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PilotMag: What kind of changes have you seen in aviation and air shows since you first started? Patty Wagstaff: I’ve seen a lot of changes in the technology of the airplanes we fly. When I first started the hot monoplane was a Laser. Some of the early ones had chains around the engines to hold them on their mounts. Today I fly an Extra that’s ten years old, has 1,600 hours on it, and I have complete confidence in the airplane. When I first started doing aerobatics I would wear out the planes really quickly. PM: What do you feel about the acceptance of women in aviation? Wagstaff: I remember early on landing somewhere in a single-seat Pitts. The guy in the FBO comes out and asks me if I actually flew that thing. I’ve seen some changes there—and I think there’s still a little bit of that—but now I think women are really encouraged. I’ve seen a lot of changes as far as women being actively recruited for flying positions and with the airlines, but I find it really disappointing that only six percent or so of pilots are women. PM: What about in aerobatics? Wagstaff: After the second woman won the nationals, somebody asked me how I felt about it. I think it made it more accepted and helps people compete on an equal base. Before that, I was sort of treated like an anomaly. As more women compete and fly in air shows, I think we get taken more seriously. I encourage women
and I want there to be a lot of women so I’m not so special. PM: What can be done to get more people, women especially, interested in aviation? Wagstaff: A lot of people see pilots as spoiled, wealthy dilettantes that use our airplanes on the weekends to get around to spas (as nice as that sounds). I have a vision of an advertising campaign geared towards the general public, in mainstream magazines—public service-type messages showing the use of aviation in everyday life. People don’t realize how much their whole way of life depends on aviation. PM: So are you volunteering to spearhead this industry overhaul? Wagstaff: I would like to do more—maybe join another advisory board in some capacity. I think there’s a place for me to utilize all this knowledge I have and hopefully have the ability to be a spokesperson, too. I have a lot of ideas. PM: Okay, oddball question. When and where were you happiest? Wagstaff: I’m always happiest when I’m deeply involved with some professional activity. It’s a form of meditation when you have to focus 100 percent on something. I’ve gotten into showing horses. I’m not big time—not nearly at the same level as I am with my flying. It’s the same type of focus and sense of purpose. I think that any athlete would tell you that that’s when they’re the happiest.
PM: Do you see many similarities between flying and riding horses? Wagstaff: Show jumping is very similar. It’s exhilarating and intense. It’s sort of like competition aerobatics—you have to do the jumps in a prescribed sequence and, just like in aerobatics, you can zero a maneuver if you get a refusal and run into the fence. You know, my horse and my airplane are about the same weight—about 1,300 pounds. Of course, the horse is more difficult because it has a mind of it’s own! PM: You retired from aerobatic competition in 1996. Do you miss it? Wagstaff: I did it for twelve years full-time and it was time to quit, but it was very hard for a few years after. I read books on the retiring athlete and I had talked to people who said it’s really important to have the next thing already figured out because you can feel really depressed and purposeless. It was still hard not to wake up and know exactly what my number one focus and goal was (like winning the nationals). It was really strange-- I missed it so much. PM: How do you feel about the awards you’ve won? Wagstaff: I’ve really been honored by a lot of people, but I feel really humble about it-- I don’t feel arrogant about it at all. I still have this
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