Katherine Stinson Biography

Katherine Stinson

pioneering pilot
Born: 2/14/1891
Birthplace: Fort Payne, Ala.

As a girl, Stinson wanted to study music in Europe. To raise the money, she decided to become a stunt pilot and cash in on the aviation craze sweeping the country. Stinson eventually convinced aviation pioneer Max Lillie to teach her, and in 1912 she became the fourth American woman to obtain a pilot's license. Abandoning music, Stinson performed airplane stunts across the country as the “Flying Schoolgirl.” When the Stinson family later moved to San Antonio, Tex., they established the Stinson School of Flying.

In a plane she built herself, Stinson became the first woman, and only the fourth pilot, in the United States to master the dangerous “loop to loop” stunt. She was the first pilot ever to fly at night, and the first to undertake night skywriting when she flew over Los Angeles in 1915, using flares to spell “CAL.” Stinson was the first woman to fly in Asia, performing in her own show in China. She set a record of 610 mi when she flew from San Diego to San Francisco in 1917. She later broke the record when she flew 783 mi from Chicago to New York, delivering mail as the first female commissioned airmail pilot.

When she volunteered to fly for the army in Europe during World War I, Stinson was rejected twice. She then became an ambulance driver. 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.

Died: 7/8/1977