Delta flies 120 girls to NASA with all-women crew in bid to inspire female aviators

Delta celebrated International Girls in Aviation Day on Sunday with its fifth annual Women Inspiring our Next Generation (WING) Flight, which carried 120 girls ages 12 to 18 from Salt Lake City to NASA in Houston.

The airline also said it is working to close the gender gap in aviation. 

“From nose to tail, the flight was planned and orchestrated exclusively by women – including the pilots flying the plane, ramp agents working on the ground, gate agents boarding the flight and women in the tower guiding the aircraft on its way out,” a company news article said

Beth Poole, general manager of pilot development, helped start Delta’s WING Flight in 2015 and has helped plan the flight ever since. 

"We know representation matters. At Delta, we believe you have to see it to be it," Poole said. "We're taking ownership to improve gender diversity by exposing girls at a young age and providing a pipeline so that 10 years from now, they will be the pilots in the Delta cockpit inspiring generations of women who follow."

The WING Flight was also many of the girls' first time flying. Once on the ground in Houston, the girls experienced “the worlds of flight and human space exploration,” the company said. 

The girls toured NASA’s Mission Control Center, Building 9, Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston. 

"I never would have thought I would have had this experience. I'm really grateful for my parents who have made this possible and inspired my love of aviation," said 16-year-old Karyanna H., an 11th grader at Jordan Technical Institute. "It's such an exciting time to be in STEM. There's so much left for us to discover."

The students got to know mentors from other male-dominated aviation workgroups throughout the trip, which included a female technician from Delta’s Technical Operations team, the company said. The girls also had lunch with Jeanette Epps, NASA astronaut and aerospace engineer.  

"I've loved being able to look at all of the things these successful women have accomplished. I think we will learn from them and build on their foundation of success," said 17-year-old Shanae C., a 12th grader from Jordan Technical Institute. 

Delta’s WING Flight originated as an effort “to diversify a male-dominated industry and expose females to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers at a young age,” the company said. This year’s anniversary makes over 600 female students who have taken to the skies with Delta through the WING Flight program.

"It didn't seem realistic to go after a career in aviation, but today I realized, 'Hey, I can do this too,'" said 17-year-old Katelyn J., a 12th grader from Advanced Learning Center.

Delta said the company partnered with schools that have STEM or aviation programs to provide clear paths for interested future female aviators. 

With approximately 5 percent of Delta’s pilots being women, the airline is on par with the aviation industry, according to the company. In the past four years, 7.4 percent of Delta’s new hire pilots were women, the airline said. 

“The WING Flight is one way we're working to drive those numbers upward,” Delta said. 

This story was reported from Los Angeles.