Book review: Latinas in Aviation

Latinas in Aviation: Stories of passion, power, and breaking into the aviation industry by Olga Esther Nevarez Custodio

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Only six percent of pilots are women, but after reading Jacqueline’s little book, Latinas in Aviation, I have a feeling that number will change very soon, and very much upward. A compilation of women in cockpits, as mechanics, as air traffic controllers, and filling about every other role in aviation, this book should serve as an inspiration for any young person, particularly a young Latina.

Ms Ruiz cites such aviation luminaries as Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, pilot of an Air Force KC-135 refueling aircraft, Jacqueline Pulido, first woman pilot at Volaris Airlines, Lizbeth Alvorado with ATC at O’Hare International, Amanda Grace Colón Nuñez A&P mechanic and accident investigator.

The women featured in this book have something in common besides their gender. They all have a desire to be part of aviation, and they’ve all defied a convention of some kind to make that dream a reality. A number of them are fulfilling a parent’s dream vicariously by flying. Another thing many of them share is that they had a mentor, someone who believed in them even when they did not.

Reading of the obstacles many of them faced, disbelief that they’re pilots, doubt about their abilities, comments and harassment from male pilots and even criticisms from other women in some cases, heightens these womens’ accomplishments. For any young women wishing to fly, especially a latina, this book is filled with role models. It’s time to change that six percent number, and move it to 50%. Querer es poder indeed. Latinas in Aviation: Stories of passion, power, and breaking into the aviation industry



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Book Review: This is Your Captain Speaking

This Is Your Captain Speaking: Reaching for the Sky Despite a Lifetime of Abuse, Depression and Fear by Courtney Schoch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Wow. That’s what I kept thinking as I read this book. Wow. What an amazing, disheartening, brutal, dangerous, and finally heartwarming life. Why the last adjective, ‘heartwarming’? Because the author, for all her dark background, her immersion in negative family dynamics, the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, her own extremely poor judgment growing up, and her basement-level self-esteem at one point while trying to escape her past, she emerged somehow as a successful, compelling person. Despite the book’s seamy and sordid details, the author’s descriptions of the sleazy, crude, lying, and violent men she fell in with—some of whom she married—she comes out the other side, as a pilot no less, and an inspiring voice to others.


Aircraft autopilots operate on the concept of error signals. What that means is, once the pilot sets a course, the autopilot makes that course equal zero. Any deviation from the course due to turbulence, or high winds, or any disturbance, the autopilot detects the error signal, and returns the aircraft to the zero point, the course the pilot chose. Reading this, I hoped the author would heed her own error signals, and adjust the course of her life.


Three stars only because I wanted much more about her journey to the cockpit, her acquisition of flying skills, her navigation of the airline hiring process, and the ways she gained flight time and certifications. We heard very little of that journey. So this reader/reviewer’s reaction, especially as a pilot myself, was to wonder why the book’s cover, its title, and its overall pitch don’t match the contents? It takes a lot of courage to write a memoir, especially one like this, so the author is indeed brave and resourceful. I wanted to see her pull out of her dive toward the ground, and finally she did.This Is Your Captain Speaking: Reaching for the Sky Despite a Lifetime of Abuse, Depression and Fear




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Book Review: The Grit factor

Ms Huffman Polson’s engaging book is not what I’d expected, but it’s better. I anticipated a memoir/war story/there I was tale. It is that kind of book, partly. Mostly it’s a deep study into what motivates people, or should, and the various things that hold people back, especially women in a man’s world.


The Grit Factor, when one acquires it, allows them to succeed, often despite their self doubts, the ‘imposter syndrome’, their focus on the obstacle rather than the goal, and in general peoples’ ‘grit and determination’. The author was the first woman to fly and deploy (to Bosnia) in the Army’s AH-64 Apache attack helicopter. She knows whereof she speaks, because she tried a few of the traditional routes for success, found them wanting, and discerned her own. The Grit Factor details that path.

Huffman Polson cites the admonition from Isaiah, ‘to whom much is given, much is expected.’ She was privileged growing up, and she took that biblical mantra to heart, finding a life of service, in the words of Frederick Beuchner ‘where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger coincide.’ Her deep gladness was service, and particularly toward women who’d mentored her, many of whom were interviewed for the book, and for those younger women in need of mentoring.


