Writing With Wings: An Aviation Journalist’s Perspective on the Industry

March 7, 2018 | Author: Benét J. Wilson

My love affair with aviation began in 1970, growing up as the daughter and granddaughter of Air Force officers when there weren’t a lot of black ones at the time. My father got an assignment to the Royal Air Force Mildenhall base, about 80 miles north of London.

Of course, we had to fly to get there. Traveling by air then was a luxury reserved for the rich. But as a military family, the government paid for us to fly from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to London’s Heathrow Airport. It was a big deal at the time, because most Americans didn’t even know anyone who had flown on a plane.

My mother had my sister and me dressed in our Sunday best, complete with hats and white gloves. Our New York cousins, also well-dressed, met us at the airport. When it came time to board, the flight attendant took me up to the cockpit of the Pan Am Boeing 747 that was taking us to London.

The captain was very kind, showing me all the equipment needed to fly the then-new jumbo jet, even allowing me to sit in his seat. I mentioned that I would love to fly on a plane like this again. He emphatically replied, “No. You shouldn’t want to fly on the plane. You should fly the plane.” He gave me my wings, and I went back to my seat.

The love affair began right there.

An Aviation Geek

I was a geeky kid anyway, but I started reading about the airlines and aviation history after that experience. My mother taught me about Bessie Coleman and other black aviation pioneers. My father bought me books about the airlines, including “Airlines of the United States since 1914,” by R.E.G. Davies. I helped friends and family book flights when they wanted to travel. And I dreamed about learning to fly.

My father was assigned to the Pentagon in 1978, and we lived at Bolling Air Force Base in southeast Washington, D.C. Our house was on the final approach for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and I’d sit in the grass for hours watching planes over my head and on the ground.

After college, I worked for a Washington, D.C.-based newsletter that covered topics including employment, training, education and economic development. My boss knew about my fascination with aviation and assigned me industry-related stories. I wrote about how TWA used prison labor to handle reservations and how Florida and the city of Miami helped employees affected by the shutdowns of Pan Am and Eastern Airlines.

My Passion, My Profession

In 1992, it happened — I discovered there were actually publications that would pay me to write specifically about aviation. I was an associate editor at the now-defunct Commercial Aviation News, a trade publication. My first story was about how the FAA’s NextGen would be implemented by the year 2000. Other topics covered included the financial health of the airlines, updates on aircraft and engine manufacturers, and issues concerning the world’s airports.

I joined Women in Aviation International and connected with women doing amazing things in the industry. And I was one of them. I traveled the world as an aviation journalist and had really cool experiences. I attended the three major air shows, got close-up looks at the world’s manufacturing plants and flew on almost every commercial aircraft in the world. I also learned about the industry from the inside, working for two airlines, two aviation nonprofit associations and an aircraft engine manufacturer.

After more than 25 years in the industry as a journalist and communicator, it never gets old. Now my focus — for National Women’s History Month and beyond — is to do what that Pan Am captain did for me when I was a kid: show women and people of color all the great opportunities afforded by careers in aviation.

Benet J Wilson

Benet J Wilson

An author and writer for Honeywell, Wilson is a veteran aviation journalist who has also managed communications for two airlines, an aircraft engine manufacturer and two aviation nonprofits. After growing up a proud U.S. Air Force brat, she’s now a student pilot.

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