Touching the Sky – Women aviators celebrated at Naval Air Show

This year’s poster design was inspired by the vintage imagery and illustrations that portray these amazing women like Amelia Earhart, Jacqueline Cochran, Sally Ride and many more. Featured is the Lockheed Electra, the model that Amelia Earhart flew on her ill-fated around-the-world expedition in 1937. The poster will be available to purchase at the air show and guests can bring it to the V.I.P. tent and have it signed by a special female aviator. CONTRIBUTED

“There’s more to life than being a passenger,” said Amelia Earhart, the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Other women listened and agreed. This year’s Key West Southernmost Air Spectacular, Saturday and Sunday, March 30 and 31, is celebrating women in aviation, from historical figures to the exciting pilots of today. March is Women’s History Month, coinciding with Naval Air Station’s most popular community event, the famed air show. NAS officials thought it would be a great time to honor women aviators who have made a difference.

The first Naval designated female pilot, Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Allen Rainey.

The inspiration came to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the first female Naval pilot, Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Allen Rainey. In 1974, Rainey was the first of her class to earn Gold Wings and designated the first female aviator. Also, she became the first jet-qualified woman in the U. S. Navy, flying the T-39. In 1982, Rainey died at the age of 33, crashing a plane while practicing landings to avoid another aircraft. She did not live to see the multitude of women who have served all military ranks excelling in aviation.

The air show will host numerous civilian aerial acts by women. See Patty Wagstaff, a six-time member of the US Aerobatic Team, who has won gold, silver and bronze medals in Olympic-level international aerobatic competition and is the first woman to win the title of U.S. aerobatic champion. Julie Clark, a former airline pilot who has been flying for 50 years, will maneuver a restored Beechcraft T-34 Mentor in a choreographed routine. The all-women skydiving team, Misty Blues, will perform parachute acrobatics. Kate Shelton is rare and exciting –a wing walker – and Kate Kyer has been an aerobatics flyer for 22 years. These women love aviation and take it to new heights. 

 “This is great for the young women in our community,” said Trice Denny, public affairs officer for Naval Air Station Key West. “I feel like the timing is right.” She credits Emma Harlow with NAS for initiating the idea. 

Each day there will be a special meet-and-greet section with current military female members Cmdr. Andrea Ragusa, Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron HM-15; executive officer, Lt. Col. Yadira Greeson, Air Force Southern; and Cmdr. Holly Harrison, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron HSC-26, commanding officer. (Meet women who fly helicopters! How cool!)

“Women are working all levels in the fleet, not just aviators,” said Denny, who looked at the overall event celebrating all women in all areas of aviation and the military. 

As Earhart also said, “Decide whether or not the goal is worth the risks involved. If it is, stop worrying.” 

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Hays Blinckmann is an oil painter, author of the novel “In The Salt,” lover of all things German including husband, children and Bundesliga. She spends her free time developing a font for sarcasm, testing foreign wines and failing miserably at home cooking.