National Aviation Day NOTAM: Skythrall Salutes Debby Rihn-Harvey and Women Soar You Soar

Debby Rihn-Harvey EAA 2016
Debby Rihn-Harvey

“I’m afraid of heights and hate carnival rides because I’m not in control,” attests Debby Rihn-Harvey, America’s most honored aerobatic pilot. Debby spoke to Skythrall from a hangar in Oshkosh on Saturday, July 23 as she prepared for a whirlwind week at EAA AirVenture 2016.

As the longest-standing member of the U.S. Aerobatic Team, male or female, Debby has participated in 15 world championships and racked up more than 34,000 hours of flight time. She was the U.S. National Aerobatic Champion in 2006, 2008 and 2009 and the top-ranked U.S. women’s aerobatic competitor for the years 1985, 1998-2004, 2006, and 2008-2013. Her aerobatic performance at Oshkosh last month–in Hurricane II, her CAP 232–featured no fewer than six types of tumbles.

But she didn’t want to talk about herself … not her 27-year career as a pilot for Southwest Airlines, from which she retired as captain in May.  Not her unequaled aerobatic record, nor her numerous awards and honors–the most recent of which was her induction in January into the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame, with legions of family and friends (including Harrison Ford) in attendance. Not her aerobatics flight school—Harvey & Rihn Aviation—which attracts pilots from around the world.

No. She wanted to talk about the future. The future of aviation, specifically, and what she sees as the ticket to take the industry to new heights: women. She wanted to talk about getting young women interested in careers in aviation … in the air, in space, on the ground … in development & design, in management & marketing, in government oversight and safety.

As is happening in many industries, the baby boom generation’s move to retirement is causing a brain drain. “The aviation industry is in the doldrums,” she said, “and we need young women to look at all the possibilities that exist for careers.  That’s what will get it going again.”

Which is what motivated her, 13 years ago, to work with other women to launch Women Soar You Soar, a program of EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) to introduce young women to aviation.  WSYS sponsors a 4-day-long aviation camp for girls age 14-18 that takes place every July during EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the world’s biggest festival of flight.

Girl with drill
A 2016 WSYS Camper


“The goal of Women Soar You Soar is to educate girls on the diversity of aviation and empower them to achieve their dreams of an aviation career,” she said.

Women in aviation–including civilian and military pilots, mechanics, avionics experts, aerospace engineers, government regulators—as well as doctors, lawyers and business executives who don’t fly or fix aircraft, converge on the camp to mentor about 100 young women age 14-18 as they participate in camp events and activities.

Even after camp concludes, the mentors stay connected to their mentees, guiding them as they apply for and secure scholarships to college aviation programs, and they remain in contact through college and beginning careers.  They advise, they coach, they instill confidence and a “can do” attitude.

And it works.

“When young women come to camp, we see a total change in personalities. They leave with a newfound confidence and a knowledge of what they want to do with their lives,” Debby said.

Since its inception in 2003, WSYS has influenced more than 1,000 “campers,” many of whom are currently studying for or working in aviation careers.

Says the aerobatic champion with a fear of heights: “Once you’ve looked skyward, once you’ve experienced flight, you see that maybe your problems aren’t so big after all. When I’m in the cockpit, I have a sense of freedom and relaxation. It’s given me a lifetime of joy and a sense of accomplishment.  I just want other women to know what that’s like.”

Skythrall thanks EAA and Women Soar You Soar for the photos from EAA AirVenture 2016 in this post.






Only one L-139 … and the ship is mine

The L-139 is the only jet of its kind in the world. Aero Vodochody, an aircraft manufacturer in the Czech Republic, produced the L-39, which was the most popular fighter jet trainer in the world. They went on to produce the L-159 as an advanced trainer.

The L-139 was produced as the demo for a military contract that Aero-Vodochy was pursuing with the United States. In an effort to secure the contract, a Western engine was installed: the Garrett TFE-731. The contract was never awarded to AV, so the ship was used for promotion for a very short time and then placed on the “back lot.” It had a total of 500 hours on it when it was taken out of service. As the jet was a production aircraft (as opposed to experimental) it is eligible to race in the Reno Air Race as a stock jet in the jet class. So, in 2015, with my good friend Vicky Benzing in the cockpit,  our team, Darkstar, placed fifth in the Gold class and overall. A very formidable debut considering she was 800 lbs. heavier than the L-39s in the class. We made history as the first female-owned-and-piloted race team at Reno. You can watch her fly at Reno at this link:

After I purchased her, she underwent a total renovation, which took over 2,700 hours. In selecting the paint  I wanted to honor her roots in the Czech Republic. The lion on the tail was the starting point, as it is the Czech emblem. He faces forward–a defensive position. The top of the wings echo the design of his double tail, and I chose the colors to reflect the boldness of the aircraft. The paint, in fact, was the biggest contributor to the  weight, as these three colors are the heaviest of paints. On the belly of the aircraft is the lion, as well. As the airplane makes left turns at the Reno Air Races, his claw points to the sky.

