Colorado’s Hetty Carlson Inspiring Our Future Aviation Workforce

Photo above – Supporting Colorado’s aviation community is an important component of Hetty Carlson and Colorado Division of Aeronautics outreach. Here Hetty provides a new aeronautical chart to a pilot at the EAA Chapter 1267 regional fly-at Emily Warner Field (KGNB). (Penny Hamilton Photo)

By Penny Rafferty Hamilton, Ph.D.

Hetty Carlson

Hetty Carlson is the latest addition to the Colorado Division of Aeronautics team. She serves as the Division’s Education Grants and Outreach Program Specialist. Hetty has nearly a dozen years of aviation education experience, including over eight years serving as the Teacher Flight Program and Education Outreach Manager for the Wings over the Rockies Air & Space Museum. Hetty earned a bachelor’s degree in Aviation Management from Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Department of Aviation and Aerospace Science. “The best part of my job is educating and inspiring Colorado’s future aviation workforce,” Hetty says of her role. “There is nothing more rewarding than supporting Colorado Aviation from a state level!”

How did you first get inspired to work in the aviation industry?

My journey into aviation was an interesting path.  When I was 11 years old, I saw the movie Top Gun and decided “I want to do that!!” I was told at the time that women do not fly combat aircraft. Unfortunately, in my very young, impressionable mind, I believed that flying was not something that women could do. That all changed my freshman year of college when I was sitting in my English Literature class at Metropolitan State College of Denver (now University).  Directly across the hall was the Aviation and Aerospace Department. I thought to myself, “You can do that? You can get a degree in aviation?” I read every pamphlet outside the department doors; women in aviation, aviation careers, education, etc. Beginning the next semester, I enrolled in the Aviation Fundamentals class and changed my major to Aviation Technology. As the years passed, I quickly realized my flight training was not keeping up with my schooling, so I decided to put flying on the back burner and finish my B.S. in Aviation Management.

Carlson signals thumbs up from the aft tandem cockpit of the classic 1942 yellow Stearman biplane used in the “Empowering Educators” Wings over the Rockies Air and Space Museum Teacher Flight Program which Hetty managed before joining the Colorado Aeronautics Division staff recently. (Courtesy Photograph)

Once I graduated from college, I did not jump right into my career. I chose to stay home and raise my children for nearly a decade before I went back to work as a Classroom Paraeducator. Aviation is an affliction and I never stopped dreaming of ways to work my way back into the industry.  As a volunteer tour guide at the Wings over the Rockies Museum, I relished in teaching school age children all about the four forces of flight and the unique history of the nearly four dozen aircraft scattered around the hangar floor. After a year as a docent, I was hired by the museum and started my unique aviation journey that included working with a 1942 Stearman PT17 biplane that we affectionately named, YP.  (Yellow Peril was a nickname given by cadets during WWII to these primary trainers that describes their ability to shame inattentive pilots and contribute to them “washing out” of training.) She was beautiful with her yellow US Navy paint scheme.

Thus began my love affair with warbirds and radial engines! I loved getting my hands dirty and helping with annual inspections just as much as scrubbing the oily grime off the belly of a Stearman. I’ve had the opportunity to not only fly in, but take the controls of a Stearman, a SNJ-5, and a B-17!! My ears still perk up and my heart leaps at the sound of a round engine flying overhead. I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing organizations including the National Museum of WWII Aviation, the Commemorative Air Force, and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA).

What’s your first memory of aviation?

My parents divorced when I was very young. My mother and I ended up halfway across the country from my father. Every summer of my young life, I flew back east to see my father, as an unaccompanied minor. Those long flights became a very natural thing. I fell in love with flying during those years.

Who has inspired you the most (any mentors you want to mention?

Hetty Carlson was encouraged by Captain Emily Warner to pursue an aviation career when Hetty was a college student. Carlson earned a bachelor’s degree in Aviation Management from Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Department of Aviation and Aerospace Science. (Courtesy Photograph)

During my early years of college, I had the opportunity to see and speak with Emily Howell Warner, who was giving a speech at the Aurora Public Library. What an incredibly gracious lady! I was so honored to meet her and hear her story. She shattered glass ceilings without compromising her femininity. She was never a bull, never had the chip on her shoulder, but persisted with dignity, grace, courage, and talent. Coincidentally, I was able to converse with her 20+ years later with my own young daughter. When I shared with her that she inspired me to pursue aviation but that I never finished my private certificate, she smiled with a twinkle in her eye and said, “You will.”

Advice for other women inside our industry or thinking about aviation and aerospace?

Once you set your sight on what you want, don’t let anyone tell you it’s not possible. Aviation is for everyone and there are no barriers, except our own self-doubt. There are so many opportunities in the aviation industry if you just look. So many young people believe that if you want a career in aerospace, you either must be a pilot or an engineer and that simply isn’t true. My personal mission is to show every young person that no dream is too big or off-limits. It doesn’t matter your gender or socio-economic situation.

Background Information?

Hetty Carlson also has professional experience managing the Boeing Blue Sky Gallery Exploration of Flight at the Centennial Airport location of the Wings over the Rockies Air and Space Museum. Her aviation member-customer service experience with American Flight Schools gave her important contacts with aviation enthusiasts and their flight training network. Hetty continues to volunteer with her local Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Chapter 301 at their Young Eagle rallies.

According to Ginni Rometty, former CEO of IBM Corporation, for the aviation and industry to move successfully into the future, “You have to value skills and not just degrees. You have to have new education models and new pathways to get people retrained and back into the workforce.”

Dr. Hamilton is the author of the aviation careers book, Inspiring Words for Sky and Space Women, partially funded with a Women in Aviation International grant.