Flight simming from a female perspective
Written by Jessica Pearce
Today is international women's day when we supposedly show women how appreciated they are, whether it's as a mother, a friend, a wife or even within the work environment. Of course that last part is always a little awkward I feel. Numerous companies far and wide will trot out a picture of a hard-working female employee, tell you a little about what they do and, well that's about it really. We all throw adjuration at the chosen Frau but come the following day, it’s back to normal.
This year, it’s apparently fallen to me to ‘represent’ my gender within the flight sim community. Fair enough I suppose, so let’s kick off with a few observations. Women in the flight sim community are like hen’s teeth. Rare to nonexistent. Looking at the Navigraph 2018 survey, Women make up just 0.78% of flight simmers. For people like me, who are lucky enough to work in the industry, it’s even less. I’m pretty sure at the Cosford Flight sim show last October, All three of us were in the same room. Myself, Orbx’s Aimee Sanjari and Infinite Flight creator Laura Laban were the only three industry workers with an actual interest in flight simming. Normally, and in the course of my job, the women I talk to are often in the ‘PR dept.’ with no interest in the subject. (Aimee is also in PR, but she knows her way around an aircraft believe me!)
Being a ‘hen's tooth' in a very male-dominated industry is interesting. I've never found it difficult to discuss aviation with my male colleagues, or indeed with the public in general. There’s been a little ‘mansplaining’ now and again from a few, but it’s often been done in the guise of showing knowledge and experience. The trick is to show as much if not more knowledge back. I'm a voracious reader, and as a child, any aviation-themed book was read cover to cover as quickly as possible. It's left me with a tonne of somewhat useless information that I can call upon to talk with the public, covering most aircraft types. Indeed, when you answer back with a nice fact or anecdote yourself, the response is almost always the same. The person I’m talking to relaxes, a smile creeps across their face and we continue chatting for a while.
Quite often I’ll hear the phrase ‘It's so interesting/wonderful/unusual to find a woman interested in this stuff.' I suppose it is. Flying is in my blood. It's all I've wanted to do since I was little. I did my first solo at 16 in a glider, and I've flown plenty of different things since. Add to that a fascination with computers and I was made to do the job I'm doing. Still, a little company would be nice. However, being a woman in the aviation industry, in general, can also be a huge advantage. Then you're a novelty. Along with sim work, I write for real world aviation magazines as well. For both magazines I write for, I'm the only woman they have. When I'm out in the field, interviewing Airline CEO's or aircraft manufacture, the response I get from them is much different than my male colleagues. Instinctively, the interviews are more relaxed. There's a cup of tea or coffee, and a discussion on many things beyond what I'm there to really talk about. This produces a much different article than you'd expect. Yes, the facts are all present, but using a little smile and a nod, a person will tell a woman a story rather than just the company line.
It's possible to use your ‘feminine charm' to your advantage at times. In the same way, a man's firm handshake can be used to assert dominance, a coy smile and nod of the head can do wonders. None of it helps with some pilots though. A few years back, I was in Sweden for a break, staying with friends. Both my friend and I are simmers, and an hour from his home was Vasteras Airport. Here they have a simulator museum. These full-size sims have been retired by SAS and put to use in the museum. For a small fee, you can fly them. For me, this was a ‘Shut up and take my money' moment. The first sim I flew was a marvellous DC-10. Alongside me in the cockpit was a retired DC-10 captain. We decided to shoot the approach at Kai Tak. That was the idea. The captain, however, felt I had no clue what I was doing and ‘helped' me hand fly the approach. Revenge was swift, however. Later on, Having talked to the museum owner, we got to try out the newest addition to the museum, an A320 sim. It was still being built but it was flyable. Having talked my way in, who did I discover at the controls? My friend the DC-10 captain. He was having issues with an approach. He couldn't understand why the landing Memo was still showing blue. Fortunately, I was there to ‘help’ and pointed out that the Autobrake hadn’t been set, hence the warning. Once sorted, all was good and the pilot sheepishly left me alone with another instructor.
While the above story is somewhat humorous, there are times when things do go bad. During the launch of Microsoft Flight, one of the main beta testers was a wonderful woman called Arwen. She knew her stuff, and genuinely enjoyed the sim. For some of the older men on the Avsim forum however, she was just a stupid woman who knew nothing. In the end, despite being a moderator on the Flight forum, she was driven out by pure misogyny and bare naked hatred. Being told woman has no business in the cockpit affected her deeply.
Things do change, though not as fast as we’d like. For instance, there’s still a great deal of sexism in the aviation industry in general. For example. A young male pilot friend recently took to Facebook to decry CAE’s decision to open up a scholarship for women only, in an effort to try and get more women involved in aviation and as pilots in general. He saw this as discriminatory. How dare women get a leg up. They should have to work as hard as he had to get his licence. His attitude shone brightly of entitlement and misunderstanding. Firstly, the scholarship was open to women who had their licenses, so they had worked ‘as hard as he had.’ To get where they were. Next, this was one scholarship. One where he, as a man was disqualified from. The 20+ other scholarships out there he could apply for were open for him, yet he begrudged this one. Finally, after all the shouting was done, his dislike of the CAE scholarship came down to a simple ‘It should be me because I want it, nae deserve it.’ With women representing just 4% of airline pilots in the UK or the USA, I’m not sure why he felt that giving a woman a chance to do a job that’s 96% male dominated was such a bad thing. The whole rant came across like a small child told to share his toys with a sibling. It’s also worth remembering that the first female commercial pilot entered service in 1974!
Coming back to the sim world, it's true there are few women who are prepared to spend time flying on a PC, but we are there. For me, well I’m diversifying and getting involved in scenery development. No doubt I’ll one of very few women there too! So for this International Women’s day, remember, we exist, we know at least as much as you, and having a dick doesn’t mean you can fly a plane better than anyone else. Oh and down with the patriarchy and stuff!
Written by 'Key Publishing' writer Jessica Bannister Pearce for Threshold A.S.