Free small plane rides for girls in Frederick at Women Fly It Forward festival

March 3

“It was really windy, so we couldn’t go over the mountain,” remembers Mariah Williams, a 9-year-old from Middletown, Maryland. “But I wasn’t afraid. It was pretty.”

That was last March, when she sat in the front seat of a Cessna 172, wearing a headset to muffle the noise in the small plane. She was chatting through the microphone with pilot Brittney Miculka, a 29-year-old flier who was telling Mariah how airplanes work and what pilots do. Miculka even let Mariah take the steering wheel and fly the airplane.

In the back seat was Mariah’s mom, Beth Williams, a Methodist pastor. The little propeller airplane bounced and dipped over farmland, roads and suburban houses near Frederick, about 60 miles north of Washington.

“I was scared out of my mind,” Beth Williams confessed. “But I kind of work in a male-dominated field, and I try to find opportunities for Mariah to understand she can do anything.”

That’s what organizers are hoping for this week, when Frederick Municipal Airport welcomes girls and women to the fourth annual Women Fly It Forward festival. Thirty female pilots — and a few male pilots — will be on hand to give free flights to celebrate Women of Aviation Week.

The free flights and on-the-ground exhibits honor Raymonde de Laroche. On March 8, 1910, Laroche passed the test of the Aero Club of France to become the first woman in the world to receive a pilot’s license.

The anniversary celebration includes free flights for girls and women at 18 U.S. airports in 16 states, and at 100 airports in 29 countries. Last year, 5,000 girls and women worldwide participated.

At Frederick Airport, everyone is welcome — including boys and men. Once past the parking lot, the ground exhibition is clearly marked with a sign-in table for girls and women to catch their flights, and a big outdoor collection of old airplanes, helicopters and other items.

Inside the hangar are displays, including a flight simulator. Kids who hit all the exhibits and get their “passport” stamped receive little prizes. And in June, there will be free flights for boys and everyone else.

Mariah wasn’t sure last year’s event persuaded her to become a pilot.

“I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” she said. “But it’s nice to see different things right now.”

Girls (then boys) fly free

What: Women Fly It Forward, which offers free flights to girls and women. Free exhibits for all.

Where: Frederick Municipal Airport, 310 Aviation Way, Frederick, Maryland.

When: Through Friday, 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For more information: A parent can go to womenflyitforward.blogspot.com and click the register page to reserve space. The airport will also host Learn to Fly Day on June 7 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Free flights for the first 200 people to show up. Details will be posted at www.aopa.org.

Video: Watch a Women of Aviation video about flying at youtu.be/mFFyTHTUQb0. Always ask a parent before going online.

— Raymond M. Lane

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