You can’t talk about aerobatic flying without talking about Patty Wagstaff: a 3-time US National Aerobatic Champion; a 6-time members of the US Aerobatic Team; a gold, silver, and bronze medal winner in the International Aerobatic Competition; an inductee in the National Aviation Hall of Fame; and the first woman to win the title of U.S. National Aerobatic Champion. She and her plane, an Extra 300S, were featured numerous times throughout the history of Microsoft Flight Simulator.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, Patty was kind enough to have a chat with Jayne from the Microsoft Flight Simulator community team about her incredible aviation experience and shed some light on some of the work she used to do in Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Jayne: I learned that you were introduced to aviation at a young age because your father was an airline pilot. How did this shape your perception of aviation as a child?
Patty: I sat in the cockpit with my father from a young age. My mother would take me to the airport as a kid to watch airplanes take off and land. Being introduced to flying at a young age made it seem the most normal thing to do. Knowing an airplane could transport you to exciting and beautiful places, like Hawaii, for example, made aviation seem the most romantic and compelling thing.
Jayne: What drew you towards aerobatic flying?
Patty: I was intrigued by the idea of it from a young age. Aerobatics combines fun, challenge, physicality, travel and more, into a great package.
Jayne: For someone who has never had a chance to experience aerobatic flying, can you attempt to give us a description of what it feels like?
Patty: If you like roller coasters, you’ll like aerobatics; but much more because the airplane is in your control and you’re not just along for the ride. It’s important for pilots to have some experience in aerobatics in order to become safer and more confident. Up until just after WWII, aerobatics was required training for pilots before they were allowed to even fly an airplane solo.
Jayne: You’ve flown all sorts of aircraft – from an Extra 300S to a P-51 Mustang – do you have a favorite?
Patty: The Extra series of airplanes is my favorite from an overall perspective, because their performance and handling characteristics are so fabulous. The P-51 Mustang is probably the most exciting airplane I’ve ever flown because of its history and powerful Merlin engine. There are so many great airplanes though because it takes a different one for every mission, whether it’s a single-engine piston or a jet.
Jayne: You have founded the Patty Wagstaff Aerobatic School in St. Augustine, which I think is just amazing! What inspired you to go down this route of training new aerobatic pilots?
Patty: I suppose it was inevitable. For years people had asked me when I was going to start a school, but I was lukewarm about it. Then a series of events came together – the right office and hangar space, an available airplane that a friend wanted me to use, a specific student, and so on. I like to commit to something and then figure out how to make it work, so that’s what I did and it’s been working very well, and I’ve enjoyed it more than I ever thought I would.
Jayne: What was your role in past Microsoft Flight Simulator games?
Patty: In the early 90’s I was contacted by Bruce Williams, who was heading up the new Flight Sim product at MS. I’ve never been a big sim person, but I knew this was going to be big. Bruce asked if I would contribute to the design and give some lessons and helpful hints to Sim pilots and so on. I also measured performance data such as climb rates, roll rates, etc. of my airplane and supplied it to MS, which made the Sim airplane a very accurate model to fly.
Jayne: Do any memories stand out to you during the time you worked on Microsoft Flight Simulator, or can you go into a little more detail on how you measured performance data of your airplane for the sim?
Patty: I went to the MS HQ in Seattle where we taped the voice overs for my tips which were on the second or third version of FS, I’m not sure which. It was interesting. As far as measuring performance, I timed climb and vertical penetration rates with different speeds, and using my stopwatch. I think we were able to get some pretty accurate performance data.
Jayne: Do you think flight sims contribute to bringing new pilots into aviation, or have any effect on the industry?
Patty: I definitely do. I meet so many people who first started flying as kids on Microsoft Flight Simulator, and often with my airplane. I find that this group often learns really fast in the cockpit as well!
Jayne: There is of course still a low percentage of women in aviation. What is some advice you have for women and girls who want to get into the aviation, or even flight simming?
Patty: I think the stats for women in aviation are around 6.5%, and despite our best efforts, it hasn’t grown as much as we hoped.
I believe that the industry needs to change from a grassroots level. We can preach about the great career opportunities, but until girls and women can pick up an aviation magazine, for example, and see themselves represented on the pages, it won’t be presented as a welcoming place to be. The other issue is terminology. There are some changes taking place, but aviation terminology is terrifically male centric. Every airplane in the traffic pattern for example., is a “he,” and so on. I think we can do better.
Jayne: You mentioned terminology needing to change and needing to see more representation – is there anything an average person or aviator can do to help advocate for these things better, like an organization we should support or website we should check out to learn more?
Patty: Women in Aviation International (www.wai.org) is an excellent organization that supports women and provides a lot of career guidance and networking opportunities.
We are in awe by all the wonderful accomplishments Patty has achieved and the mark she continues to leave on the aviation industry. If you would like to learn more about her, her aerobatic school, and more, check out PattyWagstaff.com.