My daughter returned from a writer's convention having met Mary Bush Shipko, and having bought her book: AVIATRIX: First Woman Pilot for Hughes Airwest, as a gift for me.
I classify Aviatrix as a memoir, by which I mean it broadly follows this recipe:
- The author tells various stories, of the author's choosing, and in his or her own words, about events that seemed particularly important in the author's life
- The author explains a bit about why he or she chose these stories, and what sort of lessons you might learn from considering the author's experiences
- The author hopes you will enjoy learning about "what it was like," which is a valuable goal, as things change so quickly nowadays.
Aviatrix certainly covers a lot of this ground.
The early years of aviation in America, starting soon after World War II ended, and developing rapidly through the 1950's and 1960's, were a very interesting time in the development of the country, and it's hard not to find this history compelling.
Shipko had a fascinating early adulthood, living in southern Florida, learning to be a pilot at a young age, flying all sorts of fascinating trips around Florida and the Caribbean. Some of these stories were delightful, such as making cargo runs to the Bahamas to pick up crates of cucumber and zucchini, or having to make a very careful landing at the airport on the Abacos Islands because there was a building on fire at the far end of the runway.
But the later part of the book, while still telling the story of Shipko's aviation history, takes a dramatic turn.
Once she mastered the cargo planes and short-hop delivery routes of south Florida, she moved on to become a jet pilot and was, as she notes, the First Woman Pilot for Hughes Airwest, a remarkable achievement.
Sadly, though, the toll it took on her was immense. Plagued by bitter co-workers and a severely polarized and caustic work environment, she endured nearly a decade of hostility and harassment until she eventually was forced out of her chosen career, simply because she was "a woman doing a man's job."
The second half of the book is not easy to read. Some of the anger she faced was searing, and it clearly still burns, 40 years later.
None of this will be much of a surprise to anyone who paid even the slightest bit of attention to events such as the Tailhook Scandal, and it won't be much of a spoiler to reveal that things still haven't much changed.
I admire Shipko for speaking up, for writing her book, for telling her story. Although it certainly doesn't qualify as "light summer reading," it was undeniably fascinating.