Emily Warner--The First Female Pilot Member of the Air Line Pilots Association

Air Line Pilot, June/July 2000, page 29
By Capts. Rick Wise and Jolanda Witvliet (United)

Recently Capt. Emily Howell Warner was inducted into the Wings over the Rockies Museum in Denver, Colo. We were privileged to have the opportunity to be able to attend the ceremony and interview Capt. Warner, who, in 1973, became the first female pilot hired by a U.S. scheduled airline.

Emily Howell was born on Oct. 30, 1939, and attended Holy Family High School in Colorado. She started flying in 1958; and after amassing her private, commercial, and flight instructor certificates, and instrument and multiengine ratings, she went to work for Clinton Aviation Company as a flight instructor. She rose to the positions of chief pilot, flight school manager, and FAA pilot examiner, racking up more than 7,000 hours of flight time in a period of less than 12 years.

Frontier Airlines hired Emily Howell in 1973; she flew the DHC-3 Twin Otter, CV 580, and B-737. After she flew a short stint with Continental Airlines, United Parcel Service hired her as a B-727 captain. In 1990, she quit UPS to work for the FAA as an aviation safety inspector. Capt. Warner is now the B-737 aircrew program manager for United Airlines.

Capt. Warner currently lives at Ouray Ranch, near Granby, Colo., with her husband, Julius, and her dog, Toto.

Pilots: You did not come from an aviation background. How did you first become interested in being a pilot?

Warner: I first wanted to become a "stewardess," as a cousin of mine was a flight attendant for United Airlines. After doing some research, I found out that I was still too young to be a flight attendant and somebody suggested I should take flying lessons in the interim. Then one day, I was riding as a passenger on a DC-3, and the flight attendant ask me if I wanted to go see the cockpit (long before the days of concern about hijackers). I was impressed with all those dials and switches and immediately fell in love with the idea of being a pilot. That day, I vowed to myself that some day I, too, would be an airline pilot.

What steps did you have to take to get hired as a pilot for Frontier?

In 1967, several instructors at Clinton Aviation, where I taught, were getting hired with the airlines, and I decided to apply to United Airlines, Continental Airlines, and Frontier Airlines. I quickly noticed that this process was not going to be easy and would require a lot of persistence on my part. For example, I wrote a letter to Audrey Six (the wife of Bob Six, then president of Continental Airlines), as she seemed to be proactive on women’s issues. I also "camped out" in the front offices of Frontier Airlines every couple of weeks. I knew I was starting to become a regular fixture when the secretaries called me by my first name!

Unfortunately, pilot hiring had slowed down tremendously during those times and not until 1972 did it pick back up again. When an instructor friend of mine, with less experience and flight time, got hired by Frontier Airlines, I once again stepped up the campaign of getting hired by an airline.

The next day, I reapplied to Frontier Airlines and finally got interviewed that month by Capt. Ed O’Neil, vice-president of Flight Operations. Although no simulator checkride was normally required, I was asked to come in for a check in a Convair 580 simulator, presumably to check to see if I was strong enough to handle the controls. Of course, I offered the left seat to the vice-president, who became slightly flustered. As a management pilot, he did not fly frequently. The check went successfully, and I was offered a class date in January 1973 as a second officer on the B-737.

Capt. Warner’s Achievements and Honors

* First female pilot to be hired for a scheduled U.S. air carrier—1973
* First female captain for a scheduled U.S. air carrier—1976
* More than 21,000 total flight hours and more than 3,000 checkrides and evaluations
* Amelia Earhart "Woman of the Year"—1973
* Frontier pilot uniform installed in Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum—1976
* Inducted into Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame—1983
* Women in Aviation Pioneers—1992
* Installed in International Forest of Friendship—1993
* Granby Public Library: Emily Howell Warner Aviation Education Resource Center—1994
* Colorado Senate Resolution 94-29: Honoring Capt. Emily Warner for her achievements in aviation history—1994
* Inducted into the Colorado Wings over the Rockies Museum—2000

When Frontier hired you, did you know you were "paving the way" for female pilots for a long time to come?

I obviously knew that I was the first female pilot to get hired by a scheduled U.S. airline. However, I will never forget the advice Capt. Ed O’Neil gave me when Frontier Airlines hired me. He told me that when I needed to make certain decisions to keep the following three things in mind:

* It has to be good for me.
* It has to be good for Frontier Airlines.
* It has to be good for women pilots.

How did the other pilots at Frontier treat you?

When I first got hired, the majority of the pilots were a bit cautious. Most pilots took about a year to warm up to the idea of women in the cockpit. After that initial period, I was just "one of the guys." They did like to joke around a bit. I remember one day, when I was still a second officer on the B-737, the captain told me to check in with ATC. After I did, the controller then wanted to know if my seatbelt was too tight!

How did the flight attendants treat you?

The flight attendants also took about a year to get accustomed to the idea of women in the cockpit. During this time, I had frequent dinners alone on layovers because I did not really "belong" to either the flight attendant group or the pilot group.

But, after about a year, everybody really started to relax, and we got along great. I think it helped that I always treated the flight attendants as professionals and with respect.

How did your fellow flightcrew members react when you checked out as captain?

I first checked out as captain on the Twin Otter in 1976. Somehow the news media got hold of this story and there was a lot of press about it. I ended up putting a lot of pressure on myself because of that. However, the bottom line is that the seat commands the respect; therefore, when I checked out as captain, I was treated like a captain.

