Patrick Wiggins, 64, may be circling around Tooele in his 4-seat Cessna 172 on any given day, but sometimes he's not the one flying the plane- a girl is. The retired military airplane mechanic and pilot volunteers with two non-profit organizations that aim to get girls up in the air: Girls with Wings, and Women of Aviation Worldwide.
"Well, girls deserve flight plans, not fairy tales," he said.
Wiggins lets any interested girl pilot his little plane, under his supervision of course. They don't need any flying experience, and it's free. So on Wednesday, I stepped up into the cockpit, and before Wiggins let me steer the plane down the runway and take off, we had a chance to talk.
Hamilton: So you've taken what, two or three other people up today?
Hamilton: Were they women?
Wiggins: "Oh yeah, I will take guys up, I'm equal opportunity. It is aimed primarily at women, first off all because boy scouts have a flight program. Girl scouts don't. Girl scouts are not allowed to fly, which irritates me to no end, so we get around that by doing it with individuals rather than through the scouting thing. But with only 6 percent of the world's flying population-- you figure all of the pilots in the world, 6 percent are women-- you know, we can do better than that and that's what we're trying to do here.
Basically, introducing ladies to flight. You know, if guys come along... A lot of times the lady will bring her boyfriend and he sits in the back, and I'm fine with that.
But that's the whole purpose of both of these programs. We want to get more females, double-x-ers if you will, flying. The fact that they let me, with my single x-chromosome and single y-chromosome, they let me fly, that's nice of them I guess. That's what we're doing, trying to increase the availability of female pilots.
We need more of them. We find, I hate to say this, but a lot of times females handle stress better than guys do, and so ya, you've got a pilot up front, you want to make sure they're handling all the problems."
Some studies have shown that one of the reasons why women aren't participating in technical field like the air and space industry is because they don't know there are opportunities for them to get involved. So Wiggins takes girls up hoping they'll fall in love with the other world they find in the sky.
Wiggins: "I don't know whether it's related or not, but I find boys and girls seem to be equally interested in the sciences, and I think even flying, up until middle school or so. I don't know what it is, it's been a long time since I've been in middle school, but something happens to where the boys' interest in the sciences and flying seems to stay or even increase, and girls-- especially in the sciences-- much less. That stinks. You know, half the population, why are they not doing it? It's not just a Utah thing. This is nationwide. For whatever reason, they're not interested. We just want to get as many people as possible flying. I can't fly everybody, but I fly as many as I can."
Wiggins said he's offered a lot of people a chance to go up in his plane, but sometimes there's not a lot of takers.
Wiggins: "When I was a kid, if someone had come up and said 'Free flight' I'd have been like, 'Yeah!' but I'm not noticing that. A lot of times it's, 'yeah, OK' but then the parents don't want them to or they're just playing with their iPads or whatever. But I still make it available, and if people want to do it, here I am. If not, well, that's too bad for them."
Hamilton: So why do you do it? It's a personal cost for you, it takes time.
Wiggins: "Yeah, but I'm going to be flying. Most of these flights, like today, I was going flying anyway, and then I found there are some people who want to go. So, OK they get to come along. That's what we're doing today-- the two people earlier. One is actually in the air force academy, going to be graduating in about a year and hasn't been able to fly there yet. She got to take it off today. She did two take-offs and two landings. Never flown an airplane before but she managed to do it. And then you! Let's say we actually start the airplane and go flying."