Denver was in the bullseye of a blizzard predicted to hit the eastern slope of Colorado Wednesday morning, March 13. Midnight, Monday night, I was on the phone with Southwest Airlines. My daughter-in-law, two grandkids and I were booked to fly out of Denver at noon, Wednesday. We were on our way to attend the Women in Aviation (WAI) conference in Long Beach, California.
As per the forecast, the storm walloped Denver! All March 13th flights in and out of DIA were cancelled. BUT — because of the incredibly helpful effort of a Southwest Airlines booking agent named Bernadette — we four escaped from Denver Tuesday afternoon. Landing in Long Beach at 6 p.m., we had time to hit the pool and hot tub before collapsing into bed.
This conference was a must for me, plus the kids and their mom had looked forward to the trip since last fall! The Long Beach Convention Center was host to the 2019 WAI conference and its popular Girls in Aviation program. If you have visited my home page of my website, you’ve seen the lead story there headlined: “Girls In Aviation” to Receive Copies of Sarah’s BJ ERICKSON: WASP PILOT.
Thanks to the financial backing of a generous and very likeable Long Beach Airport businessman/pilot, Curt Castagna, 250 Girls in Aviation attendees received a copy of my book, BJ Erickson: WASP Pilot — written especially for today’s young women. My job was to introduce Curt, BJ’s daughter, Terry Rinehart, and granddaughter, Kelly Leber — both pilots — to the audience.
Before the girls read the book, I wanted them to know something about BJ. We did that with a 4-minute film clip of Terry and BJ sitting in the Rinehart family living room talking about how she came to fly with the WASP. The film, footage was shot in 2000, when BJ was 80.
On March 16th — there on a big screen in Long Beach — BJ, herself, told the story of how the first 28 women pilots were hired and began flying small trainer aircraft for the Ferrying Division, Air Transport Command. The year was 1942. BJ Erickson went on to serve 24 months as commander of the WASP ferry pilot squadron at Long Beach Airport in 1943-44.
Long Beach or Bust!
That’s why I HAD to be in Long Beach Saturday March 16.
And what a day it was! Girls in Aviation featured a morning of aviation-focused learning and fun for the girls — including flying a simulator. My granddaughter, Emy, was one of the 250. She LOVED it! Two inspirational speakers touched the girls and the adults in the room: Lt General Stayce Harris (recently retired from the Air Force) and Jessica Cox, a woman pilot without arms. This amazing woman uses her feet to fly the plane, and she showed us how she does it!
I know a lot of the first and second-generation military women pilots because of my work with the WASP, but I had never met Stayce Harris until that day. When I came in and headed for my seat for lunch, Lt. General Harris stood up, came over to me and hugged me! I was stunned. She recognized me! WOW!!! Gratefully, I hugged her back and thanked her. Stayce is the highest-ranking African-American woman military pilot in the US armed forces. In “retirement,” she will fly for American Airlines! What a message she delivered to those 250 girls!
For this program and its success, my thanks go to three WAI stalwarts: Molly Martin, WAI Outreach Director, who worked with me to get the project on track; WAI founder and president Peggy Chabrian, for her ongoing support; and Sue Coon who, among her many other duties, manages the WAI Store and Author’s Corner where I have signed books for 17 years.
Finally, my heartfelt thanks to Curt Castagna for making copies of BJ Erickson: WASP Pilot available to all 250 girls at “Girls in Aviation,
2019” and to Cindy Goodfellow and the rest of Curt’s staff for their assistance. AND, my thanks to BJ’s daughter, Terry, for contacting Curt and for her ongoing support of my efforts to tell her mom’s story.
Next Friday’s Blog: Petting sharks at the Aquarium of the Pacific! Dinner for the Rickman four — on the water with a view of the Queen Mary. Passing out Gramma’s new book promotion cards on the conference floor. Swimming and hot tubbing it on the hotel terrace. The Author’s Corner and seeing many old and good friends!
— Sarah Byrn Rickman
The Wordsmith, LLC