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.
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, Bell 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.