Evelyn Bryan Johnson, the woman pilot with the most flying hours in the world, celebrates her 102nd birthday today in Morristown, Tennessee. The locals call her Mama Bird. Her total flying time is the equivalent of roughly 6-½ years.
Evelyn Johnson learned to fly when World War II was raging overseas and women like Evelyn filled a variety of new roles outside the home. She decided to learn to fly when she saw an advertisement for lessons in the newspaper. Her first lesson was on October 1, 1944, her first solo was November 8, and she earned her private pilot’s license the following June. Within three years, she became a flight instructor, then an examiner in 1952. She later learned to fly helicopters, only the twentieth woman to do such a thing.
As of February of this year (see video below), Evelyn Johnson was working at the local airport four days a week. She didn’t let a car accident and leg amputation in 2006 slow her down much. That said, she stopped flying at the age of 96, in large part because of glaucoma, and gave up her title as the oldest flight instructor in the world. She trained more pilots and gave more than 9,000 FAA check rides, more than anyone else ever. She worries that today’s new pilots aren’t taught to use a map and that instructors are afraid to have student pilots practice stalls. All her efforts earned her a spot in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
Evelyn’s advice for longevity: “”Don’t sit down and watch the grass grow. Stay busy. Have something that you have to get up and do every day.” (Click HERE for that full news story from November 2010.)
To celebrate women in flight, we may just have to head to the Jacqueline Cochran Air Show this weekend. Jackie Cochran beat Evelyn Johnson into the air by several years and, in 1953, became the first woman to break the sound barrier.