ALAMEDA - Judy Barker was so determined to become a pilot that she used the tips she earned from waiting tables to pay for flying lessons.

The Hayward resident got her private pilot's license in 1976, a year after her husband got his. "With him flying, I wanted to know how to land in case anything happened," she said.

The couple often would rent a plane and go flying with their children — and later with their grandchildren — sometimes to vacation spots or to visit family around the country.

This morning, Barker will be one of three speakers at the Living Ship Day: Women's History Month event, at the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda.

As a member of the Alameda County Chapter of The Ninety Nines Inc., the oldest international female pilots' organization, she will talk about her flying experiences and the opportunities available for women interested in aviation.

"I was very unsure of myself, with 18 hours (of training) with an instructor," Barker said, talking about the first time she flew solo.

Despite her instructor's confidence in her abilities, she felt unprepared before she took off alone from the Hayward Airport in a Cessna 150, a two-seat, single-engine airplane, she said.

Once she conquered the fear of flying solo, she tackled the next step: getting a license.

"It takes a lot of hours and ratings (to get a license), which slows women down," said Liz Lundin with The Ninety-Nines headquarters in Oklahoma City.


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Some people may take up to 200 hours of training, she said. The Federal Aviation Admin-istration requires a minimum of 35 hours of certified training for a private plane license, but estimates it takes most people 60 to 70 hours of training to pass a test.

Only about half of the student pilots complete their training and get a license, Lundin said.

Women make up only about 6 percent of about 37,000 active licensed pilots in the United States, according to a 2004 FAA report.

In addition to long training hours, another reason student pilots fail to complete training is the cost of flight lessons.

In the days when Barker was a waitress and got quarters for tips, flight training cost about $18 an hour, which included plane fuel and the instructor's fee, she said. Today it costs about $80 an hour. Usually, students are expected to fly about three hours a week.

There are other challenges for new pilots once they actually get off the ground.

"There were times I wanted to quit," said Livermore resident Billie Sposeto , chairman of the Alameda County chapter of The Ninety-Nines.

Among other things, a pilot has to manage the fuel, the engine power, keep the plane balanced, check charts, talk to air traffic controllers in the tower and "keep an eye on the (Boeing) 747" flying alongside the trainee's plane, she said laughing.

Sposeto said she took up flying because every time she drove past the Livermore Airport on her way to work in Oakland she and her children would wonder what it would be like to fly. Sposeto got her private plane license in 1981.

In addition to Barker, two other speakers will talk about their war experiences at the USS Hornet Museum event Saturday morning. The other panelists are:

- Dorothy Dore Dowlen of San Jose, who served as a nurse's aide for the combined Philippines and U.S. Armed Forces of the Far East during World War II. She wrote of her experiences in "Enduring What Cannot Be Endured."

- Capt. Joanne Fritch, an emergency room nurse in Pleasanton, who serves in the Navy Reserve Medical Corps. In her 34-year Navy career, she served two tours aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy and other ships.

The event at the museum, 707 W. Hornet Ave., Pier 3, Alameda Point, takes place today with flight simulations between 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. The day's schedule will include science activities for kids.

Admission is $14 for adults and $6 for kids 5 to 17.

For more information on museum events, including the monthly Flashlight Tours beginning at 8:30 a.m. today, $35 per person, visit http://www.uss-hornet.org or call 521-8448 ext. 282.