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Ventura County Ninety-Nines: Celebrating Women in Aviation

November 2, 1929. Curtiss Field, New York. More than 100 licensed women pilots gather to make a move. A big move. One that would change the course of aviation history.

Just nine years after the ratification of the nineteenth amendment, which gave women in the United States the right to vote, women were now fortifying their role in aviation. It was still a young industry but one that was already dominated by a legacy of men. Finding a name for the group would be a challenge, and the final decision fell on the number of chartered members. First the 86s, then the 97s, with the final vote sticking with the 99s.

Amelia Earhart was elected as the group’s first president in 1931. Today, the now international organization has more than 150 chapters all dedicated to supporting and inspiring women in aviation.

Locally, the Ventura County Ninety-Nines stands as one of the largest chapters in the organization with more than 110 members from a variety of backgrounds. They are general aviation pilots, corporate and commercial pilots, flight instructors, and student pilots. They are award-winning aerobatic pilots and hot air balloon pilots. They fly out of Camarillo, Oxnard, Santa Paula, and Point Mugu.

They are all pursuing a dream.

Martha Phillips joined the Ventura County Ninety-Nines in the 1990s after having earned her pilots license in 1986.

“It had always been a secret ambition of mine to learn to fly,” she said. “But between raising kids and everything, it was difficult and I really didn’t know how to go about it.”

Phillips then met and married her husband, Art, who was a pilot. He inspired her to pursue her ambition.

The Phillips flew their Cessna 172 out of Camarillo Airport, all while Martha became more involved with the Ninety-Nines, first as chapter chairman, then treasurer and governor of the Southwest Section, then finally as treasurer and president at the international level.

“What inspires me is the access we provide to programs that have been traditionally male focused,” Phillips said. “And we help provide the ability to fly and afford the ability to fly.”

That access and ability comes in the form of flight training, guidance, and support. And, arguably of most importance, through scholarships the 99’s give annually to young, aspiring women pilots.

“The fact is that we have a lot of women instructors,” Phillips said. “That shows young women that not only can they learn to fly, but they can then turn around and teach someone else.”

Additionally, the 99’s are dedicated to supporting the communities they serve through volunteer work and educational programs. They are regularly involved in Wings Over Camarillo and the Young Eagles programs at Camarillo, Oxnard, and Santa Paula airports. They were instrumental in visualizing and solidifying the viewport outside of the Waypoint Café at Camarillo Airport, a project they completed in partnership with the Waypoint team and the Department of Airports. The group also secured representation of women in aviation at the Commemorative Air Force Museum at Camarillo Airport, and will be relaunching their Aviation Career Day, an annual event that was put on hold when the COVID-19 crisis hit Ventura County.

“We are just women celebrating women,” Phillips said.

In 2023, the VC 99’s celebrated their 50th anniversary and are preparing to join the 100th anniversary celebration of the international organization in 2029. Though a century has nearly come and gone since the group’s inception, the goal to the pave the way for new generations of women pilots remains the same.

“I just hope that we can continue to help people achieve those dreams,” Phillips said. “That we can continue to serve as mentors and a source of inspiration. Our whole purpose is to be here to encourage those who were like me. The ones who have a dream but aren’t sure how to go about it.”