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1st Female Makes Hall of Fame

October 5, 2002

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SENECA FALLS, N.Y. (AP) _ Pilot Emily Howell Warner recalls basking in the accolades that greeted her assignment as the first woman to join the flight crew of a U.S. airline in February 1973.

But the glory faded fast.

On her second flight, when the captain stepped into the cockpit, ``I walked over and put out my hand,″ she said. ``He looked at me and said `I don’t shake hands.′ He only said six more words to me, ‘Don’t touch anything on the airplane.’ And I said `OK, sir.‴

That was then. On Saturday, Warner was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, alongside of trailblazers like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the late Katharine Graham, who built The Washington Post into a leading force in journalism.

The honor roll of 19 women includes 13 whose enshrinement in 2001 was postponed by the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Among them are actress Lucille Ball, former first lady Rosalynn Carter and Althea Gibson, the first black female tennis champion at Wimbledon.

The hall was established in 1969 in Seneca Falls, a village in western New York’s Finger Lakes region where the first known women’s rights convention was held in 1848. Women won the right to vote in 1920.

Warner had accrued 7,000 hours as a flight instructor in Denver by the time Frontier Airlines broke the barrier against hiring women pilots. Her historic flight as second officer went from Denver to Las Vegas on Feb. 6, 1973.

Early on, the trick was ``trying to be professional, not trying to be pushy or anything,″ Warner said. ``I mean, the airplane doesn’t know if you’re male or female, and you just get your job done. It took about a year for people to get used to the idea.″

Within six months, she’d been promoted to first officer and took her turns at the controls. She soon progressed to captain and, in 1986, commanded the first all-female flight crew.

It had taken Warner more than five years to get hired. She sent resumes periodically to three airlines _ Frontier, Continental and United. Most male rookies at the commercial carriers had just 1,500 to 2,000 hours of flying time, she said.

``There was a lot going on in the country with equal rights and women’s lib so I started thinking, well, why can’t a woman be an airline pilot?″ Warner said.

Warner spent 15 years at Frontier and later flew for Continental Airlines and United Parcel Service. She retired this summer at age 62.

By 1978, there were still only about 300 female commercial pilots in the United States. Today, there are more than 12,000 out of about 80,000 in all.

``It’s still a small percentage but I’ve been happy with the progress,″ Warner said. ``The big equalizer with the airlines is the seniority number. Once you have that ... you’re as equal as anybody else and you get the same pay, too.″

As for being a pioneer, she credits doggedness and luck. ``My timing was just perfect,″ she said.

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