The interior is what I wanted–a girl’s ship. No rough edges, the latest in technology and style. I fought tooth and nail, so to speak, to retain the missiles, bombs and guns switches  on the panel. When piloting it, however, there is nothing that makes it feel like a weapons trainer. Flying it is just a pure vL-139 stitchoguish joy!


NOTAM: Stanger Steps Down as President of Whirly-Girls International

Jean Ross Howard Phelan, Whirly-Girl #13, founded Whirly-Girls in 1955 so that female helicopter pilots could share information and camaraderie. She was one of 13 charter members representing women helicopter pilots from France, Germany and the United States.

Jean Ross Howard Phelan
Jean Ross Howard Phelan

Today there are more than 1,900 registered members representing 45 countries. Whirly-Girls is a nonprofit, educational and charitable organization dedicated to advancing women in helicopter aviation and an official affiliate member of the Helicopter Association International.

I have been honored to follow in the footsteps of women aviation pioneers like Jean, to serve as Whirly-Girls’ VP of Operations since 2012 … and since 2014 as its President. Our vision and goals have grown with our membership … to encompass the promotion of women in the helicopter industry through scholarships, mentoring, public appearances, press releases, magazine articles, and informational displays in aviation museums. Today our scholarship endowment manages $175,000 in scholarship awards, helping women worldwide to achieve their rotary wing aviation goals.

Of all the progress we have made as an organization in recent years, I am most proud of the “Give It A Whirl” event we developed for Heli-Expo, the world’s largest helicopter trade show, to introduce youth to helicopters and pilots. At Heli-Expo 2016 in Louisville, hundreds of kids eagerly explored Louisville police and news helicopters and took in displays by local helicopter flight school JR Aviation, WOAWBell Helicopter, X-Copter flight simulator, Heliweb Magazine and RC Helicopters. I salute the dozens of Whirly-Girls who volunteered at Give it a Whirl to mentor and educate attendees on helicopters and the aviation industry.

Helicopters were my first ride to the sky, 22 years ago, and I remain devoted to the sisterhood of helicopter pilots. But the commitment required to fulfill the role of President of such a growing and vibrant organization exceeds the time that I am able to dedicate to such worthwhile efforts.

As I sign off–with both satisfaction and sadness– I offer my final salute to the Whirly- Girls’ board of directors, whose talent and dedication inspire me. I know that Whirly-Girls will continue to gain altitude with you at the controls.

And to all my fellow Whirly-Girls worldwide, I’ll see you in the sky.

First in Flight … Podcast with iWOAW

Greetings from the airwaves. Listen along as Mireille Goyer- president of iWOAW, and  Howie Marlin, Co-Host and Producer of iWOAW Radio, interview me. Honored to be the first on air with iWOAW Radio-Changing The Face Of Aviation, Podcast Numero Uno. Thanks  Mireille and Howie for all the time to talk about what I love best–flying and flying machines.

Historic Outcome for Historic Race

Congratulations  to student pilots Emmy Dillon and Abbie Pasmore from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach Campus. The two were named winners not only in the collegiate division of this year’s Air Race Classic but also secured first place overall, besting 50 teams and giving Embry Riddle a first-place win for the first time in the school’s history of participating in the cross-country, all-women air race.

From the Embry Riddle Website: “Four teams consisting of female student pilots and flight instructors represented Embry-Riddle’s residential campuses in the flight competition that kicked off June 21 at the university’s Prescott, Ariz., campus and ended June 24 in Daytona Beach. Winners of the 2,716-mile race featuring more than 100 women were announced Sunday during an awards banquet in Daytona Beach.”

Emmy Dillon and Abbie Pasmore–remember those names fly folk, ‘cuz you’re gonna being hearing from them!

Video: Follow the Racers @arc2016

Teams are on the move! From Prescott, Arizona to Daytona Beach, Florida, you can follow and listen to your favorite racers from June 21-24. Follow them at … and Listen to radio calls at . You GO girls!