CLEVELAND — March is women’s history month, and this week marks Women of Aviation Week.
The focus is a call to action to encourage more women to get into the field. The Federal Aviation Administration reports less than 9% of pilots in the United States are women, and even a smaller percentage of women serve as flight instructors.
“It's been amazing. Every flight is going to be different, and every flight is going to be a different challenge,” said Christy Fribourg.
Fribourg graduated from Lakewood High School in 2011 and went on to attend the University of Dubuque for flight operations and aviation management. She’s one of roughly 60,000 female pilots of the world and remembers her first flight when she instantly fell in love with the friendly skies.
The two pilots in the front and gave me wings and I'll never forget that. And they let me go to sit up front,” Fribourg said.
Since then, she’s made it her goal to inspire women to take flight and become an advocate for women in aviation.
“I was told I should be a flight attendant by an instructor because I used to get motion sickness flying,” Fribourg said. “It was pretty bad. But I didn't let that stop me.”
Fribourg was able to overcome that turbulence and turn it into an asset that came in handy when she was a flight instructor. While instructing another female student, she was able to help her navigate through the illness and overcome the feeling while flying.
“I think it's very empowering for you to keep on pushing through because, at the end of the day, it's your passion, not theirs,” Fribourg said.
Like many kids in Northeast Ohio, Fribourg regularly attended the Cleveland National Air Show held every Labor Day weekend. It was there that she got to meet a female pilot that gave her the confidence to pursue a career in aviation.
“I was like, if she could do it, then I could do it,” Fribourg said. “But it was also like, if a guy could do it, then I'm going to do it too.”
She now has over 2,500 hours on the flight deck and continues to climb up the aviation ranks while remembering why she fell in love with flying.
“The feeling that you're up in the air, like as a child, you're just like, you're up in the air, like just a piece of metal in an engine, Fribourg said. “
“If you've ever seen little kids just look up at the sky every time, they hear something that was me.”
Fribourg hopes to inspire the next generation of female fliers in the same way the International Women’s Air and Space Museum seeks to get girls off the ground.
“It’s important for us to be here in Northeast Ohio, and Ohio in general because we’re sharing the stories of women here in Ohio,” said executive director Sara Fisher. “We have a rich history. So many remarkable women who blazed trails for not only flight but also aerospace.”
The museum is located on the concourse of Burke Lakefront Airport and features a variety of exhibits dedicated exclusively to female pilots in aviation and aerospace. Local aviators like Blanche Noyes, who earned her pilot’s license one month before the 1929 Powder Puff Derby, are also featured in the exhibits.
Noyes went on to defeat the world-renowned Amelia Earhart at the derby shortly after earning her license.
The museum also features Northeast Ohio native Jean Hixson, who was the second female pilot to break the sound barrier in a flight that took place over Lake Erie.
“We whole-heartedly believe that it’s hard to be what you can’t see,” Fisher said.
As the museum preserves the history of women in flight, Fribourg has a message to any young girls who might one day consider a career in aviation.
“Don't ever stop believing in yourself and keep pursuing your dream. Don't let anybody else tell you otherwise,” Fribourg said. “If you want to be a pilot, be a pilot. Do what you've got to do and get through it. Every bump you have to endure, do it, but don't let anything stop you."
Download the News 5 Cleveland app now for more stories from us, plus alerts on major news, the latest weather forecast, traffic information and much more. Download now on your Apple device here, and your Android device here.
You can also catch News 5 Cleveland on Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, YouTube TV, DIRECTV NOW, Hulu Live and more. We're also on Amazon Alexa devices. Learn more about our streaming options here.