A six-time recipient of the “First Lady of Aerobatics” Betty Skelton Award, Patty Wagstaff has been wowing airshow attendees for more than 25 years. She learned to fly in Alaska and travels all over the world for airshows and competitions. She works as a stunt pilot and aerial coordinator for films and TV. She travels to East Africa each year to train pilots in the Kenya Wildlife Service and recently became a member of CalFire as an air attack pilot in the OV-10 Bronco. Based in Saint Augustine, Florida, Wagstaff also shows horses, raises Jack Russell terriers, rides motorcycles, and practices yoga.
Getting started…My dad was an airline pilot and used to let me sit in the cockpit. I also enjoyed reading his airplane manuals and updating his Jepp charts (I must have been a weird kid!). I was working in Australia as an economic development planner and the first airplane I chartered for a business trip crashed. I decided I could do better than that, so I started taking lessons.
Early challenges…Flying in Alaska in the winter requires tenacity. There are virtually no hangars. You have to make sure the oil is warm enough to start the engine so it has to be preheated. You have to scrape snow and ice off the airplane. I flew my first airshow in a snowsuit.
Aviation activity…Aerobatics! I never get tired of hearing the word. It still sounds exciting to me. I also love long cross-countries when I’m alone in my airplane.
Favorite airplane…My Extra 300S. Overall it’s the best aerobatic airplane ever built. It’s light, strong, fast, and maneuverable with great performance.
Advice for students… We’ve have come a long way, but [female students] still have to deal with big egos. I think it’s important to stand up for yourself and let people know where your boundaries are and also to have a sense of humor. We are still the minority in aviation, so it’s up to us to educate people and let them know that being competent and being a female are not mutually exclusive!