When I started flying helicopters in the early 1980s, there were very few female helicopter pilots. Now some 25 years later a lot more women have entered the helicopter industry. Becoming a professional helicopter pilot has become a great career choice for many women.
One organization that has helped more women realize their dream to fly helicopters is Whirly-Girls International. It was founded in 1955 by Jean Ross Howard Phelan who wanted to build a community where female helicopter pilots could share and grow. That year, 13 women chartered the organization at the Mayflower Hotel and today the Whirly-Girls boast more than 1,600 members. You must be a licensed female helicopter pilot to be a member.
In the beginning each membership number corresponded to the number of women helicopter pilots licensed by the FAA. For example, founding member Jean Ross Howard Phelan is Whirly-Girl number 13 or the 13th woman to receive an FAA helicopter rating. As a result, early members viewed their number as a badge of honor. However, according to Whirly-Girls president Catherine Herrald Adams (WG#413) maintaining that correlation today just isn’t feasible.
As the association grew they began offering scholarships for women to get advanced ratings or to help a fixed wing pilot get her helicopter rating. Currently they provide anywhere from six to 10 helicopter flight training scholarships each year. Whirly-Girls funds two scholarships and the balance comes from the generosity of several sponsors including American Eurocopter (Turbine transition), American specialties Unlimited (NVG training), Robinson Helicopter, FlightSafety International (IFR refresher), and Nancy Livingston (WG#4) for funding a mountain flying training course at Western Technologies. This year they added a scholarship in the memory of Julie Short (WG#29) (funded by member Nancy Graham-WG#62) for a Woman CFI to add on a CFII or and instrument rating. Additionally, Survival Systems USA provides a ditching course as a scholarship.
Whirly-Girls has become the largest source of scholarships for female helicopter pilots and depend on membership dues, booth sales at HAI, and the generosity of a wide variety of individuals to fund scholarships and activities. Anyone wishing to join or find out more information should visit their website (www.whirlygirls.org) or contact Catherine Herrald Adams at [email protected].
Whirly-Girls president Catherine Herrald Adams
Kristie Ellis, WG#1513 with American Eurocopter VP Del Livingston
Future Whirly-Girl Madi McAdams flying a Bell 206