Summerton exhibit showcases women in aviation

BY SHARRON HALEY
Special to The Sumter Item
Posted 2/2/18

SUMMERTON - Rocket Girls, an educational exhibition highlighting female pilots and astronauts who decades ago pushed the gender boundary to serve as role models for women wanting careers in aviation, is on display at 4 Main …

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Summerton exhibit showcases women in aviation

Posted

SUMMERTON - Rocket Girls, an educational exhibition highlighting female pilots and astronauts who decades ago pushed the gender boundary to serve as role models for women wanting careers in aviation, is on display at 4 Main in Summerton.

"Not all education is in the classroom," Summerton Mayor Mac Bagnal told the students when the exhibit kicked off on Jan. 23 in Summerton. "College isn't for everyone. The military is another choice."

Bagnal invited everyone to visit 4 Main, which is west of Summerton Town Hall and once housed the town's police and fire departments, to browse through the aviation items on display from the International Women's Air & Space Museum Traveling Exhibit: Rocket Girls. Along with the traveling exhibit, 4 Main will also feature an exhibit from the South Carolina Airplane Museum in Columbia. Clarendon County Airport provided small aircraft parts in another display. Throughout February, several aviation static exhibits will be on display at Ridgeway Park, which is across the street from 4 Main.

4 Main will also feature Super! Wow! Neat! Safe! Air Pressure Science activities for students and adults. These STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) activities were made possible thanks to the Summerton Lions Club.

The opening ceremonies featured two guest speakers, United States Air Force Capt. Kayla Hill, 437th Airlift Wing, 16th Airlift Squadron pilot from Joint Base Charleston, and Summerton resident and retired Air Force Col. George Summers.

"You be the best you you can be," Hill said when she stepped up to the podium. "Believe in yourself. It helps."

Hill talked about when she was 8 years old and wanted to be a gymnast. She told the audience that it wasn't until she talked with her college counselor in high school that she even thought about joining the military.

"My mom said 'No,'" Hill shared. "She said that no one in our family was from the military. I thought that flying a plane was kinda cool, so she let me go to camp where I learned to fly a Cessna. I applied at the Air Force Academy, and now I am a C-17 pilot."

Hill didn't sugarcoat her job for the students.

"It was hard at times," she shared. "I never had a dream of what I really wanted to be. I wanted to be a gymnast growing up. But different doors opened up, and I walked in, and now I pilot the C-17, big cargo planes."

Hill talked about the challenges of flying for up to 24 hours at a stretch, refueling in midair and landing in different terrains.

She also talked about all the "really cool" things the C-17 pilots get to do like carrying people, the president's limo, vehicles and helicopters. She even told the students that the orca whale from the movie "Free Willie" was transported in a huge aquarium aboard a C-17 when the filming of the movie ended.

"They took him from Oregon to Iceland," she said with a smile. "Now, that's kinda cool."

She told the audience that C-17s are unique because they can land on dirt, snow and runways. And that although the aircraft is massive it requires a landing strip about one-third the length of a typical landing strip.

"It can stop on a dime," she said. "I love my job. I love serving my country. I've been to 29 countries. I've traveled around the world in five days."

Summers shared stories from his Air Force career with the audience, and he also talked about how important the role his wife, Carole, played in his career was.

"We were married two weeks after she graduated," he said, "and, two weeks later, I was flying away. While I was having fun flying, Carole was beginning her career as a math teacher at a local high school."

Summers flew an array of aircraft over the three decades he served, including the F-4 Fathom that he flew during the Vietnam War.

"I was supposed to go to Vietnam," he said. "They changed my orders to Japan. For the four years that I was stationed in Japan, Carole was there for the whole four years, and I was there for probably one year total. I was away flying, and Carole was a math teacher, counselor, GED instructor and tour guide."

Summers talked about flying with the missing man formation.

"We pulled some serious (g forces)," he said. "Going vertical is really something else."

Toward the end of his career, Summers was stationed at Shaw Air Force Base, where he served as the deputy commander for maintenance.

"While I was there, we won an award as Best Maintenance Division in the Air Force and another award as Best Maintenance Division in the Department of Defense," he said with a smile. "While we lived in Sumter, Carole taught 14 years at Sumter High School."

In 1993, Summers retired, and in 1994, he and Carole moved to Clarendon County.

Summers tried to recognize his wife, but she had suddenly stepped from the room.

"Carole doesn't want any recognition," he said. "But, without her, I wouldn't be who I am today. During my career, the women behind the male pilots played a vital and pivotal role in our careers. They were strong, brave and independent, which made being away and doing our jobs easier."