Flying Eye Hospital Presents Our All-Female Flight Crew

Orbis Flying Eye Hospital is proud to present to you our all-female flight crew to celebrate International Women's Day #IWD2021. The all-star crew was on a Flying Eye Hospital mission between Kingston, Jamaica and Memphis, Tennessee in 2019.

Cyndhi Berwyn and Cheryl Pitzer have nearly 80 years of flying experience between them. Gliders, hot air balloons, helicopters, sea planes, single engine, multi engine, fully accredited flying ophthalmic hospitals - there is nothing these two women cannot fly.

Meet the fabulous Valerie, Cheryl and Cyndhi - our all female flight crew

While this is fantastic and we’re thrilled to be celebrating alongside these amazing women, it does pose another question: should we still celebrate ‘firsts’ for women in aviation and beyond?

We asked Cyndhi and Cheryl what they thought.

It was a clear summer’s day in 1784 when Elizabeth Thible took to the skies in a hot air balloon and became the first woman to fly. French newspapers credited her with the success of the flight, commending her outstanding skill and courage. But more than 200 years later, why do we still celebrate women’s ‘firsts’ in aviation?

Cyndhi Berwyn is one of the most respected and revered pilots at FedEx and (lucky for us!) a long time Orbis volunteer. Cyndhi’s amazing career has spanned more than 40 years, so she’s no stranger to the challenges women face:

The year I graduated from college was the first year the military decided to take women pilots. I applied and was accepted as one of the first women in the air force.

Captain Cyndhi Berwyn

Orbis Flying Eye Hospital

Cyndhi in the air force

Unphased by the traditionally male profession, Cyndhi quickly rose through the ranks to become a trainer and evaluator before moving to FedEx in 1985. Now she holds one of the most senior positions a woman has ever held at the company, Senior Manager of Flight Training.

Between them the pair have nearly 80 years' flying experience

Breaking new ground

While Cyndhi and fellow FedEx pilot Cheryl’s achievements is exciting for us Orbis, for the two women who have dedicated their lives to aviation, the trip was far from unusual:

For me, it was just like any flight. It’s strange that we’re still talking about women’s firsts, I don’t see flying with Cheryl as different from flying with any of my colleagues.

Captain Cyndhi Berwyn

Orbis Flying Eye Hospital

Yet Cyndhi and Cheryl still think the flight is worth celebrating. Why? Because of the message it sends to other women and girls.

Cheryl explained: “It’s all about what you’re exposed to. It wasn’t until I became a flight attendant that I thought that I could be a pilot! Now I get a kick out of seeing people’s faces when they find out what we do. I especially love seeing the happy surprise from kids!

There's nothing that Cyndhi and Cheryl can't fly

REACHING FOR THE SKY

Cyndhi and Cheryl believe that the more visible female pilots are, the more girls will be inspired to take to the skies. And celebrating milestones like Orbis’s first all-female flight crew is one way to do this.

Cyndhi and Cheryl landing in Memphis, Tennessee

And Cyndhi has seen first-hand the impact she’s had on the next generation:

I flew in an air show and my niece was there. Her mother flies large aircraft like me, and her father is a fighter pilot. She looked up to me and said ‘Aunt Cyndhi, why is it that when women grow up they fly big planes and when boys grow up they fly little planes?’ In her version of reality, all girls grow up to fly big airplanes!

I never thought I’d be called a role model, so it feels a little strange. It’s flattering, and if I inspire even one more girl to go into this field of work then it’d be fantastic.

Captain Cheryl Pitzer

Orbis Flying Eye Hospital

A REASON TO CELEBRATE

For Cyndhi and Cheryl, the real reason to celebrate their flight is the sight-saving work they helped to make possible in the Caribbean. Cyndhi said, “For me, this is about having a global impact and being able to make a difference. When we fly with Orbis, we get to see all the good in the world. It’s such an honour to participate!”

Our trip to Jamaica was a huge success thanks to women like Cyndhi and Cheryl. Here at Orbis we’re fortunate to have a number of high profile women leading the charge in the fight against blindness.

I love volunteering for Orbis” Cheryl told us. “So many inspiration women step aboard the Flying Eye Hospital. From senior engineers to some of the world’s leading ophthalmologists and nurses.

It’s shocking to hear that 55% of people living with blindness are women. I’m sure having more women involved in the fight against blindness will help tackle this injustice."

Doing it for women! Cyndhi and Cheryl believe they can make a big difference in the fight against blindness

We couldn’t agree more Cyndhi! Which is why we’re working alongside partners to help women overcome the barriers they face accessing quality eye care, and have made beating this inequality a strategic priority.

We’re sure that with women like Cheryl and Cyndhi behind our mission, the future is looking bright for women and eye care.