Emily Howell Warner

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Emily Howell Warner
Warner, c. early 1970s
Emily Joyce Hanrahan[1]

(1939-10-30)October 30, 1939
DiedJuly 3, 2020(2020-07-03) (aged 80)
Known forFirst U.S. woman airline captain
Stanley Howell
(m. 1963; div. 1965)
Julius Warner
(m. 1976; died 2012)

Emily Joyce Howell Warner (née Hanrahan; October 30, 1939 – July 3, 2020) was an American airline pilot and the first woman captain of a scheduled U.S. airline.[2]

In 1973, Warner was the first woman pilot to be hired by a scheduled U.S. airline since Helen Richey was hired as a co-pilot in 1934.[3][4] In 1976 Warner was the first woman to become a U.S. airline captain.[5][6] Her career has been recognized by multiple halls of fame, including the National Aviation Hall of Fame and National Women’s Hall of Fame.[7][8] Her pilot’s uniform is on display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.[9]

In addition to piloting, Warner was a flight school manager in Denver, Colorado. She was a flight instructor and FAA designated flight examiner holding multiple ratings.[2] She flew more than 21,000 flight hours and performed more than 3,000 check rides and evaluations over her career.[2][10] Warner died in 2020 from complications of a fall and Alzheimer's disease.[1][11]

Early life[edit]

Stapleton Airport as seen from the air in 1966. This is where Howell Warner took flying lessons and was her base of employment for decades.

Emily Hanrahan was born on October 30, 1939, to Emily Violet Boyd and John W. Hanrahan. She attended Holy Family High School in Colorado.[12] Warner was interested in airplanes as a child.[13] After graduating high school she looked into becoming a flight attendant.[9]

At seventeen, she decided on a career in piloting after her first trip on an airplane.[5][14] She was allowed to sit in the cockpit of a plane flying her home after a trip away from Denver. Warner said, “The pilot could see how excited I was and he encouraged me to take flying lessons. I replied: ‘Can girls do that?’”[12][15] She started flying in 1958, after getting the approval of her parents for lessons.[5][12] The lessons cost thirteen dollars per week; at that time she had a thirty-eight dollar per week paycheck.[5] She sometimes worked fourteen hours a day, with a morning flight, a full-time office job, and an evening flight. She obtained her private pilot license and got a job as a flying traffic reporter within a year.[5]

Clinton Aviation years[edit]

Two Convair 580s (here belonging to Aspen Airways) at Stapleton Airport in 1986. This is one of the models of aircraft Emily Howell Warner began flying at Clinton Aviation.

She took a job as a receptionist for Clinton Aviation Company in Denver, Colorado to pay for her instruction.[9] She worked there as a flight instructor after obtaining additional certificates as a commercial pilot and flight instructor, and instrument and multiengine ratings.[12] She worked extra maintenance flights, such as delivering airplane parts or planes, in order to build her hours. She also flew with a reporter to provide traffic reports.[9]

From 1945 to 1968, Clinton Aviation Company operated at Stapleton Airport and was the first company in the US to sell Cessna airplanes. It was founded by Lou Clinton and Grant Robertson.[16] Warner initially flew for Clinton Aviation as a first officer on Convair 580s and de Havilland Twin Otters.[5] In 1966, United Air Lines contracted a test pilot program with Clinton Aviation, and Emily served as one of three flight instructors for the program.[17] She was later promoted to flight school manager and chief pilot.[5][18] She became the first woman to be appointed a designated FAA Pilot Examiner.[12]

In 1968, she began applying for a position at Frontier Airlines as well as Continental Airlines and United Airlines.[7] Lou Clinton wrote letters recommending her.[16] She would renew her applications multiple times over a five-year period.[5] In late 1972, a fellow flight instructor said he was hired by Frontier Airlines, strengthening Warner's resolve.[13] At this point, Warner had been active in the aviation industry for more than twelve years. She had accrued more than 3,500 flight hours as a pilot[12] and 7,000 hours as a flight instructor.[7] Students she had trained were being hired with 1,500 to 2,000 hours of flying time.[5][7] A friend who worked with Frontier introduced her to the vice president of flight operations there[9] and Warner persisted in canvassing Frontier for a position.[13]

Frontier Airlines and aviation firsts[edit]

Warner flew Boeing 737-200s for Frontier Airlines such as the one pictured here
The flight deck of a Boeing 737-200.

