By Steve Patterson
The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville.
Meredith Jones wanted to be a pilot when she was a youngster but gave up that goal when eyesight problems made it too risky.
When a Jacksonville company offered free flying lessons for women Saturday, Jones decided daughters Leila and Hannah, ages 7 and 4, should see the challenge and adventure in aviation first-hand.
“It’s good for them just to see women doing something fun,” she said.
That idea drew a crowd to Craig field in Arlington, where organizers of Fly It Forward Jacksonville used flights, tours of the control tower and talks with pilots to introduce women and girls to opportunities involving planes.
About 6 percent of all pilots are female, so projects targeting women and girls can be important to them, said Meredith Holladay, co-owner of Holladay Aviation, which organized the event.
“It’s a great way to share with other people, and specifically women, that aviation is a possibility,” said Samantha Harrison, a flight instructor who volunteered to work with a few of the roughly 50 people who signed up.
Harrison said her parents encouraged her interest in flying when she was a teenager, but many other people don’t have that support.
“Had I not had that kick in the butt, I would not have known I could have done this,” she said. “I want to make sure that, for other people who don’t have that, they can find a way.”
Marielle Billingsley, 16, had practiced in a simulator and already wanted a career in flying but had never piloted a plane until Saturday.
“It was great,” Billingsley said after the plane landed. “It started out pretty shaky. It was my first time … and the pressure started to get to my head. But after we got into the air and we started to turn, it got a little easier.”
Her instructor handled the flight’s delicate moments, such as the landing.
The event was a way to reach girls from a mix of backgrounds, said Natashia Swindler, a teacher for the Bridge of Northeast Florida who brought six teenage girls.
While most have no background in flying, she noted that some Duval County students, particularly at Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology, have classes that focus on aviation.
The day doubled as a family celebration for Holladay and her husband and business partner, Dana.
Saturday was their daughter Alexandra’s first birthday, and the event was also a chance to encourage donations to Wolfson Children’s Hospital, where Alexandra was treated for a life-threatening health problem last year.