Air Traffic Control
Ruth Fleisher, Florida Goldcoast Chapter, cannot remember a time she was not interested in flying. Her father was an airport manager in Rochester, New York, when Ruth was growing up and she acquired her ground school instruction there in 1940. She then started teaching as a way to pay for flying lessons.
During World War II, Ruth spent a year as a communications officer at a Coastal Air Patrol base on Long Island, New York. Then she was off to Sweetwater, Texas, to participate in the Women's Air Force Service Pilots program (WASPs).
After receiving the coveted Silver Wings, she went to the engineering test department at Gunter Air Force Base in Alabama and later graduated from the Air Force School of Applied Tactics at Orlando, Florida.
When the WASPs were disbanded in December 1944, Ruth spent a few weeks vacationing in South Florida, then it was back to aviation, working as a flight and ground instructor and as a charter pilot.
Her next adventure in aviation was as an Air Traffic Controller in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At first, Ruth was concerned about staying in a glass box all day, but soon discovered that every day was different and she came to love it. She also enjoyed the steady income that the ATC position afforded, unlike that provided by instructing or flying charter flights.
Ruth later joined the Air Force Reserve where she was an ATC and Flight Facilities Officer at several Air Force bases in the United States and England. She served for several years as the flight instructor and operations officer for various USAF Aero Clubs, and retired with a rank of major in 1973.
Eventually, Ruth and her husband Bud moved to South Florida to be near family and a place where they could enjoy outdoor activities such as fishing, boating and golf. When Bud left for Vietnam, Ruth planned and built a home in Homestead where she still maintains an avocado grove.
Ruth has flown more than 30 different aircraft. Her favorite military aircraft was the AT6. She says it was thrilling to fly the low-wing 650 HP aircraft. Other favorites were the Beechcrafts and Mooneys. She attained her Multiengine rating in a tail-dragger referred to as the "Bamboo Bomber." She currently holds a Commercial Flight Instructors certificate with Airplane, Instrument, Single and Multiengine Land ratings.
Ruth has flown in the Powder Puff races sponsored by the All Women's Transcontinental Air Race. She also worked as a timer and chief judge for the International Air Race. She was appointed an Accident Prevention Counselor for the FAA.
Besides being active in The 99s for many years, Ruth is also a member of the Women Military Aviator's Association, Glenn Curtiss Museum, American Aviation Historical Society, International Women's Air and Space Museum and AOPA.
Among her father's memorabilia, Ruth recently found a guest book from the airport in Rochester which contained the signature of Amelia Earhart. She has donated the book to The 99s Museum of Women Pilots in Oklahoma City.
In June of 1968, my career as a controller trainee began at Cleveland Center, one of 20 Air Route Traffic Control Centers in the country. I was a pilot and flight instructor and thought this would be a really interesting career. It was necessary to either have prior military experience as a controller or have accumulated 300 hours of flight time in order to qualify for hiring.
There were two different groups of women controllers; those hired during World War II and shortly thereafter, and the new hires of the late '60s. Within a few years, the hiring criteria was modified to general experience, which provided opportunities to more women.
Because most facilities are open 24 hours a day, we worked rotating shifts, weekends and holidays. This was not difficult and the attraction was being a part of aviation. It turned into a wonderful and rewarding career.
Being an air traffic controller is a non-standard job. Many people stereotype the field without realizing how challenging and how much fun it could be. The experience I brought from flying helped me to understand the system and, as a result, I became a better pilot and controller.
It was possible to work in one of three types of facilities: en route, terminal or flight service station. After achieving journeyman status, there were other considerations. If you chose to, you could pursue staff work. With the combination of experience as a journeyman and facility staff specialist, you could compete for jobs in supervision at the facility, staff positions at regional headquarters or our headquarters in Washington, D.C.
My career path took me from Cleveland to headquarters, where I worked on new air traffic equipment and the associated budget. In the late 1970s, I was selected for a management position at Seattle Center. At this level, there was the option of being an operational manager in the control room or working on administrative issues like training, airspace, procedures, quality assurance, etc. It was never boring because there were always challenging issues to work with the users of the system or internal human resource issues.
As the years went by, I managed a tower, a center and, as a result of the combination of operational and administrative experience, became one of nine Air Traffic Division Managers - first in the Southwest Region and currently in the Northwest Mountain Region. Recently, I just completed a detail as the Acting Deputy Director of Air Traffic in Washington, D.C.
