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Females in flight: Local event celebrates 75th anniversary of world's first all-woman air show in Tampa

The event is called G.A.L.A. for Girls Achieving Leadership in Aviation.

TAMPA, Fla — Aliya Lacayo says in the cockpit is where she belongs. 

"There is nothing like being in the air," she said. "You go from flying over lush green fields to then here's the beautiful blue ocean. Seeing it from that perspective, everything being so small, you feel like you are on top of the world."

The 21-year-old student pilot is almost done with her first certificate to get her wings. 

"Growing up, being a pilot was always in the back of my head, always. It's such a big, big dream. It was almost out of your reach kind of thing. I got older and I was like, no I want to fly planes and I'm going to make that happen. Here I am making it happen," Lacayo said. 

According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, women in aviation account for less than 8% of pilots in the industry. Sara Behnke, Manager for Business and Administration for General Aviation at Tampa International, wants to change that. 

"We're great at what we do and I think we contribute a lot to the industry. We really need more women to get into it," Behnke said. 

This week marks 75 years since the first all-woman air show in the world. It was held right here at Tampa’s Peter O. Knight airport in 1947.

Behnke learned of the historic event after finding an old box of archives. Many of the female pilots weren’t invited to participate in other airshows around the country at the time and wanted to do something to support women in aviation. The group was led by Amelia Earhart, although she did not fly in the Tampa air show.

At the time there was a scholarship fund in Earhart's honor to support women with aspirations of a career in aviation.

"That's exactly what we want to do with our event. When I was going through all of the archives I found a little snippet on someone named Betty Skelton," Behnke said. 

Florida native Betty Skelton raced and flew aerobatics in the air show that day. Skelton wasn’t well known, but she ended up leaving her mark in aviation.

"Betty was quite the inspiration," Behnke said. "I learned she broke more automotive and aviation records than anyone in history and that is including men."

"She went on to become an international aerobatics champion. So, after she conquered aviation, she went on to become a professional race car driver with Chevrolet. All of that started with her pilot's license here at Peter O. Knight airport."

In honor of Betty’s legacy, Peter O. knight is hosting a fundraising event on Saturday called G.A.L.A. It stands for Girls Achieving Leadership in Aviation. 

Money raised will go towards a newly created aviation scholarship in honor of Betty. It will be supporting women who want to pursue an education in aviation.


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