Katherine Stinson

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A flight postcard with Katherine Stinson pictured, 1913. Courtesy of the Rare Book Division via The New York Public Library.

Known as the “Air Queen” to Japanese fans, Katherine Stinson was the fourth woman to obtain a pilot’s license in the United States. She became the first commissioned woman to be a mail pilot and carried mail for the US Postal Service. Stinson was also a stunt pilot. Among her many great achievements, she was the first pilot to perform night skywriting and she taught herself the “loop-the-loop” stunt, flying in a vertical circle that sometimes turned the plane upside down. In addition to building her own plane, in 1917 she set a long distance record by flying 610 miles from San Diego to San Francisco.

She applied to be a pilot in World War I but after being denied twice she volunteered as an ambulance driver. During her time serving in the military in Europe, she contracted tuberculosis. Due to her weakened health, Stinson was unable to fly again. After the war, she moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she had a second career as an architect until her death in 1977.