Lakeland director’s film encourages girls and women to pursue aviation careers

Lakeland filmmaker Katie McEntire Wiatt made her directorial debut with her documentary “Fly Like a Girl” in 2019 when the film hit the festival circuit, including the Sarasota Film Festival. Now, it has been acquired by Gravitas Ventures and will be available for wide release on-demand and in select theaters starting Oct. 9.

The documentary is about females in aviation, from pilots to an airport operations manager, professionals in the aerospace industry and young women aspiring to be astronauts, like Taylor Richardson.

A few of the women featured include retired NASA astronaut Nicole Stott; Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour, recognized by the Department of Defense as the United State’s first African-American female combat pilot; and Shaesta Waiz, who made history by becoming the youngest woman to fly solo around the world in a single-engine aircraft and as the first female certified civilian pilot from Afghanistan.

The interview subjects tell their stories, but the documentary also pays tribute to the history of women in aviation.

“I love the way this movie soars,” said Nick Royak, Gravitas Ventures senior acquisitions manager, in a press release. “Inspiring stories of women everywhere demolishing glass ceilings in aerospace and STEM programs are fully realized through crisp visuals and clear vision from director Katie Wiatt. We are excited to be partnering with such a sharp team and know audiences will be inspired by their work.”

Wiatt first came up with the idea for “Fly Like a Girl” in 2014 while teaching at Churchwell Elementary School in Lakeland. She felt a disconnect between her female students and STEM subjects.

“There was a young girl in my class who specifically said girls aren’t as good at math as boys,” said the Lakeland director, who grew up in West Palm Beach. “As somebody who had grown up feeling like I wasn’t good at math, it became sort of a mission of mine to show them there are lots of women out there, especially in STEM fields and careers that are sometimes considered non-traditional for women, that are doing amazing things.”

Wiatt had been working on film production during her nights and weekends while teaching, but she made the decision to quit her job and pursue filmmaking fulltime.

“I knew that I wanted to make a documentary … that was always something that I knew I wanted to do,” she said. “I had also had the opportunity to get to learn a lot about women in aviation through different things.”

One of those opportunities was watching aerobatic pilot Patty Wagstaff fly at the Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo in Lakeland. Inspired after the event, she began researching Wagstaff.

“That just sort of started me down this rabbit hole of researching about other women in aviation, and I just got very intrigued by the subject,” she said. “I realized that we have to do a better job of showing girls women who are doing incredible things in fields that they don’t perceive themselves going into. So that was sort of the catalyst for it.”

Once the documentary was in full production, it took about three years to make. Wiatt filmed at the International Women’s Air & Space Museum in Ohio as well as Washington, D.C., where she interviewed Tammy Duckworth, who lost her legs while deployed to Iraq as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot for the Illinois Army National Guard. But Wiatt largely conducted interviews in locations across the Sunshine State, including Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Clearwater, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Cape Canaveral and Orlando.

“There’s a huge aviation community here, and also a lot of people travel here for aviation purposes,” she said. “So we got fortunate from that regard that a lot of the women were actually either down here for their jobs or they live here, and so a lot was done in Florida.”

While the movie focuses on females, there is a lot for male counterparts to enjoy as well, Wiatt said.

“From our experience of the film festivals, men and boys are equally excited and intrigued by the film,” she said. “I also hope that, for boys and men, that they also see women doing those things and understand that there is a need for having them in those careers.”

Overall, she hopes women and girls will walk away from the documentary feeling like there is a place for females in aviation and aerospace and that they too can pursue careers in those fields.

“It’s going to take all people coming to the table, diverse groups of people in diverse schools of thought, to be able to figure out how to do things like get to Mars or solve problems in the aviation world,” Wiatt said. “It’s just a matter of everybody seeing that women and girls … have earned that place at the table.”

“Fly Like a Girl” is available Oct. 9 on-demand on multiple platforms, including iTunes. For more information, visit facebook.com/flylikeagirlfilm.

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