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Kentucky Women: Aeronautical Achievers

April 3, 2012 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Military history, Primary source

Kentucky Museum of AviationThe field of aeronautics held limitations for women during most of its history. Woman have taken more active roles in space exploration, aeronautical systems design, and military and civilian flight opportunities as these have increased through the 20th century and up to today. Several women native to Kentucky have made notable achievements in these fields. Their accomplishments have  been honored by induction into the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame.

The Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame honored its first inductees in 1996. It is part of the Aviation Museum of Kentucky at Blue Grass Airport. The eight women who have entered the Hall of Fame can be identified for their achievements as pioneers, as instructors, and as air racers.

The Pioneers

Willa Brown Chappell

Willa Brown Chappell

Willa Brown Chappell (1906-1992), a native of Glasgow in Barren County, was the first African-American woman to be licensed as a private pilot in the United States. This was in 1937; in 1943, she was the first women to hold both an aviation mechanic’s and commercial pilot license. She went on to co-found the National Airmen’s Association of America. Thisorganization promoted interest in aviation and supported pilot training positions for black aviation cadets. As a director of a racially segregated flight school in Chicago, Chappell participated in the training of more than 200 student pilots that later became members of the Tuskegee Airmen. Chappell was recognized in 2002 as one of Women in Aviation’s 100 Most Influential Women in Aviation and Aerospace.
See also her picture and bio at Black Wings.
Mary Edith Engle

Mary Edith Engle


 
Esther LucilleMueller Ammerman

Esther Lucille
Mueller Ammerman

Esther Mueller Ammerman and Mary Edith Engle are considered pioneers due to their service in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP’s) during WWII. Created to ease the demand for pilots, the WASP’s were organized in 1943 to fly noncombat missions in support of the war. Applicants numbered 25,000 and less than 2,000 were accepted into the program. Two who were accepted were Ammerman and Engle. Ammerman, originally from Thayer, Nebraska, is a resident of Cynthiana in Harrison County. Engle is a native of Lexington who continued flying after the war as a member of the International Organization of Women Pilots (the Ninety-Nines). Each gained pilot flying hours in the multiengine bombers of the day, including the B-29 strategic bomber, the type of plane flown in the atomic bombing missions that ended the conflict in 1945. Even though they flew a variety of non-combat military missions, the WASP’s had no  military status when the unit was disbanded in 1944. This was changed by an act of Congress in 1977, when military protocol and benefits were granted. In July 2009, the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the WASP’s for their service to the United States.
See also the Mary Edith B. Engle Papers, 1940-1945 collection at the University of Kentucky Special Collections

Dr. Shelba Proffitt

A fourth pioneer in the Aviation Hall of Fame made her accomplishments in design and engineering. Dr. Shelba J. Proffitt, a native of Whitesburg in Letcher County, was a member of the Wernher Von Braun missile development team at NASA. She later held key positions at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. From NASA she moved to development work on advance tactical missile systems. At the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command, she was the first woman to join the Senior Executive Service. As Director of the Advanced Technology Directorate, and Director, Sensors Directorate, Dr. Proffitt addressed the numerous technical issues of missile defense systems. In 2001, she had total responsibility for developing air and missile systems as Acting Program Executive Officer. Dr. Proffitt’s capabilities were recognized by the Women in Science and Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996 and the Von Braun Engineer of the Year Award in 1999.
See more on Dr. Proffitt’s background in an article in The Mountain Eagle, February 6, 2002

The Instructors

No one legally learns to fly in the United States without an instructor pilot. Two Kentucky women are outstanding in this category of The Instructors.


Evelyn Bryan Johnson

Evelyn Bryan Johnson was born in Corbin and is better known as “Mama Bird”. She is a Federal Aviation Administration Flight Instructor and an FAA Flight Examiner. Others hold these ratings like Johnson, but none match her 57,000 flight hours. The number of pilot check flights she has conducted number close to 10,000 total. Johnson has been recognized repeatedly for her contributions to general aviation. Many pilots flying and training other pilots today had their initial training experience or “check ride” with Mama Bird Johnson.
See more in the Evelyn Bryan Johnson Papers, 1930-2002 collection in the Archives of Appalachia, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN; and, George Prince, “Mama Bird; Biography of Evelyn Bryan Johnson, A Flight Instructor” (Mayfield Printing, 1994); and “Your Stories: Mama Bird Evelyn Johnson,” a newsclip from WBIR TV, November 24, 2010.

Sheri Coin Marshall
The second instructor overcame the disability of a right arm amputation in childhood to become one of Kentucky’s most respected pilots. Shari Coin Marshall of Paducah in McCracken County is a veteran flight instructor and received the 1998 Instructor of the Year Award for the southern region of the Federal Aviation Administration. Marshall is qualified as an airline pilot and serves as a flight instructor for the physically impaired. Not held back by her impairment, Marshall has also written One Can Do It, a book on dealing with such limitations. She accomplished all this and raised two daughters.
See more in “Marshall ‘wrote the book’ on overcoming disability,” Henderson Home News, December 29, 1994

The Air Racers

Air racing does include speed, while other events call for the pilot to estimate flight time and fuel consumption. The women under this heading also promoted civilian or general aviation as well as their home state.


Greenwood “Cokie”
Overstreet Cocanougher

Greenwood “Cokie” Cocanougher was a native of Lexington who took to flying from a request by her son Archie. The deal: she would try flying if he would attend Sunday school. Her enthusiasm quickly developed and took her on to more than 5,000 flying hours. Within four years of her first flight, Cocanougher had her commercial pilot and instructor pilot ratings. The demand for pilots in WWII gave her instructor pilot employment for wartime flyers under the War Training Service Program. Cocanougher participated in five International All-Women Air Races, and won the 1950 “Powder Puff and Beaux” Derby from Columbus, Ohio to Boston. She received the Jane Lausche Air Safety Trophy for her accomplishment: Cocanougher was just 3 minutes off her estimated flight time, and only .7 gallons away from her estimated fuel consumption. When not racing, she flew across the state as Executive Director of the Associated Women’s Department of the Kentucky Farm Bureau.
See also “Early female pilot chosen for Aviation Hall of Fame,” Central Kentucky News, November 5, 2009

Betty Mosely

Betty Moseley began her private flying career when she made her first solo flight in December 1968. Encouraged by her husband who had been a military pilot in WWII, she accumulated flying hours and prepared for the 1971 Powder Puff Derby. The challenge of the race was a 2,700 mile route from Calgary, Canada to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Conducted in legs, the race was going well for Moseley until she heard a “Mayday” distress call in the last portion of the event. Another pilot had become lost and low on fuel. Moseley relayed radio messages to the distressed pilot, and guided her to a safe landing. Moseley and her plane “Smitten Kitten” forfeited a chance to win by helping another pilot; she was recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration for her action in preventing an accident. Away from air racing, Moseley was active in the Blue Grass chapter of the International Women’s Pilot Association and served as chair of the first Kentucky Aviation Week in 1972. In that same year, working with the Kentucky Air National Guard, she was authorized to train and fly in the supersonic fighter planes that the Guard was assigned. On October 18, 1972, Betty Moseley became the first woman to fly in a combat jet in Kentucky.
See more in the “Betty Moseley” entry in The Ninety-Nines: Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow (Turner Publishing Company, 1996).
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