What has been the greatest challenge in your aviation career?

A Colleague at Frontier

The first time I met Emily Warner, at that time Emily Howell, I was hanging out (didn’t we all do that??) at Clinton Aviation Company, an FBO in Denver, Colo. At that time, Emily was a flight instructor and an FAA-designated examiner. She was already in the "big time," from my perspective. I was more than a little awestruck by her. Although I never had the privilege of flying with her, I enjoyed meeting her and talking to her.

Long after we had both evolved from Clinton Aviation Company, we met again at Frontier Airlines. Emily had been hired just before me and would forever be senior to me. As we were close in seniority, we never flew together. Her reputation at Frontier as a pilot and as a person was impeccable. I was proud that Frontier had the foresight to hire somebody like Capt. Emily Warner.

My wife, Allyson, was a flight attendant for Frontier during these years. She has often commented on how well the cabin crews accepted Emily. She was not only a very nice person to be around, but extremely professional as well. The fact that she had been the "first" was soon irrelevant to those who knew her.

Years later, Emily and I crossed paths again. Emily is now the FAA’s B-737 aircrew program manager for United Airlines, and I am a United Airlines A320 captain. I am still just a little awestruck when I talk to Capt. Warner. I am proud to have called her both a colleague and friend for these many years.

—Capt. Rick Wise

The biggest challenge was the time I entered the crew room at Frontier Airlines to fly my very first trip as an airline pilot.

What was ALPA’s reaction to your getting hired as the first female pilot for a scheduled ALPA carrier?

ALPA was very supportive of me. In 1974, the president of ALPA invited me to come to Washington, D.C., and be a speaker at a banquet. I stayed a loyal ALPA member until I got hired by UPS Airlines, which had its own in-house union.

What advice would you give to a girl who wants to be a pilot?

As soon as you turn 16, ask your parents to give you five flying lessons. After you complete these lessons, you will either love flying or hate it. If you love it and want to pursue a career as a pilot, set some definite goals. Also, networking is very important; talk to as many people in the airline industry as you can. And, most important, never give up on your dreams.

What can ALPA pilots do to encourage women to become pilots?

Take the time to do some career counseling. Schools are always looking for people to talk about their careers and to give speeches during career days. Make yourself available to a young person who wants to get into aviation and become a mentor. And last but not least, when you are sitting at the gate, with yet another flight delay, consider inviting kids to come up to the cockpit and talk to them about flying. You will be surprised at the effect that single act can have on a kid!

How did you handle being a single mom and an airline pilot in those days?

I was very lucky in that my parents lived close by and were able to help care for my son. The majority of the Frontier employees were very supportive of me. I remember one day I took my son along for an entire day (nine legs), and the flight attendants doted on him.

‘The Divine Rudder’

I first met Capt. Emily Warner while working for United Airlines. She had the mundane task of renewing my flight instructor certificate. At that time, I did not realize that she was the Emily Warner. Later on when I was told that she indeed was the one who was the first, I wished I had kept my temporary certificate with her signature on it!

Over the years, Capt. Warner has given me numerous evaluations, and each time I felt a little anxious in the presence of such a pioneer.

Capt. Warner has that uncanny ability to be able to put you at ease and extract the best from you. I have felt privileged to know her, both professionally and personally. I am proud that I could interview her for this article, as Capt. Warner (or sometimes known as "The Divine Rudder") has helped and continues to help pave the way for women pilots all over the world!

—Capt. Jolanda Witvliet

Do you feel the times and attitudes have changed regarding female airline pilots?

Yes and no. Women pilots have made terrific strides in the airline industry. Once you are hired by an airline, having a seniority number is the great equalizer! However, many areas could still be improved.

You have administered more than 3,000 checkrides and evaluations. Do you remember the first pilot you failed?

Yes. We did not even make it into the air! The hardest part about giving a checkride comes when a pilot’s performance is in that "gray area." You agonize over the decision and feel almost as bad as he or she does if you have to fail them. The bottom-line question in my mind is always: is this pilot going to be a safe aviator?

What do you consider the importance of ALPA?

ALPA has been extremely proactive in improving aviation safety, which is obviously dear to my heart. ALPA also gives the pilots a vehicle to be unified as a labor group. I still have my original ALPA pin, and I strongly suggest that members of the Air Line Pilots Association wear their ALPA pins with pride.

How do you see your role as the FAA’s aircrew program manager?

To promote the fact that "safety is the paramount goal." As a pilot, you have to contend with hours of sheer boredom, but you must always keep up with your SOPs to be ready for that small chance that something goes wrong.

Do not ever get complacent—pull out the manual once in a while to be prepared for the big event. Keep in mind that picture of that old airplane that has crashed and is leaning upside down against a tree, with the inscription "Aviation is truly unforgiving!"

Capt. Emily Warner, center, flanked by several female pilots, was recently inducted into the Wings over the Rockies Museum.  In 1973, she became the first female pilot hired by a U.S. scheduled airline.

What does the future hold for you?

I am planning to retire from the FAA next year. I look forward to not having to commute anymore and to spending more time with my husband, Julius. Colorado is a wonderful place to live, and I will continue to enjoy my hobbies of flying a Cessna 182, cross-country skiing, and riding horses.

Any closing statement?

I will never forget that advice Capt. O’Neil gave me my first day at Frontier Airlines. When I make a decision, it has to be good for me, it has to be good for the company I work for, and it has to be good for women pilots all over the world.