January 20, 2022

Female pilots take flight

Cortland Airfest highlights women in aviation

Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Catherine McArdle of Owasco talks Saturday at the Airfest about her dedication to getting her pilot’s license.

Many years ago, Joanne Bolton watched from her desk at Oneida County Airport as a pilot flew a pink plane with painted purple flowers into the airport and from then on Bolton’s love for aviation grew.

“They call me the flying grandmother,” said Bolton, who received her license in 1985.

By the numbers

December 2017 statistics from the Federal Aviation Administration for female pilots show:
• 42,694 female pilots
• 6,267 fly commercial
• 6,994 fly airline transport
• 9,971 fly private

Karen Stumpf got her license in 1990 after teaching herself how to fly. To her, flying can be summed up in three simple words: sanity, solitude and serenity.

“For many years after I got my ticket, if I got grouchy or something my son would say, ‘Mom you need to fly,’ because all the problems down below aren’t there anymore.”

Even though she hasn’t flown a plane in six months she’s looking to get back out there and one day hopes to pilot an Aviat Husky, a two-seat, light aircraft.

Both women are part of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of female pilots. They were at Cortland Airfest at Chase Air Field in Cortlandville on Saturday talking to people about the education and guidance the group offers to woman who fly.

The Ninety-Nines was established in 1929 when 99 of 117 female pilots in the U.S. met at Curtiss Airfield in Valley Stream. Amelia Earhart was the first president. Today there are over 5,000 women in the organization.

Joanne Bolton of Sherrill talks about the International Women Pilots organization, known as The Ninety-Nines, Saturday during Cortland Airfest at the Cortland County Airport.

“It’s a sisterhood really,” Bolton said. “You call them up and they will always help you.”

Cyndi Koolakian, who coordinated the Airfest, is learning to fly. She said she has a need to understand what is going on when she is in the plane with her husband and also his fascination with flying. Koolakian’s husband flew Bird Dog reconnaissance planes during Vietnam.

“I was petrified of flying,” she said. “However, I just assumed it’s better to know something than to go in knowing nothing.”

For Bonnie Contento, her fondness for aviation developed as she was growing watching planes take off at the Greater Rochester International Airport. Then, four years ago, she decided to sign up for flying lessons while at the Airfest.

“To me it’s like a whole different world up there,” Contento said. “It’s like you’re looking down on everything and to me it’s just amazing.”