On January 29, 1973, Frontier Airlines hired her.[5][13] It was fifteen years after her first plane flight.[12] This marked an opening for American women in one of the last sex-segregated occupations in the civilian aviation industry.[4] When Warner was hired there were no other women working as pilots for the major commercial airlines. By 1978, there were about 300 female commercial pilots in the United States.[7]

On February 6, 1973, Howell Warner served for the first time as second officer on a Frontier Airlines Boeing 737.[12] The flight departed from Denver's Stapleton Airport for Las Vegas.[7][12] Within six months, she was promoted to first officer.[7] In 1974, she became the first woman member of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).[5]

Three years later she became the first woman to earn her captain's wings. In 1976, she became the first woman US airline captain, flying a Twin Otter.[5][14][18]

Howell Warner continued to fly with Frontier until 1986.[9] Warner stayed on when People Express purchased Frontier and then itself was purchased by Continental Airlines.[13] After a short time flying for Continental Airlines, she left to become captain of a Boeing 727 for UPS Airlines.[5][9] She also flew a DC-8 for United Parcel Service.[18] In 1986, she commanded an all-female flight crew.[7][8]

Warner flew DC-8s for UPS Airlines

In 1990, she left UPS Airlines to become a Federal Aviation Administration examiner.[5] She was the FAA Aircrew Program Manager, assigned to United Airlines' Boeing 737 Fleet.[9][14]

Awards and honors[edit]


  • McGuire, Jerry; Warner, Emily Howell (1979), Learning how to fly an airplane, TAB Books, ISBN 978-0-8306-9827-1


  1. ^ a b Roberts, Sam (July 17, 2020). "Emily Howell Warner, Who Broke a Sky-High Glass Ceiling, Dies at 80". The New York Times. Retrieved July 18, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d "National Aviation Hall of Fame reveals names of "Class of 2014" at Wright Brothers Anniversary dinner". National Aviation Hall of Fame. 17 December 2013.
  3. ^ Brady, Tim (2000). The American Aviation Experience: A History. Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 9780809323715.
  4. ^ a b Douglas, Deborah G. (2004). American Women and Flight Since 1940. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813126258.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Cochrane, D.; Ramirez, P. "Women in Aviation and Space History, Emily Howell Warner". America by Air. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
  6. ^ Borstelmann, Thomas (2011). The 1970s: A New Global History from Civil Rights to Economic Inequality. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400839704.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Dobbin, Ben (5 October 2002). "1st Female Makes Hall of Fame". Associated Press.
  8. ^ a b "Emily Howell Warner". National Women's Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 2013-10-04.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h "Howell-Warner: 1st woman to be hired as a pilot by major U.S. airline". AV8TR Newsletter. Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. 17 January 2014.
  10. ^ a b c d e Wise, Rick; Witvliet, Jolanda (June–July 2000). "Emily Warner, The First Female Pilot Member of the Air Line Pilots Association". Air Line Pilot. Archived from the original on 2014-03-15.
  11. ^ "Saddened to hear news of recent passing of Capt. Emily Warner". International Air Transport Association. 6 July 2020. Retrieved 6 July 2020 – via Twitter.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "NASAO's Aviation Firsts by State, Colorado". The Aviation History Museum. Minnesota Department of Transportation.
  13. ^ a b c d e Holden, Henry M. (1991). Ladybirds: The Untold Story of Women Pilots in America. Black Hawk Publishing. ISBN 9781879630116.
  14. ^ a b c d "Colorado Women's Hall of Fame, Emily Howell Warner". Colorado Women's Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 2012-12-23.
  15. ^ a b c d Davidson, Joanne (27 September 2011). "Denver Rescue Mission salutes Women Who've Changed the Heart of the City". The Denver Post.
  16. ^ a b Culver, Virginia (21 February 2011). "Denver aviation pioneer Lou Clinton "captivated by flying"". The Denver Post.
  17. ^ Cooper, Ann L. (Ann Lewis) (2003). Weaving the winds : Emily Howell Warner. Bloomington, Ind.: 1st Books Library. ISBN 1410754464. OCLC 53253260.
  18. ^ a b c d e The Ninety-Nines Inc.: International Women Pilots. Turner Publishing. 1996. ISBN 9781563112034.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]