A pioneering pilot’s story of breaking gender barriers, fighting discrimination, and making peace with her experience.
In this debut memoir, Shipko takes readers through her career in aviation, from washing planes at her father’s fixed-based operation at a South Florida airport to becoming the first female pilot hired by Hughes Airwest, in 1976. Although she stopped flying in 1981, Shipko’s deep knowledge of aviation and the personalities of each plane she flew are evident in her detailed descriptions of flights taken decades ago. Her early years as a pilot were spent doing freelance flying out of Miami’s Corrosion Corner—“history, danger, and romance all wrapped up in one”—ferrying cargo and passengers throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. The tedium of loading and unloading tons of Bahamian fruits and vegetables was balanced by the opportunity for a swim on other island runs, delivering emergency supplies to Belize in the wake of a hurricane, and a night spent in a Colombian jail. During those Florida years, Shipko faced some antagonists and resistance to a woman in the cockpit, but that harassment was minor compared with the attacks at Hughes Airwest. Shipko writes with evident pride of her professional growth yet also describes in vivid detail the verbal, emotional, and physical harassment she faced from male pilots who resented her presence. The book places these experiences in historical context, long before companies were held liable for sexual harassment. When the stress of resisting and attempting to ignore the abuse caused serious health problems, Shipko took medical leave from Hughes Airwest and eventually retired from flying. Tracing her evolution in the decades since, she compellingly explores the roles her Catholic faith and family played in developing her understanding of the challenges she faced.
A unique, engaging memoir balancing personal story with broader social themes.