Our Flying Eye Hospital welcomed its first ever all-female flight crew Cyndhi Berwyn and Cheryl Pitzer

Flying Eye Hospital Celebrates First All-Female Flight Crew

April 2019

We have some exciting news! Our Flying Eye Hospital welcomed its first ever all-female flight crew last week on a flight between Kingston, Jamaica and Memphis, Tennessee.

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.

Volunteer pilots Cyndhi and Cheryl in the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital cockpit

Here they are! Meet the fabulous Cyndhi and Cheryl - our first all female flight crew

While this is fantastic news and we’re thrilled to be celebrating alongside these two amazing women, it does pose another question: In 2019, should we still celebrate ‘firsts’ for women in aviation?

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

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.

Both volunteer pilots fly for FedEx

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!

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.

The milestone flight took place between Kingston, Jamaica and Memphis, Tennessee

Cyndhi and Cheryl landing in Memphis, Tennessee last week.

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."

Our sight-saving work during our Jamaica program. We removed Roline's cataract

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

We couldn’t agree more Cheryl! Which is why we’re working alongside partners to help women overcome the barriers they face accessing quality eye care, and have made overcoming 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.