Young women urged to seek out opportunities in aviation

Air Cadets Kayce Wilson, Megan Simpson and Ellie Whiteside, all members of 2241 Squadron, get a closer look at a private aircraft at the Ulster Flying Club. Pic by Tony Osborne
Air Cadets Kayce Wilson, Megan Simpson and Ellie Whiteside, all members of 2241 Squadron, get a closer look at a private aircraft at the Ulster Flying Club. Pic by Tony Osborne

The head of Ireland’s largest aircraft collection has called for increased efforts to make aviation organisations more inclusive of women.

Ray Burrows, Chairman of the Maze-based Ulster Aviation Society, says the week of March 5-11 provides an ideal opportunity for the aviation industry and educational institutions to highlight their affirmative action programmes and results in recent years.

Aeronautical engineer Anne McIlveen checks out some of the'work she did on a vintage Fairey Gannet anti-submarine aircraft of the Royal Navy.

Aeronautical engineer Anne McIlveen checks out some of the'work she did on a vintage Fairey Gannet anti-submarine aircraft of the Royal Navy.

The period in question is ‘Women of Aviation Worldwide Week’, a global initiative involving more than 40 countries and featuring hundreds of events.

Mr Burrows said Northern Ireland has an ideal example to follow, in the person of Lilian Bland - the first woman in the world to design, build and fly her own powered aeroplane, in 1910.

“Lilian would be right in her element this week,” he said, noting that Bland’s interests - among them shooting, photography and aircraft engineering - were deemed “unbecoming for women during her time”.

He said that since then, efforts to bring women into the aviation fold have generally been “very gradual or sporadic”.

Lilian Bland, Ireland's pioneer aviator, at the controls of the aeroplane she designed and built, the Mayfly.�The year is 1910.�Pic courtesy of www.lilianbland.ie

Lilian Bland, Ireland's pioneer aviator, at the controls of the aeroplane she designed and built, the Mayfly.�The year is 1910.�Pic courtesy of www.lilianbland.ie

“That’s unfortunate,” Mr Burrows continued. “Lilian Bland gave us a strong, historic example to follow here. She should be the wind beneath our wings in terms of encouraging more young women into the ranks of aviation.”

Recent figures indicate that in the United Kingdom only about six per cent of airline pilots are women. In the armed forces, the situation would not appear to be much better. In the Royal Air Force, for example, 14 per cent of members are women, and only a small proportion of them serve as pilots.

Mr Burrows stressed also that greater initiatives should be made to encourage girls and young women to seek out opportunities in other areas of aviation, such as aeronautical engineering and airline administration.

The Ulster Aviation Society, a totally volunteer organisation with over 500 members, maintains a collection of about 30 aircraft in two hangars at the Maze/Long Kesh site, near Lisburn. Many of its members are current or former employees in the aviation industry.

For more information log on to ulsteraviationsociety.org