BREMERTON — A group of Girl Scouts defied gravity Aug. 24.
“I’m 15 [and] I got to just fly a plane,” Kayla Cortes said. “How often do 15-year-olds get to do that?”
The answer, at least for the Girl Scouts of Western Washington, is about six times a year since the Discover Aviation Day program was started in 2016.
“Dave Cisneros is the husband of [Cindee], a longtime volunteer and service unit manager for Girl Scouts Port Orchard,” said Liz Brown, a spokeswoman for Girl Scouts of Western Washington. “Dave works for Avian Flight Center as the lead machinist. He wanted to bring his passion for aviation to the Girl Scouts, so we partnered up to create this program in 2016.”
Since the program started about two years ago, Brown said about 115 girls ages 12 and older have participated. They conduct a group pre-flight check, tour the Avian Flight Center at Bremerton National Airport, and participate in a “parts of the plane” session, flight simulation, and paper airplane challenges “where they discover the four forces of flight: lift, drag, thrust and weight.”
And, the real hook of the program, they fly a plane.
The girls go up in groups of two for sessions that last about 75 minutes, giving each girl a half-hour of piloting time. The first-time pilots, with the help of experienced pilot Mary Suligoy, get to take off, fly above Kitsap, and land.
“I feel like I got so much more than I thought I would get out of that,” Kayla said after she landed the plane. “I was up there and I was just looking at the ground and I was like, ‘This isn’t real, is it? I’m not really up here.’ ”
Kayla was partnered with Mikela Arnall, 14, for the flying session.
“I was afraid she was going to kill us,” Mikela said — joking, of course. “It was really fun.”
Kayla said a lot goes into flying that many may not think about.
“You have to be focused on so much at the same time,” she said. “You have to make sure no planes are around you, everything’s set and you’re not going to take the plane down, or anything like that.
“It felt cool,” she added. “Like I was in control of this big thing that was keeping us up off the ground, defying gravity.”
They even, with careful instruction from Suligoy, got to take the plane to zero-g for very brief periods of time.
“If you told me a year ago, ‘You’re going to be flying a plane with only two other people in the plane besides you,’ I would’ve been like, ‘Sorry, you don’t know what you’re talking about,’ ” Kayla said.
Both Kayla and Mikela are interested in returning to flying, possibly in becoming pilots one day.
“I definitely have always been interested in it,” Mikela said, “but I never took the time to actually expand on it and learn it … It’s really cool. I suggest everyone does it.”
But not all the participants want to pursue a career as pilots, Brown said.
“I’m so blown away, because I thought they all were going to want to grow up to be female pilots,” Brown said. “Oh, no. They all want to grow up and be machinists. They love to get their hands dirty. It’s fabulous.”
Suligoy, Brown said, is the pilot for most of their Discover Aviation Day excursions. Suligoy said she likes to do it because she gets “to have fun.”
Kayla said one thing that really excited her about the program — other than the chance to fly a plane — was the opportunity to be taught by a female pilot.
“We really, really need more female pilots,” Suligoy told Kayla and Mikela, while Mikela was flying the plane. “It’d be nice to have a lot more girls up here.”
Brown said this is so important for the girls because “They are experiencing new things.”
“Some have never been in a plane before, let alone a small plane,” Brown said. “They are challenging themselves to step out of their comfort zone, and are coming out of the program more confident and a little more fearless.”
Ultimately, the chance to fly a plane is a huge draw to the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
“We can give you a STEM day and we can give you the workbook, or we can give you the ‘moment,’” Brown said. “Just getting them outside their comfort zone a little bit in a way that’s safe and appropriate for them at this age to think outside the box: What do they want to do? What do they want to be when they grow up?
“We can all be teachers and nurses and pilots and whatever you want to be, so let’s broaden your horizons.”