There are numerous women in the system today, holding a wide range of positions. They are part of the core of aviation. I was in the second wave of women in air traffic control. I was not the first in high visibility positions, but often the only woman in a meeting. I'm pleased to say that has changed and now I am one of many.
In the years to come, I hope more women consider pursuing the air traffic control field. If you are looking for a challenging and exciting career, this is for you.
It would be nice to concoct a story about how it was my lifelong dream to become an Air Traffic Controller — but the truth is: I had never even been in a control tower until I reported for duty in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1981.
My dad flew in the Army Air Corp in World War II. As a child, I can remember going to the Pylon Club at the local airport for Christmas parties and Easter egg hunts. When I was six years old, my parents bought a restaurant. And I think that was the last time my dad or I ever thought about aviation until I met my future husband in the late 70s. He was learning to fly when we met and I guess controlling was in my genes, because I was not going to get in that little airplane with him without knowing how to fly it. My flying lessons began shortly after he started his (and I might have even received my license before him, but don't tell him that).
After the steel mill where I was working folded, I saw a small postcard- size announcement at the airport announcing they would test the first 100 people who signed up for an Air Traffic Controller test. I signed up and passed the test but with a freeze on government hiring and a need to eat, I took another job and continued to work on my ratings, achieving a commercial certificate with instrument and multiengine ratings.
When the PATCO strike came in 1981, I was out of work again because at the place where I was working I wanted to run for the Board of Directors and they said if I ran they would fire me. I ran and they did. I figured it was time for me to move on to another challenge.
I went to the FAA at Wilkes-Barre. When I walked in the door, they said I was the third woman to come to Wilkes-Barre. They said none of the others had completed the ATC training program and I was not expected to be the first.
Ha! I successfully finished (much to their surprise) and stayed for five years, working both Tower and Approach control. When I left Wilkes-Barre, I went to work at Allentown Approach. Then I advanced to Philadelphia Approach Control, a level five facility where I stayed for 10 years. I recently accepted a job as Traffic Management Coordinator. It combines working airplanes with system demand - an exciting mix.
In life, there are people and organizations that help you along the way, not just in what they can do for you but what you can do for other people. In my life, I am grateful for my dad who told me I could achieve anything I was willing to work for.
I am grateful for Professional Women Controllers, an organization that provides support and encouragement for the women FAAers; and I am grateful for The 99s, who provide me with wonderful camaraderie and a reason to fly.
Thank you all!
What does it feel like to walk into a facility, look around and ultimately realize you are a minority? Do you feel bewildered, strange or lonely?
To answer these questions, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association conducted nationwide phone interviews with numerous female controllers about why they joined a male-dominated occupation, the conditions of their working environment and how the agency treats them.
Women gave a variety of reasons for becoming a controller, ranging from having a fascination with aviation, to wanting to change career paths. Boston Tower's Vivian Lumbard's interest sparked after taking flying lessons.
Michelle Wrobleski, Green Bay Tower, was a flight instructor before becoming a controller. She took the test on a whim with a friend as a bet to see who could score higher.
Everyone agreed they are not intimidated working primarily with men. "The women who become controllers are not your average female. Most of them can hold their ground and are not bothered by being in the minority," commented one woman.
Although some encountered static from men back in the '80s, now the gender differences are not as much a point of contention. "Today, men are more open minded than when I joined 22 years ago," offered another. "If you do your job well, your peers will respect you."
The number of female controllers is on the rise. Some facilities have close to 30 percent women employees. Most of those questioned did not want the agency to specifically target and recruit women. But it should provide the same consideration and opportunities, regardless of gender.
There are 13 schools that participate in the FAA's Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI) and have their Air Traffic Controller curriculums approved by the FAA. This means that graduates from these school are qualified for selection by the FAA for entry into the ATC Qualifying Training Course in Oklahoma City.
University of Alaska-Anchorage, Anchorage, Alaska
Dowling College, Oakdale, New York
Daniel Webster College. Nashua, New Hampshire
University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, North Dakota
Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, Tennessee
College of Aeronautics, Flushing, New York
Beaver County Community College, Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, Florida
Mt. San Antonio College, Walnut, California
International-American University of Puerto-Rico, Bayamon, Puerto Rico
Purdue University, West Lafeyette, Indiana
Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia
Miami Dade Community College, Homestead, Florida
For more information, call Frank Doscher, FAA, 202-267-7696.