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Warbirds Flier

The only B-25H model comes OSH

July 26, 2016 - Julia Wood said the ultimate way to learn history is to immerse yourself in it. She’s doing just that as the first female pilot at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Addison, Texas.

Wood flew into EAA Oshkosh AirVenture 2016 Monday morning in Cavanaugh’s B-25H Barbie III, the only B-25H model flying today. Cavanaugh also flew in two Douglas Skyraiders.

“As I was coming into Oshkosh in the B-25 I remembered all those guys taking off from their aircraft carrier and headed to Tokyo, wondering what it was going to be like and knowing that it probably would not end well,” she said. “I never really thought about that perspective until yesterday.”

World War II veterans are always supportive when they see her fly the B-25, she said. But one of her favorite memories is flying Cavanaugh’s Fairchild PT-19 to the Women Airforce Service Pilots reunion in Sweetwater, Texas, three years ago. Those female pilots trained at Avenger Field in the 1940s.

WASP Mary Helen Chapman flew the PT-19 during WWII, and Wood took her up for a flight. “She hopped in that plane like it had been only a year since she did it last,” Wood said. “It was a very special time to fly with a WASP, one of the ladies who made it possible for me and other women to fly. She was an inspiration.”

Wood said flying a warbird is both enjoyable and interesting. “It’s wonderful to learn about the different systems of the older airplanes,” she said. “They can be both complicated and yet simple, and they require a lot more thought to fly than modern airplanes. You need to listen to the airplane more to be in tune.”

Wood has logged nearly 20,000 hours as a pilot. She flies 747s internationally for United Airlines. At home and in aerobatic shows and competitions, she flies a Pitts S-2B, a Piper Cub, and a Cessna 195.

No one in her family was a pilot, but she became interested in flying when a seaplane landed on a Minnesota lake where she loved to water ski. Only 13 at the time, she remembers looking up the phone number for the local airport in the Yellow Pages, and calling them to inquire about lessons.

“They told me to call back when I was 15,” she said.

She started flying lessons at 15, soloed at 16, and earned her private pilot certificate at 17. By that time, she had already started working on her commercial certificate. 

“[My parents] supported me as long as I told them everything about it,” she recalled. “My dad was always fascinated with flying, but he always got air sick, so he enjoyed the flight lessons through me.”

He was also her first passenger.

Along the way, Wood graduated with a bachelor’s degree in aviation technology from Purdue, and shortly after started taking aerobatic lessons. But since she didn’t make enough money doing flight instruction to pay for her lessons, she decided first to concentrate on her career. She continued earning ratings and started flying commercially.

Once her career was going, she went to H&R, owned and operated by aerobatic champion Debby Rihn-Harvey, to take aerobatic lessons. Her instructor, Tony, became her husband a year later.

Another year later they bought a PittsS-2B, and formed JTAirshows as a nonprofit 501c organization to promote and further aviation and in particular the sport of aerobatics. Both Wood and Tony will both be competing in Intermediate in the Pitts S-2B this year. In addition, Wood was on the U.S. aerobatic team in 2002 and 2014.

Wood said she has no favorite plane to fly. “I like the one I’m in at the moment. They all are different in a good way. They all have their own purpose.”

However, she is excited to be the first woman to fly for Cavanaugh’s. “The only thing I have issues with is that I’m small and short and that creates some challenges. But it’s not an issue. It just takes me longer to try to figure out how to do something.”

Her advice to children, and especially girls, is to never be afraid to try something. “You might fail, and fail miserably. You may get embarrassed, and people may laugh at you. But you can’t quit or take it personally. Fight back by trying again.”
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