Celebrating International Women’s Day in Aviation

Each year the month of March celebrates International Women’s Day and recognizes the accomplishments of women who have made history. Emily Howell Warner made aviation history in 1973 when she became the first female in the United States to be hired by an Airliner. This unlocked many opportunities for females in the aviation industry, but Warner’s path to obtaining her pilot’s license wasn’t easy.

Emily Howell Warner made aviation history in 1973 when she became the first female in the United States to be hired by an Airliner. Ed O’Neil, then Vice President of Operations at Frontier Airlines, and Captain Boyd Stevens, Director of Training, reviewed her application.  After much speculation, they both agreed to give Warner an opportunity that would open a door for women that was previously locked.

Emily grew up in Denver, CO and after graduating from high school in June of 1957, she took some business courses at Emily Griffith Opportunity School. Most of her time was spent working at a department store in her hometown of Denver, CO. At eighteen, Warner flew on her first flight to Gunnison, Colorado, on a Frontier DC-3. It was this flight that sparked Warner’s love for aviation. Although the crew of the Frontier DC-3 reluctantly obliged when Emily asked to see the flight deck, they could see the spark it ignited while Emily awed over the multitude of switches and buttons. The combination of the flight deck with the incredible view through the pilot’s windshield, Warner knew at that moment what she wanted to do.

Warner began flight school at the Clinton Aviation Company, obtaining her pilot’s license within a year. She took odd jobs flying maintenance flights and a local traffic reporter while she continued working on additional certifications.

From 1945 to 1968 Warner climbed the ranks at Clinton Aviation. Warner was later promoted to flight school manager and chief pilot. She was the first woman to be appointed as a designated FAA Pilot Examiner.

In 1968, Warner turned her focus to the airlines. At this point, Warner had over a decade of flight experience and had accrued more than 3,500 flight hours as a pilot and 7,000 hours as a flight instructor. Yet, she could not land a job as a major airliner pilot even even though her students were being hired with 1,500 to 2,000 hours of flying time. After 5-years of and countless rejections, a friend who worked with Frontier introduced her to the Director of Flight Operations, Captain John Myers. Warner persisted in canvassing Frontier for a position.

Johnny Myers was anything but anti-woman in the cockpit.  His wife, Donna, used to be a pilot, wing-walker, and flight instructor.  Captain Myers suggested that Emily increase her multi-engine flight time and obtain her ATP, (airline transport pilot) rating.  Warner took it to heart and completed her ATP certification in November of 1968. Finally, in 1973, she was offered a chance to demonstrate her exceptional talents at Frontier with an interview and simulator check.

Myers’ boss, Ed O’Neil, had perceived that a barrier was coming down and women would eventually be on the flight decks of America’s airliners.  He recognized Warners potential, but needed to confirm her airmanship and strength of character. Even if she could fly, she would have to endure the discrimination in the male dominated industry.  

Emily’s simulator test was taken on a Convair 580 simulator, which was sophisticated for its time. While the module didn’t move like today’s simulators, the controls and panels were identical to the one in the aircraft, and flying felt very real. While Warner had decades of experience in small aircraft she had never flown anything like the 32 passenger Convair. The two-hour simulator test was tough, but Warner did exceptionally well.

During this test, Warner knew she would be asked to demonstrate much more than her male counterparts would and after being briefed on the long list potential issues she may face on the flight deck, Warner was offered, and accepted, the position as First Mate for Frontier Airlines. Later that year she was named the Amelia Earhart “Woman of the Year”. Three years later, her uniform was installed in the Smithsonian Institute’s Air and Space Museum.

Not only did Warner become the first female pilot for a U.S. Carrier, she also became the first female Captain, and in 1986 she commanded the first all female flight crew. Today, there are over 7,000 women who hold FAA certificates as airline pilots.

While the airlines continue to be a “boys club” (96.6% of all U.S. airline pilots are male), women airline pilot numbers continue to grow. From 2007 to 2017 the number of U.S. female airline pilots rose 31% compared to 11% for all pilots. United Airlines now hires more female pilots than any other carrier in the world with 940 (last reported in July 2018). Thanks to Emily Howell Warner, more women are taking command of flight decks across the globe.