Rotarians learn The Ninety-Nines Ventura
County Chapter is flying high

April 01, 2015
Santa Paula News

With more than 100 members The Ninety-Nines Ventura County Chapter (VC99s) is flying high, especially as it boasts one in 51 worldwide members belonging to the chapter that started in Santa Paula.

Rotarians learned much about the international organization of women pilots, whose mission is to promote advancement of aviation through education, scholarships, and mutual support while honoring its unique history and sharing a passion for flight.

Incoming Rotary President Judy Phelps, owner of CP Aviation, introduced VC99s Chair Linda Ehrlich and told how the organization was founded in 1929 when the 117 women pilots licensed at the time were invited to attend a meeting to form the group.

Ninety-nine mostly stunt pilots showed up or expressed an interest in forming the group said Ehrlich and the organization’s first president was famed aviator Amelia Earhart.

The membership — there are more than 5,200 internationally — includes general aviation pilots and professional pilots who fly for airlines, corporations, government entities and the movie industry. Some are military pilots, flight instructors, those who fly for enjoyment and student pilots. 

Ehrlich said initially members formed a “niche” in aviation by piloting and identifying locations for sky reference and 99s “Still do air marks,” for other aviators.

Of the 600,000-plus pilots in the world, Ehrlich said only 5 percent are women and only 3 percent of commercial pilots are women. 

The 99s are primarily devoted to aviation education, “The number one thing we do,” hosting FAA safety seminars and pilot proficiency courses, acting as critiquing flying companions and offering tower and airport tours and acting as speakers to raise awareness.

The 99s also offer scholarships in beginning flight training as well as for advanced ratings and proficiency as well as for those seeking aviation careers or to fund research.

Mutual support and mentoring are important to 99s who recognize “Women learn differently than men, there is more team support,” in the process from student pilot classes to one-on-one training.

Another goal of The 99s is to “maintain and showcase our unique history” which it has through ownership of the Amelia Earhart Museum in Atkinson, Kansas. 

Ehrlich said the birthplace of Earhart was donated to The 99s in 1984 and the organization restored and created the museum; the organization also has the 99s Museum of Women Pilots in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

It is important to 99s to “Share our passion for flight … flying is a sense of freedom and we are very passionate about it,” and try to instill that love by staging Girl Scouts Aviation Day, offering Penny a Pound airplane rides, supporting the Young Eagles program and being a presence at air shows. 

One of the most unique aspects of VC99s is that it started as the Santa Paula Chapter with six members in 1973; the late Gwen Dewey was its first president. In 1999 members throughout Ventura County renamed the chapter reflecting the relatively large number of airports —four — claimed as home base.

99s “All have different lives and professions, and are from different walks of life,” ranging from military personnel and college students to housewives and business professionals.

VC99s said Ehrlich, “Is the most active chapter,” and among the most diverse when it comes to offering activities and programs.

“Last year we gave more than $10,000 to student pilots, we really encourage women to fly,” and partnered other aviation groups to create a mini-airport runway and tower at Camarillo Airport to encourage the interest of children in flight.

“In some countries were we have 99s chapters women aren’t allowed to drive a car,” said Ehrlich, “but they can fly a plane . ”

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