February 22, 2023

Teaching Young Girls How to Fly at PreFlight Aviation Camp

Rachael Stopera and Clara Kelley

PreFlight Aviation Camp

While the number of women in the aviation industry has increased over the past two decades, The FAA’s US Civil Airmen Annual Statistics for 2022 reports that only 9.5% of the total number of pilots are women. The numbers are similar in the drone space, with barely 8% of registered Remote Pilots (licensed drone pilots) being women. Last summer we (Rachael Stopera, Technical Writer, and Clara Kelley, Interface Designer) had the opportunity to work with an incredible organization looking to change that.

PreFlight Aviation Camp is a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring the next generation of pilots through a six-day camp and mentorship program for girls, ages 11-14. To PreFlight, “Seeing is believing and by placing young girls in an enriching environment, surrounded by female aviators and role models, they begin to believe that becoming a pilot is a real possibility for their lives.”

We visited PreFlight Aviation Camp’s Colorado location at the Centennial Airport near Denver, CO for a half day of fun and learning with their campers. Once we arrived at the Colorado SKIES Academy, we helped the team prepare the Skydio 2 Pro Kits that PreFlight received as part of a donation from Skydio For All. It’s always super fun to work with Skydio For All partners because we know they’re making a difference in education and flying safely with Skydio Autonomy in their hands.

Rachael Stopera and Clara Kelley

Mentoring the students that week was an incredible team of women pilots from companies like United Airlines and Delta Airlines. Alongside us were student pilots from AIMS Community College who had flown in on their own plane that morning to join the campers!

The day started with the counselors and AIMS students walking the campers through creating their very own remote controlled fixed wing craft out of foam, which they decorated with stickers, awesome illustrations, and their very own callsigns. The girls learned all the parts of an aircraft earlier in the week, and we were so impressed with their ability to easily rattle off each component. It was super sweet to get to talk to each of the kids about how they chose their call signs. One of our favorites was the “Tutti Frutti” team, who decorated their plane with lots of berry stickers.

PreFlight Aviation Camp

While the campers were working away on their planes, we had the chance to chat with the professional pilots and even compare pilot’s licenses. We were surprised by how much our Part 107 Remote Pilot licenses appear similar to the AIMS college students’ licenses and even the commercial airliner pilots’ licenses!

After the planes were finished, it was Skydio’s turn. Both of us shared a presentation that educated the campers about quadrotors, Skydio Autonomy, and our individual roles as a Product Designer and Technical Writer. Many of the women that the campers had spoken with so far had all been pilots - and only a few of the campers had heard of either of our roles - so it was a joy to share some other options available to get involved in aviation technology should the campers choose a different path. Some of the counselors even came up afterwards to ask us questions about our careers!

It made me immensely proud to share details about my job as a Technical Writer – none of the students had heard of this profession before, so opening their minds to another career path really made me feel like I was making an impact on them. It was especially fun to see their eyes light up when I let them know that technical writing isn’t simply sitting in front of a computer all day - I get to go fly and test our features the same way the engineers and test team do!” -Rachael

 PreFlight Aviation Camp

Finally, the moment they had all been waiting for - flying Skydio drones. Centennial Airport has a museum onsite where they keep beautifully restored historical planes. Since Skydio Autonomy is capable of flying in enclosed, GPS-denied environments, each camper had a hands-on experience piloting the drone while we taught them about manually controlling throttle, yaw, pitch, and roll using the Skydio Controller, as well as Skydio’s powerful skills like Motion Track.

It was originally very nerve wracking for me, watching Skydio 2 dip and dive around museum-quality aircraft at speed to create beautiful cinematic footage of the girls running around and having fun, but I quickly relaxed - Skydio was doing what it always does best.” -Clara

The campers absolutely rocked, everyone wanted a chance to hand launch or land the drone, and the giggles were endless as one camper after another tried to beat Skydio’s Motion Track feature. The afternoon concluded with a group KeyFrame shot with all the campers, counselors, college students, and speakers. Smiles and waves were abundant!

PreFlight Aviation Camp

After saying goodbye to the campers, we headed into Denver for an afternoon of exploring. To keep with the theme of women’s empowerment, we visited the Molly Brown House Museum, the restored home-turned-museum of the “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” Titanic survivor and philanthropist. The house is full of rich history, including first-hand accounts from Molly Brown and her family about the sinking of the Titanic. The museum’s audio tour guided us through each room, telling the story of Molly Brown’s extraordinary life as a mother, a philanthropist, and a suffragette.

This experience is one we hold dear, and we are so happy to have been a part of giving the girls not only a fun-filled afternoon but one that also served to inspire, educate and empower them to take on the world. To be able to go out into the world and watch people be delighted by Skydio 2 is always a delight, but even more special when Skydio can inspire the next generation of pilots and engineers. We truly believe that one of the best ways we change the world is by supporting educational opportunities for underrepresented groups. Every time we are able to support and engage with programs like PreFlight Aviation Camp it makes us proud to be working at Skydio. Action is everything.

Organizations like PreFlight Aviation Camp are doing the work and walking the walk of closing the gender gap in aviation and engineering. They accept donations through their website to support scholarships for girls to attend their camp and are actively looking for volunteers in Texas and Colorado for their camps in Summer 2023.

You can learn more about PreFlight Aviation Camp at www.preflightcamp.com.

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