Months ago I wrote a piece entitled "What Not to Say to An Aviatrix." In effort to delay sounding too feminist, I chose not to post it. But delay longer I cannot, as I heard a voice bellow out that list’s top offender yet again.
"Hey, you flyin' that thing?" a man shouted in a thick southern drawl. Shock laced his speech—as it has for the many before him.
Allow me to set the stage. I was standing near my airplane performing some sort of pilot duty: preflight inspection, fueling, connecting my helmet and GPS in the cockpit, whatever. The question might be moderately intelligent if I were scuffling around a larger aircraft, requiring a greater number of crewmen, like the P2-V. But a single seat airtanker? If I am the only person in sight I am either flying it, or vandalizing it.
Yesterday's little outburst was textbook example but not my favorite. The most drastic demonstration of such genius transpired in Arkansas. I landed a Dromader—also a single seat airtanker—and taxied to the fuel pump. There, stood a fellow on the other side of the fence. Upon shutting the engine down, flopping open the window and climbing onto the wing, I heard my favorite sentence pluck each nerve in my neck. “You flyin’ that?”
Looking back, I wish I had said something sharper. As it was, only my tone conveyed slight irritation. I wanted to rip him apart with wit and sarcasm. Instead, I answered with a blasé, “Yep.”
Out of the dozen times or so I’ve been asked this ridiculous question, not once has it come from the lips of a woman. Nor have I, during my involvement with aviation, uttered that sentence to another pilot—man or woman.
Scottsdale airport, Arizona, I participated in a static display for the public with an Air Tractor 802 (single seat). A very knowledgeable state fire official accompanied me. He was not an aviator; but the eye contact initiating every airplane question started with him. Since he was a friend of mine I made a game of it, entertaining myself by silently watching him stutter through his own presumptions.
An observer might think the initiation of conversation flattering. But it’s not. It is infuriating. I hate the inquirer’s implied doubt. And I envy my male counterparts in that they rarely have to explain themselves—for them, their capability is assumed.
For the fellow who can’t keep his curiosity quiet, be subtle. There are other ways to find out if the woman on the ramp flies “that thing.” Ask about cruise speeds, or takeoff distance, or gallons per hour, or horse power. Then listen to the answers; your aviatrix will have no choice but to shed her disguise.