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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Air Show Delights Fans on Women's Day

MTYelena Kulkova reminiscing Thursday about World War II, when she flew bombing sorties in a variety of planes.
STUPINO, Moscow Region -- Helicopters, planes and parachutists swept through the blue spring skies over Stupino Aerodrome, south of Moscow, in a display of synchronized prowess.

Despite the impressive spectacle, however, it was the gender of the participants that had drawn the crowds of television crews and journalists.

To mark International Women's Day on Thursday, the Helicopter Industry Association and Sky Vision aviation club held the first national air show dedicated to amateur female pilots.

The event was an opportunity for female pilots to show off their skills in a field usually dominated by men.

"I wish all women blue, clear skies above them and hope that they will have the opportunity to start flying," said Khalide Makagonova, president of the Women Aviators club, at the inauguration ceremony.

"I've been studying helicopter acrobatics for three years and that's what I'm going to be doing today," said Lyudmila Sorochinskaya, standing in front of her U.S.-made helicopter.

"Before we had a lot more women flying and we had a very strong team, even with some world champions in it," Sorochinskaya said.

Asked what the situation was like for women wanting to learn to fly nowadays, Makagonova was upbeat.

"If a woman wants to fly nowadays, then she can come along and fly. There are no longer any rules forbidding women from studying at the academies like there were before," she said.

"I hope that we'll soon see women flying in the military, that's what I really want to see," Makagonova said.

As part of the event, commemorative awards were handed out to a number of female Soviet Air Force veterans from World War II, to the accompaniment of a jazz brass band.

All-women regiments were established in the Soviet Air Force following a personal order from Stalin in 1942, as a deficit of men threatened to hamper the war effort.

"It's lovely to see these young girls flying here today," said Yekaterina Poluchina, 85, an aircraft technician during World War II, as she signed copies of her book "Girls, Friends, Pilots" about the female pilots in the Red Army.

Valentina Neminushaya, 84, a former fighter pilot showed off the collection of medals pinned across her chest as she recounted tales of how she flew a YAK-9 plane during the defense of Kiev.

"The male pilots treated us with real respect. They often gave us flowers and chocolates," she said.

"I really envy these parachutists nowadays. The parachutes are so light and convenient, unlike the huge heavy ones in my day," she said.

"No, I don't wish I was jumping out of the airplanes today. I'll be 85 next month," she laughed.

Many participants lamented the demise of amateur flying clubs since the days of subsidized flying lessons during the Soviet Union.

"Its all depends on how much money you have nowadays," said Marina Popovich, a world-record holding former pilot.

"Nowadays you have to pay to join the flying clubs and it's a problem both for men and women," said Yekaterina Oreshnikova, the only female helicopter pilot currently working at the Emergency Situations Ministry.

But Oreshnikova said it was not disproportionately difficult for women to become pilots.

"The most important thing is getting started, finding somewhere to study and getting involved. It's like any profession, the learning process is always interesting and sometimes hard but then it gets easier," she said.

Standing proudly in front of her own two-seater airplane, Marina Bidnaya, 35, an amateur pilot and businesswoman from Moscow, was more hopeful for the future of female aviation in the country.

"More and more girls are coming to learn how to fly. Recently, a girl won the right to study at an academy in a court case and now we are seeing women becoming commercial airline pilots," she said.