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Girl Scouts Take Flight

Girl Scouts Take Flight

Up, Up, and Away!

Unless you have a background in aviation, you probably haven’t heard of the Cessna 172 Skyhawk.

Although it’s very popular for a single-engine aircraft, it doesn’t go hundreds of miles per hour, flip upside down, or execute incredible acrobatic turns through the clouds. It’s not even allowed to fly if those clouds get too low. But for someone who’s never flown a plane before, it might as well be a military fighter jet for the sense of freedom, control, and awe that happens when you feel a plane responding to your touch as you cruise through the sky, thousands of feet above the ground.

For a group of Girl Scouts from Newberry County Troop 990, that’s exactly what they recently experienced when they had the opportunity to take control of an in-flight airplane and transfer their classroom learning to a very hands-on application. Over the course of four hours of instruction, eight local Scouts from the levels of Cadette to Senior (Elsie Sheppard, Evelyn Sheppard, Isabelle Donahue, Cashia Gauci, Maggie Grace “Gracie” Livingston, Cynthia “Cindy” Burk and Ellis Kemper) completed the requirements to earn their Girl Scouts Sky and Aviation badges, as well as the Boy Scouts Aviation Badge. Though the requirements and content are related, the GS Aviation Badge includes content geared toward careers in flight and female accomplishments, while the BS Aviation Badge is more concerned with the actual process of flight and flying, such as how lift works, how a plane is controlled, and the requirements of the pre-flight checklist.

The Girl Scouts of America doesn’t require girls to fly in order to earn their badges, but local private pilots Scott Caines and Sam Hart gave the Scouts a chance to learn about aviation from an entirely new angle. The Scouts completed a workbook in preparation for their merit badges and learned everything from the types of planes and engines to the process of mapping out a flight plan.

“They were awesome,” said Sam Hart. “The girls asked great questions and they were really involved in learning.”

“They got to be hands on, which is what I wanted,” Scott Caines said about the experience. “It’s all about ‘how does the principle apply?’”

After presenting the girls with the information they felt necessary to fulfill their requirements and get them prepared to take to the skies, the pilots took four of the Scouts into the air and turned over control of the aircraft after reaching cruising altitude. The girls were able to experience operating the plane and using the sticks and rudder to steer the plane both left and right as well as control the nose of the aircraft to gain or decrease altitude. 

Elsie, Evelyn, Cashia, and Cindy all took advantage of the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a plane at an age when most of them haven’t driven a car yet.

“I thought, I am thirteen and I’m flying a plane!” said Evelyn, one of the Scouts who got to serve as co-pilot.

When the girls got out of the plane, it was clear they had just experienced something unique. It’s difficult to describe the sparkle in someone’s eyes when they realize they can literally touch the sky.

Cadette Cashia was excited about getting to steer the plane, but also found the beauty of the skies something to take note of. “There was a really pretty view,” she said. “And I got to fly over my house!”

Cashia has been a Girl Scout for about 5 years and said she has enjoyed meeting new people, making new friends, and eating Girl Scout Cookies.

“Same!” Gracie, another Cadette, chimed in at the mention of Girl Scout Cookies. Though she decided not to go up in the plane, Gracie said she liked actually being able to get in the plane and see how the steering works from the ground.

“But the best part is being able to hang out with our friends while we’re learning,” she finished.

Evelyn and Elsie Sheppard

Evelyn and Elsie Sheppard

Evelyn’s sister, Elsie, was the oldest Scout and only Senior Girl Scout to get the badges and get some flying time. She now says she’s interested in pursuing a career in aviation or getting her pilot’s license in the future.

“Just the feeling of flight is enough! “ she said. “I also now know that a pilot’s license or logging hours of flight time will open many career doors for me, too.”

She owes her newfound interest to the opportunity that Girl Scouts allowed her to take part in.

“One of our goals is not only to get the girls outside, but to have them do things they might not get to do otherwise - trail clearing, scuba diving, kayaking - anything they wouldn’t normally be exposed to,” said Melissa Sheppard, mother to Elsie and Evelyn and one of the Troop’s leaders. “It’s been very enjoyable to see them grow and gain leadership and confidence.”

The Scouts are certainly fulfilling the Troop’s principles and ideals; the group took the bee as their crest to symbolize their tenants of being industrious, hard-working, and active. Troop 990 has been together since 2012 and is co-led by Melissa Sheppard and Stephanie Senn. The next year will include their Bridging Ceremony, monthly camping excursions, and a visit to the Juliette Gordon Low House in Savannah, G.A.

Photographs by Ted B. Williams.

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