In the first of a new series of interviews with inspiring women in aviation, FINN’s Ben Griffiths chats to Katherine Moloney, founder of Elevate(her), about her journey to the cockpit, general aviation and her mission to inspire more female aviators to become part of the future workforce.

It’s a little-known fact that fewer than 5% of the near 30,000 pilots in the UK today are female. Despite the efforts of the industry to boost diversity and inclusion, the numbers joining are only slowly growing. Yet there are thousands of young women out there who are air-minded and curious about flying, whether as a career or for leisure. The challenge remains how to encourage them to take the first steps.

Enter Elevate(her). The online platform and membership community was established to inform potential female pilots and women in aviation about scholarships and work opportunities available. It is also intended to educate and support the women looking to find the right flight school as well as sharing inspirational content. It will also support and promote female-led aviation and STEM businesses and connect women in aviation via a series of regular events.

What is your background in aviation? How did you come to discover the magic of flight and what’s kept you so engaged in the industry?

Although I come from an aviation family, I didn’t get into it until I was 18. I spent a lot of my childhood seeing dad (pilot supplies company Transair founder Tom Moloney) display at air shows. At the time I was very young, and more interested in bouncy slides and ice creams.

I initially started working at Transair in the warehouse picking and packing. I really enjoyed it but wanted to know more about the business. It was suggested to me that I have a trial lesson so I could understand what aviation is all about, and connect more to the customers.

I never expected to take my flying any further. My intention was to have fun and a new experience. I decided to try a helicopter trial lesson, my only goal for this flight was myself. However, that flight changed my life. I was thinking: ‘Where has this been all my life? Why haven’t I considered it before?’ I signed up very quickly to get a PPL and achieved the PPL(H) when I was 19.

Since then, I’ve been in love with the industry. General aviation is so multi-faceted. There’s so many elements and things you can try. I’ve been lucky to have flown gliders, tailwheel, helicopters and latterly got my fixed wing PPL. I love aviation and all the people in it.

What’s your favourite aviation memory (or memories)?

Any first solo is obviously a massive moment. When I started flying at 18, I probably wasn’t the most confident person. But learning to fly has transformed that. It’s made me feel much more confident and self-sufficient.

One favourite moment was doing some tailwheel flying in the Cub. For me that was proper flying and something I had found very challenging. It was awesome. I just kept thinking: ‘This is flying.’

How much flying do you do and what are you currently flying?

As much as I can. Or as much as the British weather allows. The Scottish Aviation Bulldog (a piston-engined, former RAF trainer) is mainly what I’m flying. I am dabbling in the Socata TB20, which has been a fantastic experience. In rotary wing, most recently it’s been the MD500. It’s completely addictive.

Who is your all-time aviation hero/heroine?

Women in aviation. Female pilots today stand on the shoulders of the absolute giants and trailblazers who came before us. I always have immense respect and fascination with their flying. Of course, the ATA girls (Air Transport Auxiliary who delivered military aircraft during the Second World War) Lettice Curtis, Joy Lofthouse and Jackie Moggridge, I would love the chance to sit down with any of them.

In general though, it’s my dad. He’s been an unbelievable mentor for me. Doing my flight training gave me such an appreciation for his talent and skill. I grew up seeing him fly the Jet Provost and Strikemaster at air shows but it was learning to fly myself that has given me a real appreciation for how skillful that flying was.

He’s flown everything and has never stopped flying and wanting to try new aircraft.

What inspires you most about aviation?

The element of freedom in aviation holds massive appeal. You get a completely different perspective, which is very powerful. But what I love most is the people stories and watching people achieve their dreams. Flying is vocational and people feel they have to do it. Something in you drives you, which makes it quite individual to other careers.

Tell us about the idea behind Elevate(her) – where did it come from and what are your aims and objectives with this exciting initiative? 

It was a rogue idea at first. I finished my PPL training and hadn’t had any contact with any other female pilots or female role models. However, this is not to detract from amazing male mentors and guides along the way. But I felt I was potentially lacking in connection with like-minded women within the industry. So, I issued an open lunch invitation to as many women in UK aviation as possible to my inaugural lunch for women in aviation at Brighton City Airport. Some 40 women turned up.

The atmosphere was completely electric. It was very apparent that I was not the only one feeling the isolation from lack of connection. Those women really inspired me to take the initiative forward in a more meaningful way, and Elevate(her) was created. 

Where are you now?

We launched in May 2023 and since then have had over 4.5m social media views and over 50,000 website views. We’re now a team of 14 fantastic volunteers. We have just launched membership, and it has been incredibly successful and it’s been fantastic to see the community grow at such a rate. It’s not just pilots or engineers – it’s for anyone even if you just have an interest in aviation and want to learn more.

Membership is free, as is all the content. That’s extremely important to me. Aviation needs to make moves towards becoming more accessible, and that should start at the grassroots of the industry.

What does success look like? How will you know when Elevate(her) has achieved what your set out to do?

Ultimately, our end goal is for Elevate(her) to no longer be needed. Until then our aim is to connect as many women globally as we can and inform and inspire them through the platform.

What’s your best advice for anyone looking at your presence online and thinking they’d like to get into aviation?

Give it a try and take every opportunity you can. If people want a career in aviation that’s fantastic, but if you just give it a try and enjoy having a new experience then that is great too. Regardless, I guarantee you’ll take away something really important, whether that’s a different perspective, building your confidence or simply having some fun.
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