Moms in Aviation

Having a career while having children is something that women should be proud of. Women work two jobs: one at home and one at work. And the one at home is by far the most difficult yet most rewarding. Women haven’t always had it easy, and they certainly were frowned upon for having–or wanting–certain jobs, including those in aviation. Even in our day and age now, women don’t always dominate certain fields, and such is the case with aviation. In 2021, less than 8 percent of FAA-certified pilots were women, and not every one of these women from the past or present are mothers. But, today, we want to take a moment to learn about some of the moms who have pioneered aviation in some kind of way.  

Katherine Cheung

December 12, 1904 - September 2, 2003


Katherine Cheung was the first Chinese-American woman to earn her pilot’s license in 1932, making her the first person to cross both gender and racial lines to pursue her dream of flying. After coming to America, Cheung took classes at the University of Southern California (USC) to study music. While taking these classes, her father also taught her how to drive a car across from Dycer Airfield. Driving a car wasn’t enough. She wanted to learn how to fly. 


She made that dream come true when she signed up for flying lessons in 1932, after she graduated USC, at the Chinese Aeronautical Association. In 12 ½ hours, she was given permission to fly solo, and she made a perfect landing in Dycer Airfield. The same field where her dreams had literally taken flight.


After achieving her dream of gaining a pilot’s license, she learned how to do tricks while in the air: barrel rolling, acrobatic loops, spiral dives, and flying her open-cockpit airplane upside down. She performed at state fairs, derbies, and air shows. She even participated in long-distance races. Once she became an official citizen of the United States in 1936, Cheung was able to obtain a commercial pilot’s license and an international airline license. She occasionally flew planes commercially. In 2001, the Museum of Flying inducted her into the International Women in Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame.


Cheung and her husband, George Young, had two daughters, Doris and Dorothy. 


In an interview, she was quoted as saying, "I don't see why women have to stay in the kitchen, when instead they could learn to fly.” 

Bernice “Bee” Haydu 

December 15, 1920 – January 30, 2021


Bernice Haydu was a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilot) in World War II. And, she got her nickname “Bee” because she flew like a bumblebee. 


After graduating high school, Bernice became a secretary, but while working as a secretary, Bernice “Bee” Haydu attended aviation classes on the weekend. Her brother, who was in the Air Force, inspired her interest in flying. Finally, in 1944, Bernice attended WASP flight training in Sweetwater, Texas. Once her training was complete, she was an engineering test pilot and utility pilot at the Pecos Army Airfield where she was assigned duty. 


Once the WASP were disbanded, Bee ferried aircraft, owned a flight school, and opened up a Cessna dealership. Bee also went on to participate in air races, including a comedy airshow act. Between 1975 and 1978, she was the president of the WASP organization, where she was instrumental in getting the WASP recognized as veterans of WWII, and from 1978 to 1980, she was the president of Women Military Aviators. Bee Haydu was an advocate for women pilots. 


Bee and her husband, Joe Haydu, had three children: Joseph, Steven, and Diana.  


Bessica “Bessie” Raiche

April 1875 - 11 April 1932


Bessie Raiche was a dentist, physician, musician, painter, and linguist. She also was well known for her unfeminine pursuits like swimming, wearing pants, driving a car, and shooting during a time when women could only wear dresses and do things that were only appropriate for women, and flying planes was not one of those things. Bessie Raiche was a rebel of her time. Bessie Raiche is known as America’s first female aviator. 


Bessie and her husband, François Raiche, designed and built various parts of a biplane they designed themselves right within their living room; their workshop was their backyard. Because she was the lighter of the two, Bessie was the one who got to test out their airplane, which worked out in her favor. In September of 1916, she took flight with zero experience in aviation, barely grazing the ground, but it was the first solo flight by a woman. 


Unfortunately, Bessie was never able to obtain a pilot’s license, but her impact on aviation is still impressive and lasting. 


Bessie and her husband had one daughter, Catherine.   

Katherine Stinson

February 14, 1891 – July 8, 1977


Katherine Stinson was known as the nation’s foremost daredevil stunt pilot during her time. And in 1912, Katherine was able to take a solo flight after only 4 hours of instruction. She was also the fourth woman in the United States to obtain her pilot’s license. 


In 1913, Katherine and her mother started the Stinson Aviation Company in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and later in that same year, her family moved to San Antonio to begin the Stinson School of Flying. 


Eventually, she became known as the “Flying Schoolgirl.” Katherine, also, toured the country, fascinating people with stunts in a plane she built herself. In that same plane, she was the first woman and fourth pilot in the United States to master the “loop the loop”. In LA, in 1915, she was the first nighttime sky writer, where she spelled “CAL” with flares. Katherine Stinson flew the first airmail route in Texas in 1915, and she was also the first woman to serve in the U.S. Aviation Reserve Corps. And her impressiveness doesn’t stop there. In 1917, Katherine Stinson set a world long-distance record by flying 610 miles nonstop from San Diego to San Francisco. She made the flight in an impressive nine hours and ten minutes. 


She and her husband, Miguel Antonio Otero Jr., adopted and raised four children, which happened to be her brother Jack’s children. 


Mary Barr

July 11, 1925 – March 1, 2010


Mary Barr was the first woman to fly for the U.S. Forest Service. She would guide tanker planes on a safe path through flames to fight wildfires in California. 


In 1945, Mary dropped out of college to get a job in order to pay for lessons, and in 1946, she learned how to fly as part of a Piper club. Once her training was complete, she taught others how to be commercial pilots. At the end of WWII, she decided she wanted to help build aircraft for the war, then she moved to New York to join an aircraft mechanic school. In 1949, she moved to California where she worked for Susanville airport, then became a FAA Pilot Examiner. And later, in 1974, it was in California that she started work for the U.S. Forest Service. 


In an interview with NPR, her daughter, Nevada Barr, said of her mother, “And she didn't much care what other people thought - or if she did, she hid it really well. When Mama decided to go full-time with the Forest Service, she knew for a fact that as a female pilot, she had to be twice as good, twice as calm in the face of upsets, to get anywhere.”


Mary and David Barr has two daughters, Nevada and Molly.


Moms aka Rebels in Aviation

These moms knew what it took to be rebels in their field. They went hard at their dreams, and despite the numerous odds against them, they succeeded and made considerable impressions on the people of the world. 


And, of course, we couldn’t let a chance to shout out our very own Mom in Aviation at Rebel Services, the owner herself, Margie James. She, too, is a rebel in aviation, and she’s a loving and kind woman who is building a legacy for women in aviation who come after her.


Happy Mother’s Day, Moms in Aviation!