No Boys Allowed: Flight Program Caters to the Girls
September 29, 2016
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  • The Aero Club of America began issuing pilot’s licenses in 1905 when the organization to promote aviation in the United States was organized. Harriet Quimby became the first licensed female aviator in the country when the club issued her certification in 1911.

    The Arcadia Township, Michigan, native set another first in April 1912 when she was the first licensed female to fly over the English Channel from Dover, England, to Calais, France. She gained very little notoriety or media coverage of her groundbreaking feat because of another significant moment in history — the RMS Titanic had sunk in the Atlantic Ocean the day before.

    Nevertheless, women continued to earn their wings and, for some, press time including the likes of first female African American and Native American pilot Bessie Coleman, famed long-distance and speed-record aviator Amelia Earhart, and Florence “Pancho” Barnes, a stunt pilot and founder of the Happy Bottom Riding Club, a dude ranch and restaurant that served airmen such as Chuck Yeager and Buzz Aldrin from the flight test center at what is now Edwards Air Force Base, California.

    But, reaching those lofty achievements didn’t come easy for those women with dreams to fly in the technology’s early days. It wasn’t any different in the 1970s when Mary Latimer set out to earn a living as a female aviator.

    Bumpy takeoff

    Latimer met her husband, Lawrence, in 1970 when she made a trip to Wilbarger County Airport with her brother. She said Lawrence took her up for a flight that day, and they would marry later that year. Her love for flying began to develop.

    A year later, the newlyweds had a child, Tamara, which put Latimer’s flight plans in a temporary holding pattern. She eventually went back to learning how to fly and took her first solo flight in 1972. She earned her private pilot’s license in 1973, and tagged on an aircraft maintenance title in 1974, along with an instructor’s rating.

    But, even with all of those achievements, she was met a little turbulence when trying to find a job.

    “Back in the day it was difficult. Nobody wanted to hire a woman pilot,” she said. “You get comments like, ‘Well, we take a lot of overnight trips and my wife wouldn’t understand,’ or ‘Well, we just don’t think the men would want to fly with a woman.'”

    A man she knew at WCA suggested she become an air traffic controller, which she achieved in 1976. But, that didn’t keep her from flying. She continued working as an instructor when she could, but, weather permitting, would also fly to Lawton, Oklahoma, where she worked as a controller for most of her career, and then to Fort Worth from where she retired in 2002. 

    G.I.F.T. for flying

    As was the case in the early days of aviation, licensed female pilots are significantly outnumbered by their male counterparts for one reason or another. Latimer said according to Federal Aviation Administration there are about 440,000 people in the United States with private pilot’s licenses or higher ratings. Women make up a little more than 5 percent of that number, and it’s been steady.

    “It’s been very, very close to that number for as far back as you can go on the FAA records and look; it hasn’t changed significantly,” she said. “That’s disturbing.”

    It was about six years ago, Latimer said, around the time she took her granddaughter, Amanda, took her first solo flight on her 16th birthday. They made a quick trip to Sweetwater, home of the Women Air Service Pilots Museum at Avenger Field, that she realized nothing had really changed for women since the time she first became a licensed pilot in the 1970s.

    It was during that visit that they met a young female Air Force B-1 bomber pilot named Crystal, Latimer recalled. During introductions, they told Crystal that Amanda had soloed in five different aircraft on her birthday a short time before.

    “Crystal said, ‘I’m so jealous of you,'” Latimer said. “She flies B-1 bombers and she’s jealous of the 16-year-old kid. What’s wrong with this picture?”

    They learned Crystal’s mother wouldn’t allow her to learn how to fly before she was 18, and she was jealous of the family support.

    Latimer said that visit was also when she wondered if she could take the all-female environment that WASPs used in Sweetwater during World War II and recreate it in today’s environment. Could she create a flying training program that would foster an environment where women could grow into confident pilots?

    “It was coming up on Aug. 1, 2011. It was the 100th anniversary of Harriet Quimby earning her pilot’s license. She was the first woman to be issued a pilot’s license in the United States,” she said. “To honor Harriet Quimby, I set up my first (Girls In Flight Training) week.”

    And G.I.F.T. was borne.

    All in the family

    Tamara Griffith, 45, never really had a choice about flying when it came to being a child of Lawrence and Mary Latimer. Having grown up at the airport, she probably knows it better than most, and she was flying almost from the beginning when Mary put her in the back seat and flew to Wichita Falls to attend school.

