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New Horizons

Aerobatic Pioneer Patty Wagstaff: Inspiring the Next Generation of Pilots

Leading by example in the air and on the ground, the aviation legend is working to promote a strong safety culture.

Most people know Patty Wagstaff as a top air show performer, the first woman to earn the U.S. National Aerobatic Championship title, and one of the few who’ve earned it three times. As an educator, she urges aviators to never stop learning and to be engaged in aviation beyond their work environment.

Leading by example, she’s flown for and aerially coordinated for films and TV, demonstrated the Textron-Beechcraft T-6 trainer, attacked wildfires for Cal Fire, and leads a pilot training program for the Kenya Wildlife Service. She also leads Patty Wagstaff Aviation Safety, her aerobatic and upset training school in St. Augustine, FL.

“Upset training, or courses in mountain flying or a seaplane rating, not only makes pilots better and safer, it is a good way to build a strong flight operations team and safety culture.”

Simulators are the classroom for professional pilots, and this shrinks the three-dimensional envelope in which they work every day to one defined by the autopilot and GPS navigator’s magenta line.

“Pilots only fly in in a 10% envelope, maybe 20%,” Wagstaff said, which is why loss of control is the leading cause of accidents. “Statistics don’t lie, they tell us what we need. When the Army Air Force taught my father to fly, he had to demonstrate a loop, roll, Cuban-8, and three-turn spin before he could solo. Upset training, or courses in mountain flying or a seaplane rating, not only makes pilots better and safer, it is a good way to build a strong flight operations team and safety culture.”

Another aspect of aviation culture must continue to change to welcome a more diverse cohort of newcomers, according to Wagstaff. Since 1990, Women in Aviation International has provided exceptional networking and scholarship opportunities.

“But how is anyone supposed to learn any aviation opportunity if someone doesn’t introduce them or they don’t see themselves portrayed in online or print publications dedicated to all aspects of general, business and commercial aviation?”

PATTY WAGSTAFF is seen annually by millions of air show spectators. Her lifelong love for aviation began at age ten, when her pilot father let her take the controls of his DC-6. She went on to earn her commercial, instrument, seaplane and commercial helicopter ratings. She also is a flight and instrument instructor who’s rated and qualified for airplanes ranging from World War II fighters to jets.

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