Stinson, Katherine (1891–1977)

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Stinson, Katherine (1891–1977)

American aviator. Name variations: Katherine Stinson Otero; Kate Stinson. Born on February 14, 1891, in Ft. Payne, Alabama; died on July 8, 1977, in Santa Fe, New Mexico; daughter of Edward Anderson and Emma (Beaver) Stinson (with daughter, formed Stinson Aviation); sister of aviators Marjorie Stinson (c. 1895–1975) and Edward Anderson Stinson, Jr., and aeronautical engineer Jack Stinson; married Miguel A. Otero, Jr. (a judge and World War I pilot), in 1928 (died October 2, 1977); no children.

Was the first woman pilot in the world to perform a loop and the first to sky-write (1915); was the first woman pilot to fly at night (1915), the firstwoman to fly a plane propelled by a jet engine, and the first woman pilot to tour China and Japan (1917).

Katherine "Kate" Stinson was born in 1891 in Fort Payne, Dekalb County, Alabama, the first of four children of Edward and Emma Beaver Stinson . She hoped to travel to Europe to study music, but she lacked the necessary $1,000. Then she learned that the best barnstorming pilots could earn as much as that in a single day, so she persuaded aviation pioneer Max Lillie to teach her. Enthusiastically supported by her mother, Katherine sold her piano and eventually convinced her father to pay for the other half of her instruction at Max Lillie's Flying School at Cicero Field, Chicago. On July 24, 1912, flying a Wright biplane, she became the fourth American woman to earn a pilot's license. Professing to be 16 years old, rather than 21, Katherine became an exhibition pilot, promoting herself as the "Flying Schoolgirl." With her mother Emma, she formed the Stinson Aviation Company in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1914. A year later, she and her mother also leased 750 acres in San Antonio, Texas, and turned it into Stinson Field, which is now Stinson Municipal Airport—the second oldest airport in the nation.

In the course of her career, Stinson set several aeronautical records; however, the year 1915 proved particularly significant. Not only was Stinson the first woman in the world to perform a loop, she became the first woman pilot to sky-write when she formed the letters "CAL," signifying California, for a celebration. Moreover, Stinson was the first woman to fly a plane propelled by a jet engine. Internationally famous as an exhibition pilot, Stinson was also the first woman pilot to fly at night. Attaching torches to the wingtips of her Laird biplane, she would land with only a burning tar barrel to guide her. Stinson added to her fame when, in 1917, she became the first woman pilot to tour China and Japan. After that, she barnstormed the United States and Canada, performing thrilling aeronautical stunts in air shows. Because she was not allowed to join the air service during World War I, she joined the Red Cross as an ambulance driver instead and went to France, where occasionally she was able to fly as well. In 1918, following

the war, Stinson was sworn in as a post office clerk in order to pilot a mail flight for the government from Chicago to New York. In July of that year, she flew the first air mail flight from Calgary to Edmonton, Alberta.

Her sister Marjorie "Madge" Stinson earned her pilot's license in 1914, and after performing aerial stunts across the nation she became a flight instructor at the Stinson School of Flying in San Antonio, Texas. An excellent instructor, she was called the "Flying Schoolmarm" and was responsible for training more than 80 American and Canadian pilots for World War I. In all probability, Katherine introduced her siblings to flying. Katherine's brother Edward "Eddie" Stinson, who was considered one of the best pilots of his day, joined forces with brother Jack, an aeronautical engineer, to form the Stinson Aeroplane Company in Dayton, Ohio; Eddie later relocated to Detroit, Michigan, where he designed his first airplane, the Stinson Detroiter.

In 1920, Stinson contracted tuberculosis and underwent a lengthy recovery. She gave up flying in 1928 to marry fellow pilot Miguel A. Otero. As part of a mutual pact, neither Stinson nor her husband ever piloted a plane again. They moved to New Mexico where she studied architecture and designed her own home, earning an architectural award in the process. On July 8, 1977, she died in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her husband died three months later. They were interred at the New Mexico National Veteran Cemetery in Santa Fe. The Katherine Stinson Middle School in San Antonio, Texas, was named in her honor.


Aero Space Museum Association of Calgary (web site).

"Genealogy of the Flying Stinsons," For Old Times Sake (web site).

Leinhard, John H. "Katherine Stinson," Engines of Our Ingenuity (web site).

Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.

Karina L. Kerr , M.A., Ypsilanti, Michigan