She writes about Katie Higgins, first woman to fly with the Navy’s elite demo team the Blue Angels. She tells us about General Nadja West, first black female surgeon general in the U.S. Army. Alda Siebrands, a Coast Guard helicopter pilot, Edna Davis, who flew Martin B-26 bombers during WW2, Bessie Coleman, Angel Hughes, even Uhura, the black female navigator on Star Trek.


Huffman Polson writes about ‘the 5 whys’, changing the narrative to bring success, about ‘tailboom counseling,’ and ‘muddy boots leadership’, and listening skills that are a key to leadership, because we’re all hard-wired toward a bias for action, which pressures us to do something, instead of just listening. The Ask—Listen—Pause treatment can enrich and embellish a decision, she says.

As for advice, she offers this: That we need to ‘draw the circle,’ to figure out who our friends are. We must actively search for mentors, a difficult obstacle for women, she says, because asking for help can be seen as weakness. She advises that the tough navigation is steering clear of negative people, because they bring nothing helpful to the table. In a surprising discovery, she advises women in positions of power over men to be cautious of jealous wives and girlfriends who may feel threatened. In addition, she advises women not to try pleasing everyone—something women find themselves doing—but to be their authentic selves, however difficult that is. She quotes Eleanor Roosevelt here: You not only have a right to be yourself; you have an obligation to be yourself.


The good news, for women, about the last bit of advice is that, as the author says, good leaders always care for their people, something that women seem to be better at than men. As for facing failure, she offers another interesting finding: Don’t be afraid to find people who have failed, she says, because you’ll know how they reacted to that failure.

This reader found an answer in the book to a question that has persisted for more than 50 years: How to explain my ambivalence about Vietnam? Huffman Polson may offer that it’s because I was unable to take ownership of the rationale and conduct of that long-ago war in South Asia. That few of us who fought there believed in it enough to make it our own, and to embrace the benefits that would have followed. Finally, she states that, as every pilot knows, facing into the wind equals lift. Likewise, facing our fears, the wind in our faces, creates the same affect, lifting us just as surely on our personal wings.


Highly recommended. In an aside to the author, I thought the book review essay idea for OERs was excellent.

Shannon Huffman Polson is also author of North of Hope. A Daughter’s Arctic Journey

Book Review: Inspiring Words for Sky and Space Women

Here we have a collection of stories about women pilots, an (almost) complete compilation of the sheroes who have blazed a trail across the skies for other women who aspire to the cockpit.

Inspiring Words for Sky and Space Women fills a major gap in our knowledge of women in the history of aviation. Most Americans, asked to name names of female aviators, can perhaps remember Amelia Earhart, possibly Jacqueline Cochran, or Sally Ride. This book highlights so many more women, and it’s good to see them finally getting their due.

Did you know author Patricia Cornwell is a helicopter pilot? Neither did I, and I’m a helicopter pilot! Did you know super-model Gisele Bundchen is a helicopter pilot? Me neither. Angelina Jolie, and Martha McSally, yep, pilots. Senator Tammy Duckworth is a UH-60 Blackhawk pilot, (and purple heart recipient)

Here are a few other obscure names in aviation, women who should be enshrined in pilot halls of fame, including a few who are enshrined there: Vernice Armour, first African-American female Marine pilot to fly a Cobra gunship; Beverly Bass, first female captain (of a 777) at American Airlines; Olive Ann Beech, co-founder and president of Beech Aircraft Corporation; Bessie Coleman, first licensed African-American woman pilot; Eileen Collins, first woman to command a shuttle mission on STS-63; Harriet Quimby, first American woman licensed to fly. The list goes on and on.

The author is dedicated to affirming young womens’ aspirations to fly, and she’s included a lengthy bibilography, and an extensive list of on-line resources aimed at that purpose. Any young person, especially young women, who dream of a life in the sky should read this book. The underlying theme, not just from Hamilton, but from several of her contributors is a message for any who doubt they can fly: ‘Yes you can!’

Only four stars because there’s no mention of Jerry Mock, the first woman to solo around the world, and also no mention of the author’s own personal journey to the cockpit.