"I flew a mother and two young daughters, probably 4 and 7 years old, and as we took off I heard this shrieking from the back of the plane," said Lin Caywood, a 12-year pilot.
A mother and recent grandmother herself, Caywood thought the kids were upset about the flight, and banked to circle back to Frederick Municipal Airport for a quick landing to calm the hysterical children.
"Then I caught a look at them, and they weren't upset," said Caywood, a Baltimore native and graduate of Poolesville High and Hood College. "They couldn't contain themselves, they were so darn delighted with being up in the air."
"No one could pay you to be that happy in your life," she marveled, laughing out loud. "That's what flying can do for you."
Women and girls who show up next week at the Frederick Municipal Airport can test Caywood's assertion, as she and 25 other volunteer pilots offer free flights at the third annual "Women Fly it Forward" celebration. Last year, 244 women and girls took wing, and this year as many as 300 are expected at the March 4-10 event.
All women need to do is visit the group's website, pick a time slot Monday through Friday, or just show up for the free introductory flights, according to organizer Victoria Neuville Zajko.
Flights on Saturday, March 9, are reserved for "pink passengers"— women and girls with a connection directly or through family members with breast cancer survivors, said Zajko.
Men and boys are welcomed to the many exhibits, but must sign up for later flights, at a fee, she said.
The Frederick festival is free and just one part of the international Women of Aviation Week, an annual event honoring French aviatrix Elise Deroch, who was so inspired by the Wright brothers during their 1908 visit to Paris that she became the first woman to receive a pilot's license. Her license, granted on March 8,1908, was number 36 — in the world.
At Frederick, things are more up-to-date, with former astronaut Pam Melroy — one of only two women to command the space shuttle — on hand March 9 to meet and greet visitors and talk with women and girls interested in a career in space, said Zajko, who has organized all three of the festivals.
"Women need to know they can fly," said Zajko, who has a pilot's license and this year is also coordinating concurrent festivals at 18 U.S. airports in 16 states, as well as 100 airports in 29 countries overseas.
"There are good paying jobs for pilots, as well as air traffic controllers, dispatchers, mechanics, engineers — and women should feel empowered to go for it, too."
"Only six percent of pilots are women," she said. "That's crazy."
For visitors, the adventure starts the moment you enter the Frederick airport's driveway. Before entering the parking lot, under tarps and tents, is the Traveling Space Museum, set for Saturday, March 9, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The hands-on, 15-exhibit museum includes a jet, a command module replica, a full-motion flight simulator for the space shuttle, space suits for children to try on, and more — even a space toilet.
Several sport and experimental airplanes will be parked on the field to examine, along with displays and hardware from aircraft and aerospace manufacturers, and airlines. Women and girls walk straight ahead to registration tables, and are then led to their planes.
"What's really fun for us volunteers is the reaction of the kids," said Zajko. "For most of them, being in a small plane for the first time looking out the windows at the earth below is very new stuff."
"Everybody looks like dots when you're up in the air," offered Keiko Cahill, 12, who with her sister Yumiko, 9, took their first flight at last year's festival. Their mother Kim led a group of parents and 12 Brownies from Frederick Scout Troop 81303 to the festival. "They were amazed it was so pretty up in the air," she said.
While Yumiko, which means "firefly" in Japanese — her dad is Japanese-American — says she doesn't know if she wants to grow up to be a pilot, Caywood sees other benefits for the kids showing up for a free ride.
"Flying is the most empowering thing any person can do, the feeling of freedom, the serenity of being in or above the clouds," she said. "It makes you appreciate the freedoms we do have, and your ability to master something as powerful as a machine that can fly."
Flights will be available March 4-8, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and March 10, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Flights on March 9 are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and are reserved for women and girls who have been affected by breast cancer. For more information or to register for a flight, go to womenflyitforward.com.