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Warner, Emily Howell

Warner, Emily Howell

America’s First Woman Airline Pilot
Enshrined 2014 1939-2020


Emily and her twin sister Eileen were born on October 30th, 1939, in Denver, Colorado, to John William Hanrahan and Emily Violet Boyd Hanrahan. The girls joined the family’s three sons, Jack, Patrick, and Dick. Later the Hanrahan’s added one more son, Dennis, to their clan.

At Holy Family High School Emily didn’t feel drawn to any specific career.  She worked at the May Company and after high school took business courses at the Emily Griffith Opportunity School.  The airline stewardesses shopping at the May Company between flights caught Emily’s attention. A fellow employee, knowing of her interest, suggested she take the airlines for an upcoming trip.

On the return flight, the crew of the Frontier DC-3 obliged when Emily asked to see the cockpit.  With one look at the dazzling array of dials and switches, and seeing the pilot’s view through the windshield, Emily’s world was changed.

One of the pilots suggested Emily take flying lessons.  It was a struggle at first, with a weekly salary of $38.00 and lessons costing $12.75 an hour.  But Emily’s winning personality and obvious talent for flying earned a job offer from the owner of Clinton Aviation, her flight school at Stapleton Airport.

She would work as the school’s receptionist during the week and take lessons on her day off.  A year later, she had her pilot’s license, and took every opportunity to build her flight experience, often ferrying new Cessna 150’s back from Wichita, and flying for traffic reports. In 1960, she became a flight instructor and was soon promoted to flight school manager and chief pilot.

She upgraded her aviation ratings, enabling her to provide flight instruction to the many airline pilots – all males – in the area.  She applied to the airlines for a pilot’s job, but even with her 7,000 hours, the industry was not ready.

By 1967 she was designated an FAA Pilot Examiner.  The fact that less qualified male students she was instructing were being hired by the airlines was not lost on her.  Determined, she persisted, routinely and politely making her interest known to anyone in the offices of the airlines.

In 1973, after seven years of trying, Emily heard that Frontier announced a new hiring class, and she was not on the list.  She marched into the Frontier office and landed an interview with the airlines’ Vice President of Flight Operations, Ed O’Neil.

Though a simulator check-ride wasn’t normally required, O’Neil asked her to take one in a Convair 580, one that even males found a challenge to manage.  Successfully passing the grueling test, and with much scrutiny, Frontier at long last offered her a job.

So it was that in 1973 Emily made history as the first female pilot hired by a major U.S. scheduled airline.  Her first flight as co-pilot was August 1, 1974 – and she became the first female pilot to join the Air Line Pilots Association.

Emily became the first female captain on June 6, 1976, the same year her Frontier pilot uniform was put on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.  When Frontier Airlines became Peoples Express in 1986, Emily transferred to Continental Airlines.  She commanded the first all-women flight crew later that year.

Emily left Continental in 1988 for UPS, flying Boeing 737’s and 727’s.   In 1990 she retired from UPS and returned to the jumpseat, this time as a Federal Aviation Administration Aviation Safety Inspector.

In 2002, she retired from the FAA as its Air Crew Program Manager for the United Airlines 737 fleet.  In her 42 years in aviation to that point, Captain Emily had amassed over 21,000 flying hours.

With great skill, grace, wit, and perseverance, Emily paved the way for the thousands of women pilots that have followed.

Until her passing, Emily continued to inspire and serve as a mentor to young people, especially those in aviation.