This year’s International Women’s Day is themed ‘Inspire Inclusion’. It’s a global day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, it also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. In the second of a series focusing on women in aviation, FINN’s Ben Griffiths talks to Amelia Richardson.

As IWD’s organisers say: ‘When we inspire others to understand and value women’s inclusion, we forge a better world. And when women themselves are inspired to be included, there’s a sense of belonging, relevance, and empowerment.’

Aviation still has a problem with diversity in all its forms; it does not properly reflect today’s society. It’s a situation that must be addressed if the industry is to find and retain sufficient suitably qualified and engaged people. It can’t afford for some sections of communities to feel excluded. Research shows not enough youngsters realise aviation is for everyone, whether in the cockpit, in the design office, on the hangar floor, in the ops room, in tech records or the myriad other essential roles that together keep aircraft in our skies.

How can we change this? An important step is showing young girls from primary school upwards that aviation and aerospace IS for them. Creating opportunities to meet people in the variety of roles, explain the routes into those high-value, well-paid jobs and encourage them to learn more and explore their options. Face-to-face interaction is crucial – if you can see it, you can be it.

Amelia Richardson is one such inspiring individual who is building a name for herself on social media and is determined to help encourage more young girls to try gliding as an entry point into the sector. She is now a gliding instructor – and still only 17-years-old. For a recent article in the Daily Mail, Amelia took one of the newspaper’s writers flying, which boosted her profile online. Amelia’s mission is simple: sharing the world of aviation.

What is your background in aviation? Where did it begin?

I first flew on a flight to the Scilly isles. We had two female pilots and, aged four, that sparked something in me. I recently also found out that my great-great grandfather flew gliders as well back in the 1950s!

In 2018, when I was 12, my parents got me a flying lesson. I had always wanted to fly. I had this obsession with wings and wheels. Anything you might class as tomboy-ish. I was kindly bought a flight in a Piper Cub. My dad said it was a make-or-break point – I’d either love it or hate it. It was a fairly gusty day, gusting 15 knots or more. But we took off and I came back grinning ear-to-ear.

I couldn’t afford to do a PPL at the time and partly due to my age too! But my dad had an idea; he grew up by RAF Halton and always saw gliders when he was a kid. Just before Covid I had my first ever gliding lesson when I was 13 and was hooked straight away. When can I sign up?! Here I am today. It’s just an obsession, I love it so much. It’s fantastic!

What are your flying ambitions? Where do you want to go with it?

I’m currently in my first year of A-levels. I definitely would love to be a pilot in the military. Or become a flight instructor as I love teaching people to fly! If not, go and do an apprenticeship, save up and do more flying. I’m currently saving up for PPL TMG rating – which is converting a sailplane licence into a PPL, adding a Single Engine Piston rating, which includes a 150 nautical mile flight. It is going to take a bit of time and hard work, but I can’t wait! I work as a lifeguard at my local pool to help afford my flying and my parents have always helped me along the way, I am so grateful for everything they do!

Amelia Richardson
Amelia Richardson

What’s your best aviation memory?

First solo for me, definitely. Every flight I do is a really happy moment. I love it. My most memorable flight was last year going 50km away from the airfield for the first time. The goal is 50km but, in the back of my mind, I’m quite under confident in those sorts of circumstances. One day I just plucked up the courage and told myself: I just need to go for it. I climbed up over the airfield and did not look back. It’s called a downwind dash and you know you’re not coming back. I was flying from Bicester to Bidford. I flew downwind and a line of thermals came up dead ahead. I was thinking I’m not going to make it to Bidford and the [glide] angle was getting shallower and shallower. Once I hit 1,500ft above the airfield level I’d see how far I could get. But it was time to pick a field. It’s about five minutes for each 1,000 feet of descent, so I had about five minutes and landed in a random field in the Cotswolds. It was a real morale boost. Look what I just did! I get a bit emotional about it.

The previous day I attempted another 50km attempt. I landed about 10k from the airfield after conditions ahead weren’t favourable. It wasn’t very far and I might have made it back but it was my decision. I didn’t want to be skirting over the local town at 400ft to make it back to the airfield. Some people criticised my decision, but safety is paramount in aviation. It knocked my confidence quite a bit but something ignited a flame inside of me to go and do it again!

So, the very next day I rigged the glider and just flew downwind. It was one of my most memorable flights just because of the power of not letting other people’s opinions get in the way! But I did it.

What’s your best advice to younger people?

Everyone just says: ‘don’t give up’. But it’s hard not to give up! My favourite quote was: ‘If you give up now, you won’t ever see what’s beyond the fog.’ It’s utterly true. I’ve seen it day in, day out. I’ve seen junior pilots really nervous about their flying and they talk to me and I tell them just go and do it, and they come back grinning ear-to-ear. It’s why I became an instructor. It’s the passion that motivates me to catch the bus to the airfield at 7am on a Sunday morning! And also, you may be under confident in the beginning, but it takes time to change these things. Don’t rush it. You can learn to fly at any age. Just go have some fun.

Do you have any heroes or idols in aviation?

Anyone who has supported me along my journey is an idol to me. I have close friends who are fighter pilots and airline pilots who are always there. Being 17, I find it challenging. The people who run MotorGlide, my flight school, are so influential to me. They are really supportive and some of my biggest inspirations!

What inspires you about aviation?

Everything about it! The excitement, the challenge. I love it. I hate sitting around at school. The motorgliders come and buzz over us. I dislike being in a classroom. Except for the PPL study. I’m motivated to do that and enjoy it. Of the aircraft flown, the K13 – the glider I flew cross country in – is a favourite. It’s the Cessna 152 of the gliding world. It’s very well loved and used but just keeps going and is a joy to fly.

I’ve set myself a really simple goal: if I’m flying something or in the back of something I’m happy. The C-130 Hercules was my favourite aircraft for a while. But they’ve retired it, which is sad because I really wanted to fly it.

Where do you see your role going on social media?

I don’t make any profit from my social media (@AmeliaGliderPilot). It’s just really cool being able to share my journey with people and my passion. People see me and think they see the profile. They are two different things. I am not the account. They are not the same thing.

Today you see a lot of people on social media and thinking they don’t have to do anything. You can’t have that attitude in aviation. It’s such a small world that what goes around does come around. I just love sharing the world of aviation to people! I still run the wing as I did as a student glider pilot. Now I’m an instructor [but] it doesn’t give me a crown to run around in!

I’ve seen people having expectations of me being some perfect girl. So, I’m rounding up an amazing video of Amelia Glider Pilot bloopers just to show I’m not perfect all the time. I’m human, not a robot!

Social media is great, but you have to be very careful what you put on it. Every platform has a different audience. People that follow you want to. It’s not like TikTok, where there’s people who are jealous of what you do. I’m just sharing the world of awesome aviation with people!
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