    Griffith, who owns her own pilot and aircraft maintenance business in Roanoke, Texas, said she was learning to flying at an early age. Even if she couldn’t see over the dash, she learned how to “fly the instruments.”

    She soloed, like her daughter Amanda, when she was 16.

    “I remember my dad hitting me with the sectional because he couldn’t complain about my landing,” she quipped. 

    Amanda, the primary flight instructor at Stick and Rudder in Elk City, Oklahoma, is the third generation of female instructor pilots, a rarity as far as this family of fliers knows. Like her mother, she began flying as a back-seat passenger, but she said it doesn’t count unless she’s in control of the plane.

    Now all three are among the roughly 10 instructor pilots who converge on Wilbarger County Airport one week in October with one goal in mind — training female aviators. 

    Soaring to new heights 

    Latimer said she wasn’t sure what to expect when the program began five years ago.

    “It was test mode. I didn’t even know if they would come,” she said. “So, the first thing is, will they come? Next question is can I give them what they need?”

    Latimer said she planned for ladies within a 200-300 mile radius of the airport with an interest to learn how to fly to hear about the newly developed program. She said she was overwhelmed when women from California, Florida and Michigan were also in the program.

    After five years, about 150 women have participated in G.I.F.T. for a variety ratings, from private pilot’s licenses to instrument training.

    One of those attending the course includes Marie Zeffer, 53, from Ann Arbor, Michigan. She said she flew for the first time when she was 7 and wanted to be a commercial airline pilot. But her vision kept that from happening.

    At 50, she said she decided she was going to make her birthday present be her pilot’s license.

    “I almost finished at home, but I got accepted into the G.I.F.T. academy that year. That was in 2013,” she said. “I came down here and was just ready to learn more to be more prepared for my check ride when I went home. Mary actually offered to do my check ride here, and it worked out.”

    Zeffer said training in two different programs has allowed her a unique perspective of how G.I.F.T. instructors train pilots. In regards to Latimer, specifically, she said she uses real-world applications and explanations to make what the student pilots are learning make sense.

    She is now getting her instrument rating with Latimer as the instructor.

    Life-changing experience

    Latimer said her family uses airplanes like others use cars. She said most parents really don’t have to question whether their child is going to learn to drive, they just assume they will. Same thing with her family, she said. They just assumed that flying would be part of their lives.

    Earning a private pilot’s license is more than flying hours and tests to get a card that indicates a person has met requirements. While that is the goal from the beginning, the rewards of finishing is much more. It marks the desire to do something different, to be bold enough take something like flying and manage the risks that come with it. It shows the commitment it takes to see the program through, from beginning to end.

    “The difference you can make in this people, you can just see a physical change in these ladies,” Latimer said. “You see this physical change in men, too, when they learn to fly. A switch flips inside of them. They’re a whole different person.”

    For more information about G.I.F.T., visit

    What you need to earn your wings

    Girls In Flight Training, located at Wilbarger County Airport on Highway 183 north of Vernon, offers three areas of training for students: Private pilot, instrument and commercial certifications.

    Here are the requirements for each certification:

    Private pilot

    ■ Be at least 16 for a student certificate and 17 for a private pilot certificate. There is no maximum age limit.

    ■ Be able to read, speak and understand English.

    ■ Take and pass at least a Federal Aviation Administration Third Class medical exam.

    ■ Students must complete a minimum of 40 total flying hours including 20 with a FAA-certified instructor and 10 solo hours.


    ■ Hold a Private Pilot Certificate.

    ■ There is no maximum age limit.

    ■ Be able to read, speak and understand English.

    ■ Hold at least a Third Class FAA Medical Certificate.

    ■ Students must complete a minimum of 40 hours in simulated or actual instrument conditions with a certificated instructor. Up to 20 hours can be done in an FAA-approved flight simulator, and another 50 hours of cross-country flying as a pilot in command is required.


    ■ Hold a Private Pilot Certificate with an Instrument rating.

    ■ Be 18 years old or older. There is no maximum age limit.

    ■ Be able to read, speak and understand English.

    ■ Hold at least a Third Class FAA Medical Certificate. 

    Students must complete a minimum of 250 total flight hours including 20 hours with a FAA-certificated instructor and 10 hours of solo hours.