anything about that, but the man insisted that with his hammer and saw, Daddy had all the tools he needed.  The next morning Daddy was met by a larger group of amputees, each carrying wood and asking for help.  Webster Marlowe did not know how to say no to anyone who needed help. I’ve known this my entire life.

 

Donnie taught my dad how to use composites to make the legs and introduced him to a prosthetist in Gainesville who could help train him.  Someone else donated titanium.  Titanium! I introduced him to a prosthetist in Georgia, though I was never crazy about Daddy going to Haiti.  The demand grew and over the next 20 years, Daddy fixed and replaced all kinds of legs. He would get emotional as he talked about people who had worn out their legs, children coming back when they had outgrown their legs, and especially when he talked about how the demand outweighed his ability to supply.

While the Webster Marlowe of Palatka didn’t wear suits to work and didn’t drive the latest cars, he really was the same compassionate and caring man whom I called Daddy.  I’m closer to understanding why he was so drawn to Haiti, but I’m not quite there. What I do know is that my dad was a remarkable individual throughout his life, and maybe that is enough.

Making Connections

We were invited to a GPB dinner on Tuesday evening to share our ideas on one of our favorite shows, On Second Thought.  The show is taking a new turn, as the previous host stepped down for a new and wonderful adventure.  One of the reporters said she was from a small town in North Carolina, and I said I was from a small town outside of Greensboro.  She said she was, too, and it turned out she is from Trinity, about 15 miles from my home.  Trinity has a small airport, Darr Field, which is where I had my first flying lesson that really ignited my passion for aviation.  It was a wonderful conversation and we talked about some of the things we love about North Carolina.  We left with sense of just how connected we all are and how small the world really is.

And then today I received an email today from a man whose grandfather owned our (my!) airplane before my dad bought it.  He talked about flying with his grandfather to a baseball game between Kansas City and the New York Yankees, and how he got to see Mickey Mantle play.  I told him how Daddy flew my brother to Baltimore to see the World Series, around 1970, and how they flew to Indianapolis to the Indy 500.  He told me that his grandfather purchased a Cessna 210 after he sold the Cessna 172, N7214A, which he had owned in a flying club with three other pilots.  I told him how I stripped all the paint off the plane so that Daddy had no choice but to paint it yellow and white, just like I wanted.  He told me he was a commercial pilot and flew crop dusters.  I told him that was what I always wanted to do.

I’m always amazed by connections and how small the world truly is.   But right now, I just want to call my dad.  I want to tell him about the email and I want to tease him about taking Robert to the World Series and the Indy 500 instead of me.  I want to hear him laugh about losing his airplane the day I had the flying lesson at Darr Field.

I just want to remember.

 

 

#MeToo No More

From the beginning of my aviation career, I dealt with unwanted advances.  I’m reluctant to talk too much about it in my blog, because I just don’t want to ruin anyone’s life.  Maybe people have changed.  Maybe I’m just a wimp.  I am definitely going to talk about it in my book, but not here in my blog.

A few days ago, we got a death notice from the Delta Air Lines retired pilots network, and the person who died was truly one of the most obnoxious people I’ve ever met.  As I read his obituary, I wondered whether this was the same person whom I banished from my flight school and did everything possible to avoid at Netjets.

Let’s call him Steve.  The first time Steve came into the flight school in 1997, he was wearing a flight suit.  His smile was more like a leer than a friendly greeting and he had dog breath.  “You must know who I am,” he said.  No, I really didn’t, and based on this greeting I didn’t want to know who he was.  “Maybe I can take you out to dinner tonight.”  No, not in this lifetime he wouldn’t.  It wasn’t just his bad breath that was revolting.  It was the lewd and lascivious way he looked at me and how he couldn’t keep his eyes on my face.  I declined and said a silent prayer of thanks when my phone rang.  I ran into my office.

He always found reasons to come into the school.  We had a deli inside the flight school, the only food concession on the field.  We were also required by our lease to have a retail shop for charts and pilots supplies.  Most days I was able to escape, either by going flying or taking a phone call in my office.  Eventually, however, our paths crossed and I couldn’t escape.  Everyone else was out flying and I was manning the front desk.  In came George.

I’ll leave out the details but I ended up speaking with a member of the Airport Authority. I told him what had happened.  This is where I was at an extreme disadvantage.  This individual had greater status than I had and was highly respected.  He was connected with literally everyone.  It would be my word against his, and I could potentially lose a large block of business and  even my access to the mechanics.  But I wouldn’t compromise.

Soon he disappeared.  I began to relax.  Maybe he had found a new target for his crude behavior. I didn’t give him another thought.  He was gone and I was safe.

Or so I thought.  Three years later I was an airline pilot and was on the ramp at Teterboro.  By now I was accustomed to the bad behavior of a lot of pilots, and there he was in New Jersey.  In one of Nelson DeMille’s books, he said the only difference in pilots and pigs is that pigs don’t turn into pilots after two beers.  In George’s case, it didn’t even take one.  Right there on the ramp, he greeted me like we were old friends.  I was polite until he grabbed my tie and said, “You need a good man to show you how to tie this thing.”  I slapped his hand away and walked back into the FBO.  I did not report him.  All I wanted to do was fly.  I could handle this.

