Emily’s big journey
Once upon a time, there was a little Denver girl named Emily Hanrahan. She was very pretty, very nice and, if you couldn’t tell by her red hair, fair skin and blue eyes, her name told you she was very Irish.
Once day, when she was old enough to travel by herself, she flew, for the first time, in a Douglas DC-3 airliner out to western Colorado to visit a girl friend. At some point in the flight (long before we worried about sky-jackers) the flight attendant asked Emily if she would like to see what the pilots were doing in the cockpit.
Emily took one look at the dazzling array of dials and switches and the aircraft controls and it was love at first sight. At that moment, she vowed she would become a pilot. Little did she and the world know that Emily Hanrahan would someday make American aviation history.
While in high school, she worked a big Denver department store. She saved every penny so she could buy flying lessons. In those days, it was almost unheard for young girls to do such a daring thing.
Out at the flight school, the owner was so impressed with Emily’s winning personality and her obvious gifts for flying that he offered her a job as the school’s receptionist. Soon, Emily had her private flying license and, not long after that, she went from private pilot to flight instructor.
In fact, after 15 years of instructing, she became head of the flight school and its chief pilot. During that time, she amassed over 7,000 flying hours. One of her duties at the flight school was to provide instrument flight instruction to young airline pilots.
In those days, the airlines would only hire males to fly their aircraft. Emily was told women could never be airline pilots because passengers wouldn’t get on an airliner flown by a woman.
Then, Emily noticed that many of her former students were being hired by Frontier Airlines. She knew she had taught those males everything they knew about flying. She decided to apply to Frontier Airlines for a job as a pilot.
She filled out an application form, attached her more than impressive flying resume, mailed it in and she waited. And waited and waited.
As she gained more and more flying credentials, she updated her resume. Then, she took to sitting quietly in the waiting room at the headquarters of Frontier Airlines in the hope of talking with one of their executives.
Late one day and out of the blue, she was summoned to Frontier for an interview. She hurried over expecting only to be asked some questions. Instead, she was greeted by their chief pilot who threw her into an instrument flight simulator she had never seen before and he asked her to perform dozens of instrument approaches. The “test” took hours and, when it was over, both she and the chief pilot were exhausted. But Frontier’s chief pilot knew he had just “flown” with a great pilot.
In 1973, Emily Hanrahan Howell, became the first woman to be hired as a pilot by a scheduled U.S. airline. In 1976, she became Americas first female airline captain. Today, her Frontier Airlines uniform hangs in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Her list of aviation “firsts” fills an entire page.
At 11:00 a.m., on Saturday, March 11th, 2000, a permanent display honoring Captain Emily Hanrahan Howell Warner will be unveiled inside the Wings over the Rockies Air and Space Museum at the former Lowry Air Force Base. Looking as pretty as ever, Emily will be there. The event and parking are free and everyone is invited.
And what does the Irish girl who was told that only males could fly airliners do today? She works for the Federal Aviation Administration as an airline pilot flight examiner. Today, Emily Warner decides who can fly and who cannot.
William Hamilton is a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today.