The Red Bull Air Race competition has never had a female competitor. As of 2016, that all changed with Mélanie Astles. Not only has she been thriving as a pilot since age 25, but she's also received an abundance of awards and championships throughout her journey, this being the most recent. Her story explains her success.
Mélanie had a desire to fly even during her early childhood. Although she had a lack of funds and skills in math and physics, her desire enabled her to start flying early. It's so powerful that she describes it as a strong desire “running through in my veins.” So, when she realized the traditional method wasn’t going to get her there, she developed her own. She left school at age 18 to work at a gas station to begin saving money for flying lessons.
“I was lucky to be encouraged by pilots who made me believe in me and that I could become a professional pilot. “
Mélanie’s dedication for becoming a pilot was so convincing. She even explains dealing with homelessness, due to the priority of having to pay for flight hours.
“It was like a big mountain towered in front of me, how was I going to climb it? But some how I knew I was going to succeed and would reach my dream and become a pilot.”
On her 25th birthday she did just that, finally receiving her professional pilot license.
“To reach that day, I was helped by some great people who always had faith in me; my mom who always believed in me even in the darkest days and of course a lot of other people…”
When talking about dealing with sexism in the flying domain, Mélanie describes it as being deceptive.
“I think sexism is very insidious, nothing is said or shown upfront.”
She breaks down being a female pilot into positives and negatives. Being a female, you still reap benefits such as securing a place on a team due to a lack of women competitors. She even used the example of getting help with pushing your plane into the hanger. However being a female in a male dominated field, hardly ever lacks backlash.
“I feel people believe less in your skill and talent, and they don’t see how hard it is for women to compete in a field traditionally thought of as a men’s universe. “
Mélanie continues to dissect this topic explaining how she notices men pilots have their women partners present supporting them in competitions, but it’s hardly the case when the situation is reversed. She also describes female pilot careers as shorter, and explains there often temporarily interrupted when the time comes for them to have children.
“My situation today is that, in order to secure a place in the French team, I have been asked to be in competition with other men, for that one and only place, thereby showing a complete lack of gender parity. To obtain that place, I need to put aside my professional and personal life to become stronger and develop my internal strength to succeed.”
Regardless of what the stats say about female pilots, Mélanie is setting new rules. She takes this opportunity as a chance to write a new page in history, as well as gain visibility around the world. Mélanie plans to be active not just with this opportunity but also with her role in woman empowerment.
“I am proud to be the first female pilot and I hope I will be inspiring to other people who, like me, started in life with nothing except an "impossible" dream. I want to prove to all those people who are alone in the dark with their dream that if they want, they can challenge themselves and live their passion. I would like to give back what I was given once, by sharing happiness and inspiration through my own example. “
Mélanie advises other women, especially younger women, not to focus on the sanction of others, but to surround themselves with encouraging people.
“Don't try to be loved by everybody. Decide what you want and go for it. Don't search for approval but get some great and magic people around you who will be there to support you on your journey.”
With all the skills, necessary training and even money, Mélanie makes note that the essential ingredients to becoming a female pilot is passion and hard work.
“Passion always wins, believe me, and it will guide and push you through the dark moments.”
Through her success and journey, she shows us that no dream should be labeled impossible, but obtainable through hard work, commitment, and sacrifice.