We would periodically cross paths on the road but he was based in Savannah and I was based in Atlanta, so it was infrequent.  “Another empty kitchen” was his favorite line.  Eventually enough flight attendants complained about him and he was let go from the airline.  I didn’t give him another thought until I read his obituary.

Maybe he turned his life around.  Maybe his children are responsible adults.  Maybe he is remembered as a loving husband and a loving father and grandfather.  He was apparently active in his church and in multiple community organizations.  Whatever.  I wish his family the best, but I will breathe a sigh of relief and  gratitude that I can go with Bob to Delta Retired Pilots activities and know I won’t run into this creep, ever again.

#MeToo No More.

Remembering

“Four shirts, four pairs of pants, a snow machine suit, and I’m still cold.”  Thus began my journal, on this this day in 2000. I was in Fairbanks, Alaska, flying a 1946 McDonald Douglas DC-4 delivering fuel to remote villages.  This contract pilot stent may very well be the craziest thing I’ve ever done and sometimes I still can’t believe I actually did it.

Why was I in Alaska?  Money.  Insanity.  Opportunity.  Adventure.  I already had a class date with Netjets of February 8, 2000.  I had sold my flight school and would finally get the airline job I had coveted for 30 years, and I really had nothing to do.  A month in Alaska would help me cover the gap.

I got my DC-4 experience flying night freight for Custom Air Charter out of Hampton, GA.  Not many people want to fly 60 year old airplanes, at night, without radar and at fairly low altitudes. Bob McSwiggan’s attitude was that radar “only scares the pilots.”  He was the owner, and besides owning a freight airline he is a tap dancer!  But that’s a story for another day.  The photo is not the DC-4 that I flew, but you get the idea.  In Atlanta, I flew the Carvair conversion, which you can see here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FfOmlb4SAU.

Flying a DC-4 was romantic and exciting, but it was hard work and sometimes dirty work.  The radial engines leaked oil and sometimes quit unexpectedly, but I loved those R-2000 engines.  On the ground, you had to climb on the wing and put a stick in the fuel tanks to confirm the fuel levels. In the air, you had to keep your eyes on the gauges and periodically pump oil to the engines. The instruments in the cockpit were appropriate for the 1940s.  It was just plain fun.

I got a call from a pilot friend in December to fill in for one of the pilots for Brooks Fuel in Fairbanks.  There aren’t a lot of qualified DC-4 pilots and initially I said no.  He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse –  I would be guaranteed 8 hours a day flying time, a ridiculous hourly rate, a generous per diem, plus a place to stay.  Off I went.

The place they gave me was so dirty that I washed my feet in the sink after I took a shower.  I lived off chicken pot pies that I could heat in the microwave.  The high one day was a whopping -17 degrees and another was -20, but I saw spectacular displays of the Aurora Borealis and I went to places you won’t see on an Alaskan cruise.  Cruises won’t take you to Beaver, Kobuk, or Alakaket.  We flew kerosene, gasoline, and propane.  When we weren’t flying fuel, we’d fly snow machines to these same remote villages.

I learned a lot on that trip, and will now summarize a few of those lessons:

  1. There are no words to describe the beauty of the Northern Lights, especially when you are that far north and that far away from civilization.
  2. Boots certified to 40 below don’t really work that well past -10.
  3. Always take shower shoes. If you can’t eat in the kitchen, you really don’t want to put your bare feet in the shower, either.
  4. People who live in remote villages work on a different timetable than those of us who like cities.  They won’t accept fuel during lunch hour or on weekends, but they’ll take a snow machine whenever you can get it there.
  5. When you’re in a different place with a different culture, don’t expect to feel perfectly at home. It takes an effort and you need to respect them.  When a native decides to give you a baseball cap, accept it with kindness and treasure it.
  6. A 2300’runway, covered in snow with mountains on either side, is a challenge when empty, but even more when the aircraft weighs about 50,000 pounds.
  7. Appreciate your ground crew. They are the ones who get to the airport at 0400 to put heating blankets on the engines.  Without them, you wouldn’t fly.  You don’t like to get up that early and you know you don’t like being that cold.
  8. To expand on #7, appreciate everyone and everything around you. We’re all in this world together so let us work together to make it a better place.  Together, we can.
  9. Remember this. Whatever it is, you can do this.  Whatever your situation, it is not worse than -27 and no ladies restroom (actually, no restroom) in Anektuvuk Pass, Alaska.  It will get better.  You will get to warmer weather.
  10. Look at life as an adventure. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn and experience life and to meet new people.  Maybe you’ll learn something and maybe you will gain a new perspective.

Finding these pages from my journal was a tremendous treat.  Sitting here warm and safe in our home in Macon, Georgia, I can’t believe I actually did it.  Am I the same person who took off that day for the trip of a lifetime?   Would I do it again?

I just don’t know.