Ever since Wilbur and Orville Wright made history with the first ever powered aircraft on December 17, 1903, in Kitty Hawk, NC the world has been changed by the possibilities of aviation. Modern air travel has become so commonplace that there can be hundreds of thousands of flights between private and commercial aircraft every day. Throughout the history of aviation, the field has been predominantly run by males. Positions for pilots, technicians, engineers, designers, controllers, and more are generally filled by men. This isn’t anything new, many professional fields in the realms of science and technology have always been dominated by men. Thankfully this is a trend that is changing thanks to encouragement from educational programs in K-12 school systems.
One of the fastest growing areas of aviation is the field of drones. This past year, the FAA granted over 160,000 new Part 107 licenses, the license needed to commercially operate a drone. Out of all of these certifications, about 10,800 (6.7%) went to female pilots. When the FAA first enacted the small drone rule in 2016 that paved the way for the commercial drone regulations followed today, only 793 out of 20,362 Part 107 licenses were obtained by female pilots. The numbers are gradually increasing, but as drones are representing such a huge opportunity for the future market place, there are those who wish to see an even greater rise in female drone operators.
At the onset of the COVID-19 lockdown procedures throughout the United States of America, Sue Bickford, CEO of New England UAV (NEUAV) was heartbroken over the fact that some of the wonderful opportunities she and some colleagues had set up to get drones into elementary classrooms had to be canceled. In an interview, Sue stated, “I’m thinking to myself, these poor kids, you know all of a sudden they’re stuck at home. They have no opportunities for exciting programs in their schools. And I started to think about how we could change that situation.” When civilian commercial drones first hit the market Sue founded NEUAV to help create a world of certified drone pilots. As explained on their website, “NEUAV is committed to developing a professionally trained workforce through educational and professional development opportunities customized to meet organizational needs.” Sue realized that one of the best ways to grow a drone workforce was by introducing them to the future workforce, children. As a woman, she felt passionately the need to introduce drones to girls, in particular, in a school setting.
Sue had planned on doing just this with Brenda Wilson, President and CEO of Diehard RC, and Sharon Rossmark, CEO of Women and Drones. Diehard RC uses the exciting world of drone and remote vehicle racing to educate people of all ages about this ever growing field of technology. And, as explained on their website, “Women And Drones is the leading membership organization dedicated to driving excellence in the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and Urban Air Mobility (UAM) industry by achieving equity and participation of women in all disciplines and across all employment sectors. Our core mission: To increase female participation in the economic opportunities of the industry.” After coming up with a basic idea to get drones into the hands of girls, Sue called up Brenda and then Sharon to solidify a plan. “Really what helped us a lot,” Sue said, “was that we had lost focus for the year, and now we had a focus and a special purpose.”
That special purpose was the creation of a new program called 1,000 Drones for 1,000 Girls. The goal of the project is to foster an understanding and love of drones in girls in a middle school setting through a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) based drone program. By using drones in a STEM program these students will get a chance for hands on knowledge about a wide range of applications in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and so much more. Drones touch on aspects of computer coding, aviation, art, problem solving, and cognitive development. Sharon pointed out that while they hope this program will encourage girls to join the professional world of drones and aviation, they also know that these tools will help them in the future with a multitude of possibilities that have traditionally been held by males.
This program is not the first, nor will it be the last, collaboration between Sue, Brenda, and Sharon. They hope to get these drones into school systems for the coming year. They have figured out the numbers and logistics needed to get 1,000 drones into the hands of 1,000 girls, now they need to just wait for schools to reopen to initiate the program. “It’s amazing that once you start on this track,” Sharon said, “the number of people that will reach out and want to be a part of it and support you.” 1,000 Drones for 1,000 girls will help shape the future of these students. As Brenda said, “I think it’s important to just put technology in kids’ hands. And make it very inclusive. I mean look at what your children are drawn towards, and you know, nurture that. You may find that your kids are really into drones, or they’re into RC cars, or they’re into robotics. It’s trying different things and letting them learn and grow with that.”