Emily Warner Marked Many Airline Pilot Firsts

Warner, first woman captain for a scheduled US airline, passed away July 3.

Emily Hanrahan Howell Warner
Emily Howell Warner was enshrined into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2014.National Aviation Hall of Fame

When Emily Hanrahan bought her first ticket to fly on an airplane—a Douglas DC-3 flown by Frontier Airlines from Denver to Gunnison, Colorado—she thought she might be interested in becoming a stewardess. It was 1959, after all. After a second trip aloft, her flight back to Denver—invited up to the cockpit by the pilots on that empty flight—she knew she wanted to fly up front. “I went forward into the cockpit, and I was just floored at what I saw,” she said in a 2009 interview. “It just grabbed me; we were just coming over the mountains.” When she asked if a “girl” could take lessons, the affirmative answer took her to Clinton Aviation, at Stapleton Airport, where she would eventually become a flight instructor, and a pilot examiner.

Emily Hanrahan Howell Warner passed away on July 3, 2020, having gone on to join those pilot corps at Frontier in January 1973. With her initial flight as a second officer on a Boeing 737 on February 6 that year, Warner became the first woman to fly jets on a permanent basis for a US airline—and the first American woman to ascend the ranks to captain of a scheduled US airline. But she hadn’t been hired until after she had more than 7,000 hours in her logbook—and scores of male pilots she had recommended to Frontier, United, and Continental.

Emily Hanrahan Howell Warner
Warner receives the NAHF medal from fellow pilot Donna Miller.National Aviation Hall of Fame

Warner was also the first woman invited to join the Air Line Pilots Association—a bittersweet first, given the fact that Helen Richey (the first woman to fly briefly for a US airline) was denied that membership in 1935, leading her further into the depression that ended her life. Warner saw her accomplishments as a validation for the sacrifices made before her by pilots such as Richey, and Bessie Coleman, Willa Brown, and scores of others who spent years of effort to prove their worth to fly commercially.

After Frontier closed its doors in 1986, Warner flew for Continental, and then again as a captain for UPS from 1988 to 1990. She joined the FAA back in Denver as an air carrier inspector in 1990, then as air crew manager for the United Air Lines Boeing 737-300/500 Fleet. She retired from the FAA in 2002.

Warner’s first uniform is on display in the National Air & Space Museum, and she has been honored with admission to the National Aviation Hall of Fame, the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame, and the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She was a charter member of ISA+21, the International Society of Women Airline Pilots.

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