It could be the best Christmas present or Hanukkah gift any of us can give our kids or grandkids this holiday season. A dream for the future.
Cindy Macha is giving dreams away to little girls and young women this weekend when she opens the doors on the much anticipated “Women in Aviation” exhibit at the Western Museum of Flight at Louis Zamperini Field in Torrance.
It highlights women who dreamed big when they were young, and went on to become pioneers for women in aerospace — astronauts, test pilots and combat pilots — and adventurers flying solo around the world to set records.
Macha, executive director of the museum, is banking on the next generation of girls to follow in their footsteps. This exhibit gives them every chance to try.
“As the adage goes, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” Macha said. “Our principal aim is to awaken this same pioneer spirit in all the young women who come experience it.”
It’s a hands-on, get in the cockpit and flip all the switches exhibit, and a chance to meet some incredible role models.
When the docents at the museum decided to honor the memory of one of their own, Mary Falstrom, they looked at all the exhibits and testimonials in the museum, and it dawned on them that only the exploits of men in aerospace were represented.
Where were the women? “We had nothing about women in aerospace in this museum, nothing,” she said. “We do now.”
In 2020, the United States Air Force test pilot school at Edwards Air Force Base in Palmdale graduated the largest class of female test pilots and engineers in its history. Of the 24 pilots graduating, five were women. Usually, it’s one.
After she graduated, Capt. Rachel Williams, who grew up near Kennedy Space Center and would watch shuttle rocket launches from her driveway, talked about her dream as a little girl coming true, and then she asked the question of the day.
“Where’s everybody else?”
Why only five? Why not 25? There are no outside issues holding women back, no sex discrimination or roadblocks to advancement that she found, Capt. Williams said. There was only the chance to prove you have the right stuff.
“Aerospace used to be the final frontier, now it’s the next frontier,” Macha said. “Women who were behind the scenes for so long are now in front of it with the men.”
For so many years, aerospace was the economic engine of the San Fernando Valley. Lockheed, Rocketdyne, Hughes, Northrop, Litton. Almost every kid growing up in the Valley had a father or knew someone who worked in the aerospace industry.
When the Cold War ended, that economic engine began to sputter. More than 20% of aerospace workers lost their jobs. Dads who were reading the sports page every morning before work were now reading the want ads.
By the mid-to-late 1990s, with cutbacks in the space station program, the engine finally gave out. Lockheed closed its main plant in Burbank in the mid ’90s, and over the years the rest shut their doors as well.
If aerospace is indeed the next frontier, we better get our young girls dreaming now. It may be the best gift we can give them.
The Western Museum of Flight is located at 3315 Airport Drive in Torrance, and admission is free this opening weekend. Hours are 10 a.m.-3 p.m. For more information, 310-326-9544. www.wmof.com
Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at email@example.com.