Katherine Stinson, 1891-1977

  • Katherine-Stinson-WWP

Woman Category: Science & TechnologyWoman Tags: Pilot

  • HerStory

    The fourth female American aviator and the first air-mail pilot. Set multiple flying records for distance and aerobatic maneuvers.

    Katherine Stinson was born in Fort Payne, Alabama. While growing up, her inspiration was to study music in Europe, and at the age of 20, after riding a balloon, she figured that becoming a stunt pilot is the best way to earn money for her traveling. She started taking flying lessons, first with Tony Jannus, who allowed her to join him only as a passenger, and then with Max Lillie, one of the Wright brothers pilots. At first, he refused to teach her because of her gender, but after a trial lesson, and within four hours, she was flying alone. Later on, he taught her stunt flying lessons, and in the following year, the 21 years old Stinson became the fourth woman in the US to obtain a pilot certificate.
    Stinson began exhibition flying, abandoning her pianist inspiration and focusing on her new career. She moved with her family to San Antonio, Texas, where she and her mother opened an aviation school, the Stinson School, and she and her sister, Marjorie, taught children to fly. Stinson gained national recognition for performing exhibition flights across the US, and in 1915, she became the first woman and fourth pilot in the US to master the “loop to loop” stunt. Flying a plane she built herself, Stinson became known as a daredevil and was asked by men pilots to teach her stunts. In 1916, Stinson was the first woman to fly to China and Japan, where the people formed a Stinson fan club, referring to her as “Air Queen.”
    During that period, the US Post Office started an air-mail service, and Stinson became the first woman authorized as a mail pilot, flying the first air-mail route in Texas. At 26, Stinson set a non-stop distance record, flying 606 miles from San Diego to San Francisco in 9 hours and 10 minutes. When the US joined WW1 in 1917, the government declined her request to serve as a combat pilot. Refusing not to use her skill and contribute to the war effort, she performed exhibition flights for the American Red Cross, raising $2 million. After receiving a second denial, Stinson volunteered to the Red Cross as an ambulance driver in Paris, where she contracted tuberculosis that damaged her lungs and affected her ability to fly.
    She returned to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she met her future husband, a fellow airman called Miguel Antonio Otero, Jr. After retiring from flying at the age of 29, she became an architect.
    She passed away at the age of 86.

    “I have found that women are not only just as much interested as men are in flying, but apparently have less fear than the men have.”

    “I have found that women are not only just as much interested as men are in flying, but apparently have less fear than the men have.”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • Due to her young age, she became known as the “Flying Schoolgirl.”
    • She was the first person to fly an airplane at night.
    • When she traveled to Asia, she has to dismantle her plane for the voyage and reassemble it on her arrival.
    • During an exhibition flight in Canada, she set two Canadian records – for distance and endurance.
    • She did not have children.
    • Her younger brothers studied in the family aviation school and later opened the Stinson Aircraft Company.
    • Her life story is featured in the TV series The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation.
    • A Laird biplane looped by Stinson is on display at the Henry Ford Museum.
    • A replica of her 1918 Curtiss Stinson-Special is on display at the Alberta Aviation Museum in Edmonton.
    • The Stinson Municipal Airport (KSSF) in San Antonio, Texas, is named in her honor.
    • A middle school in northwest San Antonio, TX, was named in her honor.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * Inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame (2000)

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  • Woman Tags: Pilot

    Katherine Stinson (1917)

    Credit: Prelinger Archives.
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katherine_Stinson
    Katherine Stinson (February 14, 1891, in Fort Payne, Alabama-- July 8, 1977, in Santa Fe, New Mexico) was an early female flier. She was the fourth woman in the United States to obtain a pilot's certificate, which she earned on July 24, 1912, at the age of 21 while residing in Pine Bluff, AR. Initially, she planned to get her certificate and use money she earned from exhibition flying to pay for her music lessons. However, she found she liked flying so much that she gave up her piano career and decided to become an aviatrix. In January 1911, Stinson went to St. Louis to take flight lessons from Tony Jannus who only allowed her to fly as a passenger. She then took her flying lessons from the well-known aviator Max Lille, who initially refused to teach her because she was female. But she persuaded him to give her a trial lesson and was so good that she flew alone after only four hours of instruction. A year after receiving her certificate, she began exhibition flying. On the exhibition circuit, she was known as the "Flying Schoolgirl."

    After she received her certificate, Stinson and her family moved to San Antonio, Texas, an area with an ideal climate for flying. There, she and her sister Marjorie began giving flying instruction at her family's aviation school in Texas. On July 18, 1915, Stinson became the first woman to perform a loop, at Cicero Field in Chicago, Illinois, and went on to perform this feat some 500 times without a single accident. She also was one of the first women authorized to carry airmail for the United States. During World War I, Stinson flew a Curtiss JN-4D "Jenny" and a Curtiss Stinson-Special (a single seat version of the JN aircraft built to her specifications) for fundraising tours for the American Red Cross. During exhibition flights in Canada, Stinson set a Canadian distance and endurance record, and made the second air mail flight in Canada between Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta.

    Of note is the fact that all of her stunt flying was done in aircraft using the Wright control system which uses two side-mounted levers for pitch and roll, with top mounted controls for throttle and yaw.

    The Stinson School closed in 1917, and Katherine became an ambulance driver for the Red Cross in Europe. There, she contracted influenza, which turned into tuberculosis in 1920, causing her retirement from aviation. In 1928, she married airman Miguel Antonio Otero, Jr., son of the former territorial governor of New Mexico. Although she could no longer fly, she worked as an architect for many years in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She died in 1977 at the age of 86.

    Stinson Aircraft Company

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  • Photo credit - Bain Collection @ LOC

  • Citations and Additional References:
    The National Aviation Hall of Fame website.
    Wikipedia page.