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Stinson, Katherine

2019 1891-1977

Katherine Stinson was born in 1891 in Fort Payne, Alabama. Dreaming of a career in aviation, Stinson got to work from a very young age. She made her first ascent in Kansas City in 1911 inside a balloon and decided from then on, she wanted a life in the air. In 1912 she became one of the first women in the United States to receive a pilot’s license at only age 19.

One year later Katherine established a flying business with her mother in San Antonio, Texas. Katherine and her sister, Marjorie Stinson, began to run the flying school, teaching their younger brothers how to fly as well as other local kids. The flying school continued to be run by the family and became one of the most famous and well-known flying schools at the time offering lessons for people across the area.

Katherine Stinson rose to national prominence during her exhibition flights across the United States for which she would become best known. In 1915 she became the first woman to perform a loop and executed a snap roll at the top of the loop. She quickly became known as a daredevil, often times leading men in stunts and out flying them in her own maneuvers.

She pioneered as a skywriter when she attached flares to her plane and wrote “CAL” across the California sky in 1915. Nicknamed “The Flying Schoolgirl”, she made a trip from San Diego to San Francisco that set new records for distance and duration of flight. She would go on to travel internationally to promote aviation and her stunt flying.

In 1917 she organized a six-month tour of China and Japan to demonstrate flying. She set a record that year with a 9-hour 10-minute nonstop flight from San Diego to San Francisco. In 1918 the Postmaster General approved her appointment to become the first woman Air Mail pilot. That same year she set another duration record when she attempted a mail flight from Chicago to New York but was forced to ground her Curtiss airplane after it ran out of fuel.

The Stinson sisters petitioned the US government to join the Air Service as combat pilots in World War I but the government declined their request. Marjorie Stinson took a job at the Navy’s department of aeronautical design. Katherine made fundraising flights for the Red Cross and Liberty Loan bond drives that established her in aerial public relations. Her fundraising flight raised $2 million after her multi-stop flight from Rochester to Washington DC. She became the only pilot ever to knit for the Red Cross while flying solo in an open cockpit airplane.

After being denied a second time to join the military, Katherine went to France on her own to serve as a volunteer ambulance driver for the Red Cross. Returning from Europe after the war she was struck with a bout of influenza and tuberculosis. In 1920 she retired from active flying and settled in New Mexico. Katherine Stinson was one of the most important pioneers in aviation and spread her joy of stunt flying all over the world. She began a flying career early in aviation history and always continued to learn and push herself to new heights.

Tonight, we welcome Katherine Stinson, aviator, patriot and aviation pioneer into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.