LAKELAND, Fla. – In a field currently dominated by men, one Florida film is encouraging young girls and women to fly to new heights by telling the stories of passionate female aviators and showcasing the next generation aspiring to be one of them.
“Fly Like a Girl” was mostly filmed and produced in Lakeland and features stories from a group of strong and zealous females, including Lego-loving and future aviator Afton Kinkade to iconic aerobatic pilot Patty Wagstaff.
Director Katie McEntire Wiatt, a Florida native, said she first developed the idea for the film during her time as a fourth grade teacher in Polk County.
“One of the things that I started to notice in the classroom is that there was often times a real disconnect between young girls and STEM subjects,” she said.
Wiatt remembers when Central Florida organization Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo came to her school to do a presentation and a female pilot came along.
“And the girls in my class just lit up and they had so many questions for her,” she said. “I started thinking. ‘They have not ever seen a female pilot before.’ So it became my goal to really get more women in STEM subjects in front of them, whether it be through reading or in person.”
While teaching, Wiatt, who has a background in film, also occasionally worked with Lakeland-based production company Indie Atlantic Films. A few years later, she decided to leave the classroom and pursue filmmaking full time.
The up-and-coming director said she always knew she wanted to make documentaries and it was her experience as a school teacher that inspired her debut film. It took her around three years to make it to the big screen.
“I wanted to do for my first documentary something that was really going to encourage and inspire and (I) sort of connected it back to my experience in the classroom with aviation and STEM subjects,” she said. “Florida has a lot of aviation in general. We were really lucky in that aspect.”
Wiatt’s film highlighting women in the aviation industry comes as the number of women fulfilling such roles has steadily increased over the last two decades, according to Women in Aviation International. However, WAI points out that the numbers are still small compared to the number of men dominating the industry. Only 7.9% of pilots are women, whereas 79.2% are flight attendants. The numbers dwindle when it comes to more college degree-related roles, like flight engineers.
[WATCH THE TRAILER BELOW]
“Girls as young as the age of six are more inclined to think that their own gender is not as smart as boys when it comes to STEM subjects,” Wiatt said. “I mean, as young as six, to think that maybe you might not be able to do science or math as well as your male counterparts ... (it) isn’t something that we want for our girls. I want girls to see that there are really smart, intelligent, strong women out there in these fields.”
And “Fly Like A Girl” features some of the best, brightest and sassiest in the industry.
Film watchers hear from Vernice Armour, the first female African American combat pilot in the U.S. armed forces who says she broke barriers not just for herself but for the aspiring pilots coming after her.
“Now we need to make sure we’re giving each other the opportunities to get there and we’re not going to wait for a break, we have to make our break,” the Marine says in the film.
Wiatt said what one sees during the documentary is just part of Armour’s story.
“She’s had a series of first and she is just one of those people that’s super determined and didn’t give up when she wasn’t accepted into the Marine Corps the first few times,” Wiatt said. “(She) just kept really pushing to do what she wanted to do.”
The film features at least a dozen women like Armour who didn’t quit on their dreams.
Retired NASA astronaut and local Central Floridian Nicole Stott shares her experience as a flight engineer and mission specialist on screen while encouraging women to touch the sky and reach for the stars. Shaesta Waiz is the first female certified civilian pilot born in Afghanistan and the youngest woman to fly solo around the world in a single-engine aircraft. She is also among the extraordinary group of diverse girls and women pushing for representation in the aviation industry.
“It’s so important from a very early age for girls to see real examples of real women in a variety of careers,” Wiatt said. “Getting young girls to see that there are women out there connecting them with the women doing these things: scientists, doctors, pilots, you know, aviation engineers and mechanics.”
“Fly Like a Girl” is also garnering national attention for not just the women it features, but the aspiring aviators confident in their dreams and pursuing their passions.
The film’s trailer opens with images of a Lego-built aerobatic plane, inspired by Wagstaff. The plane, built by young Kinkade is a reoccurring theme as the student pilot shares her thoughts about girls in aviation and her dream to one day sit in the captain’s chair.
“People don’t get interested in aviation, they just think, ‘Oh, it’s an airplane and it gives you travel,’ but it’s more than that,” Kinkade said in the film’s trailer.
Kinkade also exudes confidence, proving her generation will fearlessly take flight and shamelessly beat the boys.
Traditionally, girls haven’t been nurtured to pursue careers in the flight industry, but those who were and are are making history.
“I think because it just takes so much determination and grit, especially in those early days, to go into any aviation field,” Wiatt said. “I think that for all of us, sometimes we want things to come easy, and we want them to come fast. You know, that’s how our society is. But sometimes it just takes hard work and determination. And I think women especially are really created to be hard workers and to do the hard stuff. And so I think that if they see this film, I hope that whatever it is, they’ll consider following what that dream is.”
“Fly Like a Girl” made its official debut in October 2020. The documentary is currently available on Amazon Prime Video and other streaming platforms, distributed by Gravitas Ventures.
Some of the Florida locations children can learn about aviation include the Young Eagles program, F.I.T Aviation Flight Camps, Embry Riddle Dual Enrollment and/or Summer Camps, National Flight Academy and the Florida Air Museum.
For more stories celebrating local Florida women and their legacies, check out clickorlando.com’s Women’s History Month section.