As we hinted at yesterday on our Facebook page, we are going to be doing something new and we hope that you enjoy it. We are going to begin doing multi-part features on pioneering and interesting individuals who have had a lasting impact on aviation in the region and beyond. We found it fitting to begin with the story of Captain Wendy A. Yawching, a person whose story has inspired us and we hope would do the same for you, especially any budding female aviators among our readers and who have inquired many times with us. The story is going to be run over a week and cover different aspects of her illustrious career. It will also slot across three different sections of the site in Features, Aviation History and a brand new dedicated section called ‘Women in Aviation’. This isn’t a one off but a new format going forward, as some persons have had such an impact that a single article could never do it justice and so we begin.
With the kind permission of Capt. WENDY A. YAWCHING.
1984-5: Flight Instructor at Toronto Island airport, Toronto
1986-1988: LIAT 1974 Ltd, Antigua base.
1988-2006: BWIA, started as F/O on MD83 (it was a PILOTS plane, you had to fly it. But if you knew how to fly it, it sure flew beautifully for you!)
Airplanes flown at BEWEE: MD83, Dash 8-400 (Capt.) and B737 (both seats.)
2008-2015 various contracts: CAL, Capt. B737
Total flying hours: I stopped really counting after 10000 🙂
Part One: The Beginning
I first aspired to learn to fly at about 10 years old but I was quickly shut down by all my peers and important adults around me. The universal message was “whoever heard of a girl pilot? That’s for boys”.
Throughout my teens, I heard the same message in different forms from my teachers, counsellors, peers. “No one would ever hire a lady pilot, be realistic.” etc. etc. So much so that I believed them, and even though it was still in my heart I proceeded to get 10 O levels, 3 A levels, and planned to go to University to study something that would “get me a good job”. I graduated from St Joseph’s convent in 1973 and for 3 months I worked at a bank in Port of Spain, Trinidad and hated it. I realized that the office life was NOT for me. From 1973-1976 I was a Flight Attendant at BWIA and much happier but envious of the guys behind the cockpit door. Still believed though, that being a flight attendant would be the closest I would get to flying, simply because I was born in the wrong time and no one would ever hire a female pilot.
In 1976 I went off to study at The University of Waterloo, In Waterloo Ontario, Canada. Always great at Math, I did the Bachelor of Mathematics program with a major in Computer Science and minor in Business. This was fine, but the real education for me was learning from my Canadian roommates (and their friends) a new way of looking at life as a woman.
I arrived in Canada defined by my Trini upbringing, believing that girls did certain kinds of things and boys did other things. That it was unladylike to get all dirty and outdoorsy and go sleep in the woods and climb mountains and lift heavy backpacks and put canoes on my head for a trip in the woods. And that girls could never fly airplanes, that was for boys.
But now here I was in a new culture with girls who laughingly dragged me with them into all kinds of wilderness adventures, who drove trucks and fixed them too. My best friend was studying engineering and in fact was the president of the engineering society (90% male) and that was considered no big deal because no invisible limits were placed on females.
I left that university with an Honors degree but also with the new understanding that there wasn’t anything that a girl couldn’t do just as well as a boy… And that included flying an airplane. That was the game changer for me. If I had not gone to university abroad, if I had remained in TT, my life would have unfolded very differently.
Now, with my new understanding of what was possible, I started flying school as soon as I could scrape the money together. On my first demonstration flight, the instructor, a handsome young man trying to impress me, put the Cessna 152 into a spin. My surprise turned to shock when the door on my side swung open and I was treated to a view of the ground below spinning around and around the nose, and rushing up at me though my open door… I was sure I was a dead girl! Not impressed. I didn’t go back to flying school for a month, but of course I went back.
Newly graduated from university and short of money, I looked around for a way to finance my flying lessons. My parents were not poor, but they had no extra money. They were firm believers in tertiary education (I remember my Mum always telling us, especially her two girls: ‘make sure you don’t ever have to depend on anyone; be able to take care of yourself. Education is the way”. My Dad had paid for the first 8 months of my university, and after that I was on my own. I worked and studied for the remaining 4 years, so when I graduated I surely didn’t have anything left to pay for flying school, and I knew my parents were not able to deal with even a part of that (not to mention they would be shocked at this new crazy decision).
So, when I learnt that Seneca College offered a 3-year Aviation and Flight Training scholarship program, I applied. This top class, free aviation training program attracted thousands of applicants each year, from which only about 100 were selected for the first year of training and evaluation. At the end of this year, the top 30 students would enter free flight training, and graduate two years later with a prestigious AFT certification and a Commercial license with Multi-Instrument ratings. I was delighted and amazed to be chosen, and Off to flight school I went.
The first year was all theoretical, mainly science and engineering subjects. Due to my University schooling I was good in most of the subjects, so I had no problem staying up at the top of the class. But there was something wrong, I wasn’t happy. I was doing what I had always wanted to do. Check. I was surrounded by other students who shared my dream. check. I was succeeding at my goal of being in the top few. check. I was stressed and unhappy. why?
At the time, I couldn’t figure it out. I went to a counsellor to try to get to the bottom of why, whenever I left home to go to Seneca, I felt all uptight and miserable and tense. One session with him was all it took. He guided me gently to see that I didn’t respond well to the military style approach of the program, and the extreme competitiveness which was constantly reinforced by the professors.
This was another life lesson for me. Although I was working hard, and top of my class, it really made me ill that we were being driven to “beat” each other to survive. Like the Hunger Games. It literally made me ill. I will always strive to do well, in anything I do. Can’t help it. But I can’t bear to do well at the expense of other people, especially my friends. So, a month before they chose the top 30, (and at that time I was in the top 4) I quit. The very next day, I was told this story by a friend: a professor was giving back some marked papers and he said “the only person who scored 100% left the program yesterday”.
I’m not a quitter in life, so this was a huge move, but you must know when something isn’t right for you. Having left the chance of free flight training behind of my own free will, I realized I needed a job. With my computer training I landed one at Travelers Insurance in downtown Toronto, with a great open-minded boss. He allowed me to work flexible hours so that I could go flying. As my paychecks came in, they were spent on flying. For the next 3 years, that was my life. I trained at Buttonville airport, and got my private and commercial licenses’, then my instructor rating. My credit cards were always maxed out, and I lived as simply as I could so that every penny would be for flying and that took A LOT of pennies.
Sometime in 1984, I started working as a flight instructor at Central Airways, based at the Toronto Island airport. I really enjoyed introducing other hopefuls to the joys of flight, and sharing that marvelous moment when they took the airplane controls for the first time. In fact, once I got my confidence, I made everyone do their first take-off on their very first flight, much to their surprise and then delight. my students loved me, and each one became a friend. Their personal journey from first flight to solo to certification became my journey. Because we were paid a pittance as instructors (everyone knew we were doing it to build hours) I had to keep working at computers to pay the bills. So, for 2 years I lived a 6 1/2-day work week: 3 days’ computers, 3 and half days flying instructing, and then 1/2 day for laundry, groceries, etc. before starting it all over again. But I was happy, and by this time my friends and family all realized that despite logic and common sense I really was serious about this flying thing.
the story continues HERE….
Darrell Lou-Hing is a retired pilot and avid aviation history buff
Darrell Lou-Hing on the web