For Michelle Judice, there’s just something about the air up there, as experienced from a cockpit.
“Seeing something from the front window of an airplane is entirely different from experiencing it from the back of a commercial plane,” she says.
Judice knows all about it. The Greenwich resident, a private pilot, is executive director of Westchester Aviation Association (WAA), a Purchase-based advocacy nonprofit designed to promote aviation education; the safe, environmentally friendly operation of aircrafts; and the enhancement of airport facilities. She’s an account executive at Aviation Marketing Consulting in Harrison. And she’s also president of the new, 40-plus-member Westchester County chapter of Women in Aviation International (WAI), which had its inaugural event July 15 at The Westchester in White Plains to encourage women’s love of a field for which they’ve long had an affinity. (See sidebar.)
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Judice says, 8.4% of pilots are women, with the figure for female professional pilots slightly higher. The percentage of women in other FAA-certified jobs, such as technicians, engineers and dispatchers, is 30.2.
“Clearly, there’s room for opportunity for women,” she adds. “What we focus on is creating a love of aviation and empowering women to experience it.”
She does this through both her vocation and avocations. The WAA offers scholarships and safety seminars, with a “GA Aircraft Ownership Symposium” slated for Sept. 18 at Million Air, a fixed-base operator at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, founded in 1984 in Dallas by Mary Kay Cosmetics.
On Sept. 25, the Westchester chapter of WAI — a global nonprofit established in 1994 that has more than 12,000 members — is holding a “Girls in Aviation Day,” a kind of aviation career day for girls ages 8 through 17 that encourages them “to enjoy our industry.” WAI also offers scholarships and mentoring for girls and women interested in aviation and aerospace.
Judice seems to have been destined for the skies. Her father was an airline executive who worked for Eastern Airlines; Continental Airlines; the now-defunct New York Air, of which he was president and Northwest Airlines, from which he retired. Judice grew up in Florida; Orange County, California; Houston; and, finally, Greenwich. As a child, she flew a lot. But most of all, she says, “I saw my father pour himself into the business. He loved his job.”
She learned that “aviation is a lifestyle. Even if you do not fly, it’s still a lifestyle.” (And if you’re afraid to fly, she recommends learning more about it. “The more you know, the less your fear.”)
Still, Judice — who holds a B.S. from Pepperdine University and an MBA from the University of Connecticut in Stamford — went on to work in corporate finance, which she left to raise two kids. Slowly, however, she was drawn to aviation. Her older son’s science fair project on air pressure sucked her in — pun intended — as did a gift from her husband, a discovery flight experience at Westchester County Airport. She took flight lessons from the former Panorama Flight School at the airport in 2007 soon after her younger son went off to kindergarten.
With “a lot more” than the minimum 40 hours flight time under her belt, she earned her private pilot’s license. She also has a certificate in aircraft dispatching.
Ironically, Judice has less time to fly today, being busy promoting aviation on the ground.
“Because I loved flying, I parlayed it into a second career,” she says. “I always thought about doing this, but it was so far in the back of my mind.”
Judice is glad she brought it forward.
“It filled a need I don’t think I was aware I had.”
For more on the Westchester chapter of Women in Aviation International, visit facebook.com/group/wainewyork. And for more on Westchester Aviation Association, visit westchesteraviation.org.
Front and center in flight
On the ground and in the air, women have been involved in aviation and aerospace from the beginning. Here are just five key figures and the roles they played:
Élisabeth Thible — Has the distinction of being the first of her sex to take to the skies — in an untethered hot-air balloon over Lyon, France in 1784.
Katherine Wright — While Wilbur and Orville Wright are credited with the first machine-powered airplane flight — in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on Dec. 17, 1903 — their sister, Katherine, was a full partner in the venture, supporting the brothers financially and emotionally and later managing their careers and serving as the face of their business. (She first flew in 1909.) Though her role took a backseat to the brothers’, the French were impressed enough to award her the Legion d’Honneur along with them, making her one of the few American women to be so honored.
Amelia Earhart — The aviator, author, feminist and onetime Rye resident was the first female pilot to fly nonstop across the Atlantic (in 1932) and the first pilot, male or female, to fly solo across the Pacific three years later. Attempting to circumnavigate the globe in 1937, Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, presumably lost their lives in the South Pacific. Her unsolved disappearance has fueled not only her legend but the many depictions of her in world culture.
Katherine Johnson — One of the first African American women to work as a NASA scientist and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, Johnson calculated flight plans for Mercury astronauts Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and John Glenn, the first in orbit. (Indeed, Glenn wouldn’t have gone into orbit without the mathematician’s computations.) She also worked on the rendezvous paths for the Apollo lunar module and command module; the beginnings of the space shuttle program; and plans for a mission to Mars. Hers was one of the stories of Black women mathematicians told in the book and movie “Hidden Figures.”
Lt. Col. Shawna Rochelle Kimbrell — As the first female African American fighter pilot in the United States Air Force’s history, Kimbrell flew the F-16 Fighter Falcon in Operation Northern Watch over Iraq in 1997. Retiring in spring 2020, Kimbrell now teaches physical education at the Air Force Academy and serves as director of culture, climate and diversity in the academy’s athletic department.
— Georgette Gouveia