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10 famous female aviators

By: Matt Hickman on April 24, 2017, 9:43 a.m.
Emily Howell Warner

Photo: Getty Images

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Emily Howell Warner

In this day and age, squeezing yourself into your seat on a commercial passenger flight and hearing a female voice announce that "This is your captain speaking" over the PA system is a pleasant surprise. Out of the 53,000 members of the Air Line Pilots Association, a mere 5 percent are female, while only about 450 women worldwide serve as airline captains according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots.

Less than 40 years ago, this was even more of a rarity. In 1976, at 36 years old, Denver-based pilot Emily Howell Warner became the first female to command a major American passenger flight when Frontier Airlines made the bold move of placing her in the captain's seat of a de Havilland Twin Otter. Previously, Warner served as a first officer for Frontier, a position that the former flight school instructor and single mom secured after several years of aggressively vying for the job.

When Frontier eventually did hire Warner as a pilot in 1973, she had all but given up hope, having watched many of her male students from the Clinton Aviation Academy graduate and easily secure jobs with commercial airlines. After earning her captain's wings with Frontier, Warner went on to fly a Boeing 737 for the United Postal Service and later became an examiner for the FAA. In 1974, she became the first female member of the Air Line Pilots Association and was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2001. Her Frontier pilot’s uniform is proudly on display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.