Helping women reach great heights

Published 2:25pm 14 July 2022

Helping women reach great heights
Words by Kylie Knight

A documentary being filmed at Redcliffe Aerodrome is following the journey of five women learning to fly in a bid to shine a light on the work being done at Advanced Aviation Training (AAT) to increase the number of female pilots.

The eight-part series called She Flys is expected to be released early next year and is being directed by filmmaker and AAT recreational flight instructor Stephen Limkin and produced by Bridget May.

“Recreational Aviation Australia Chairman Michael Monck had the idea to do something about (increasing the number of) women in aviation. He contacted me and asked if I wanted to be involved,” Stephen explains.

Initially, it was just going to focus on one student – TV personality Catriona Rowntree – and her journey to become a pilot, but it was decided to include more female students’ stories.

As the project evolved, Stephen reached out to Bridget to see if she would produce it.

She Flys is now starting to attract funding and has the support of Documentary Australia. See the trailer

It features women from a diverse range of backgrounds from across Australia as they work through pilot training at Redcliffe.

Some are just beginning, others are further along, but all want to encourage more female participation in the industry.

|“It’s not about female participation at the expense of male participation. We can do both simultaneously,” Stephen says.|

“It’s pretty exciting. My wife is CEO of a health care company, so I’m already around women doing amazing things in their industries. I can’t believe in this day and age, only five per cent of pilots are female. If we don’t actively work to change the status quo, it will always be the status quo.”

The project has received letters of support from State Member for Redcliffe Yvette D’Ath and Federal Member for Petrie Luke Howarth.

“We’re also very grateful to be filming out here at Redcliffe airport. We’re still talking through with Moreton Bay Regional Council about how they can get involved,” Stephen says

“They’ve been positive so far. We’re keen to showcase aspects of the region.”

He says it’s a beautiful place to learn to fly with the Glasshouse Mountains on one side, Moreton Bay on the other and Bribie Island too.

Helping women reach great heights
AAT's Paul Reddish, Producer Bridget May, Phil Hargraves and student pilot Zahra.

Vital partnership

Producer Bridget May, who is based in the Northern Territory, has been working on the documentary for a couple of months, but Stephen has been on it for about one year.

She says without the efforts of flying schools like AAT, there would be no documentary.

“If it wasn’t for the team here, this wouldn’t be happening. They’re spending a lot of money with in-kind support,” Bridget explains.

“With documentaries, people get a little bit confused. They feel the documentary is the story … but if there isn’t a story, there’s no documentary.”

The series will be available on Youtube - free and accessible to everyone – and social media platforms Tik Tok and Instagram will be used to attract viewers.

“The majority of people, the people that we want to hit, they’re Youtube-based, Tik Tok-based, Instagram-based. We need to put it in a format where we know we’re going to hit the demographic that we want,” Bridget says

The target audience is young women who want to learn to fly and the documentary aims to help them see overcoming barriers is possible.

Helping women reach great heights
Student pilot Zahra, who is a refugee from Afghanistan.

Inspiring stories

The five women featured in the documentary include TV personality Catriona Rowntree, an Afghani refugee and a young woman from PNG whose whole family moved to Australia so she could chase her dream.

AAT’s Paul Reddish says one of his students, Zahra, is being sponsored by Jeff Wicks and Phil Hargraves to complete her training.

“She was with the combined forces in Afghanistan and when it fell (to the Taliban), she exited the country because basically she was on a hit-list and then she got permanent residency in Australia,” Paul explains.

“She was actually training to be a military helicopter pilot, never got to fly over there but she had done a lot of theory, and now she’s finally getting her chance at being a pilot.”

Also featured in the documentary is Killara, a Papua New Guinean student finishing up navigation training.

“She was in a small village in PNG and she saw a plane fly over when she was about six years old and said, ‘I’m going to do that’. Her dad has packed the whole family up and moved to Australia, so she can have her dream,” he says.

Catriona interviews Killara in the documentary, but also shares her own flying journey.

“Catriona’s close to going up by herself (solo flight), but she’s a very busy lady so trying to nail her down to a solid training regime has been very difficult,” he says. “I believe we may have her for a week in September.

“She actually lives on an airstrip. Her father-in-law owns a very historic airstrip just near Avalon (Victoria) and they’re like the caretakers of it. It was a spitfire training base for Australia. It’s still got all the original buildings. She’s got reason to do it as well.”

Helping women reach great heights
Catriona Rowntree, right, in the air. Photo: courtesy She Flys documentary

What’s next?

There is still more filming to do in the next month or so, before post-production begins ahead of the release next year.

The musical score has been composed by Sonaire – award-winning sound designer/composer Simon Walbrook and Powderfinger’s Darren Middleton.

“They’re exceptionally good composers and because it’s such a low-budget documentary they’re doing us a deal and have been very supportive,” Bridget says.

When the documentary has been released, the team is keen to ramp up their work with schools to include it in the curriculum to inspire the next generation of female pilots.

How AAT has helped

“We’ve donated the instructor time, we’ve covered costs and made it as affordable as we can. That’s working in with the sponsors, we’re sharing the ideal and the goal and reason behind it,” Paul says.

“It’s been quite a lot of work. There’s been tears, we’ve had a bit of everything.

“It has been a rollercoaster for some of the girls. For some of the girls doing their Instructor Rating, that’s really hard work. We’ve had three.”

The other girls are going for their private pilot’s licence.

Paul says he has applied the same high standards he sets for all his students to the women and is proud of how they’re all progressing.

“We’re trying to get a snapshot of different areas they go through.”

For information about learning to fly, visit the AAT website

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