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The moment that 6-year-old Ella Lake set foot on a 90-ton, 177-foot-long airplane on the runway at Billings Logan International Airport, she transformed.

The youngster from Red Lodge went from a shy girl clinging to her mom’s leg to a smiling, bubbly and chatty kid exploring the cockpit and cargo hold of the Airbus A300.

“I really like it when (the plane) goes up and down,” Ella said.

As part of Women of Aviation Worldwide Week, more than a dozen women and girls — including Ella and her mom, Andrea Lake — explored the large UPS delivery plane, which touched down at 5:15 p.m., and asked its all-female crew questions.

The event coincided with the 101st anniversary of the first woman earning her pilot's license.

“But it’s not just about women,” said Terri Donner, the plane’s captain. “It’s about all children, boys and girls, having the opportunity to know that if there’s something they want to do, there’s a pathway.”

About 6 percent of the people in the aviation industry are women, Donner said. She and her co-captain, Jodi Budenaers, hoped that giving women and girls the chance to see the plane would inspire them to get involved and let them know that it can be done.

“I think one of the reasons you don’t see women going into aviation as much is that a lot of them weren’t raised to think they can do it,” Budenaers said. “But don’t limit yourself, because there’s opportunity out there. Everybody just takes a different path.”

Both women said that while the job means plenty of time away from home, having a family and being a pilot aren’t mutually exclusive. Donner has three children while Budenaers has two.

Andrea Lake heard about the event and thought it would be a good thing for her daughter to see. Ella’s dad is also a UPS pilot, but she doesn’t usually get to see what his job is like up close.

Regardless, she’s very interested in aviation.

“There are a lot of opportunities for women in aviation,” Andrea Lake said. “She’s never gotten to see something like this so close, but for women, it’s just so wide open with aviation.”

While a career in aviation may come later for Ella, on Tuesday she was simply excited to be in the plane.

“I got to go in the cockpit,” she said proudly. “Twice.”

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Contact Zach Benoit at zbenoit@billingsgazette.com or 657-1357.

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