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8 famous female aviators

By: Matt Hickman on Aug. 25, 2012, 12:11 p.m.
Beverly Burns

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Beverly Burns

On July 18, 1984, during a transcontinental People Express (a short-lived budget airline that merged with Continental in 1987) flight from Newark to Los Angeles, Baltimore-born Beverly Burns went down in history as the first female pilot to command a Boeing 747. This game-changing feat that garnered Burns the Amelia Earhart Award the following year.

In addition to her duties as captain, Burns, an erstwhile American Airlines flight attendant, also served as a baggage handler, gate agent, dispatcher and avionics trainer while with People Express. By the time she retired in 2008, Burns had logged a total 25,000 hours of flight time and had piloted not only the Boeing 747, but also the Boeing 757, Boeing 767, Boeing 777 and a variety of McDonnell-Douglas commercial aircraft.

The reason she became a commercial airline captain in the first place? Burns recounts, during her flight attendant days, a first officer explaining to the crew why there were no female pilots of commercial aircraft: "He said, 'Women are just not smart enough to do this job.' I knew as soon as the words came out of his mouth — 'women cannot be pilots' — that I wanted to be an airline captain immediately," Burns told the Baltimore Sun in 2002.

Over the years, Burns has received numerous honors and accolades in both Maryland and New Jersey. In fact, Feb. 6 was designated as Beverly Burns Day in Baltimore by former Mayor Martin O'Malley back in 2002.