The story of Katherine Stinson the first woman (and only the fourth American pilot) to perform a loop

The story of Katherine Stinson the first woman (and only the fourth American pilot) to perform a loop

By Dario Leone
Jun 18 2020
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In 1912 Katherine Stinson became one of the first women in the United States to receive a pilot’s license at only age 19.

Born on Feb. 14, 1891 in Fort Payne, Alabama, Katherine Stinson dreamed of a career in aviation since when she was young. Stinson decided that she wanted a life in the air after having made her first ascent in Kansas City in 1911 inside a balloon. In 1912 she became one of the first women in the United States to receive a pilot’s license at only age 19.

One year later Katherine established a flying business with her mother in San Antonio, Texas. Along with her sister, Marjorie Stinson, Katherine began to run the flying school, teaching their younger brothers how to fly as well as other local kids. According to The National Aviation Hall of Fame’s website, the flying school continued to be run by the family and became one of the most famous and well-known flying schools at the time offering lessons for people across the area.

Katherine rose to national prominence during her exhibition flights across the US for which she would become best known. In 1915 she became the first woman (and only the fourth American pilot) to perform a loop and executed a snap roll at the top of the loop. Because of her flying skills she quickly became known as a daredevil: Katherine in fact often times led men in stunts and out flew them in her own maneuvers.

When in 1915 she attached flares to her plane and wrote “CAL” across the California sky, Stinson became a pioneer of skywriting. Nicknamed “The Flying Schoolgirl”, she made a trip from San Diego to San Francisco that set new records for distance and duration of flight. Katherine would go on to travel internationally to promote aviation and her stunt flying.

In 1917 she organized a six-month tour of China and Japan to demonstrate flying and in the same year she set a record with a 9-hour 10-minute nonstop flight from San Diego to San Francisco. In 1918 Katherine became the first woman Air Mail pilot after her appointment was approved by Postmaster General. On the same year Stinson set another duration record when she attempted a mail flight from Chicago to New York but was forced to ground her Curtiss airplane after it ran out of fuel.

After the US government declined Stinson sister’s request to join the Air Service as combat pilots in World War I, Marjorie took a job at the Navy’s department of aeronautical design while Katherine made fundraising flights for the Red Cross and Liberty Loan bond drives that established her in aerial public relations. She became the only pilot ever to knit for the Red Cross while flying solo in an open cockpit airplane and her fundraising flight raised $2 million after her multi-stop flight from Rochester to Washington DC.

Katherine went to France on her own to serve as a volunteer ambulance driver for the Red Cross after being denied a second time to join the military. Contracting tuberculosis during the war, Stinson stopped flying, moved to Santa Fe, N.M., and become an architect. In 1928 she married Miguel Otero, Jr., an airman and later a judge.

After a long period as an invalid, she died on Jul. 8, 1977 at the age of 86.

Katherine Stinson was one of the most important pioneers in aviation and spread her joy of stunt flying all over the world. She began a flying career early in aviation history and always continued to learn and push herself to new heights.

The story of Katherine Stinson the first woman (and only the fourth American pilot) to perform a loop

H/T Earl Belz

Source: The National Aviation Hall of Fame

Photo credit: Bain News Service, Library of Congress


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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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