As a young girl Emily Howell Warner liked to do activities that involved using her hands. In high school she was introduced to aviation by her senior year English teacher when the teacher required her to read Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. “I couldn’t put it down. That teacher opened the door for me.”
After high school Warner took a job at the May Co. She also took classes at a local modeling school. At that time such a school actually taught social graces like walking, public speaking, table manners and getting in and out of cars. “Those classes were really good for me . . . something like that really goes a long way and has served me well over the years.”
What happened next was to dramatically change Emily’s life. At the May Co. she noticed the flight attendants come and go and got interested. A co-worker asked “Have you ever been on a plane before?” and Emily answered, “No.” Emily bought a ticket to Gunnison on a Frontier DC3 to visit her co-worker’s daughter. On the flight back she asked if she could see the cockpit. The pilots let her sit in the jump seat. As soon as she saw out the front window she exclaimed, “This is really neat!” It was 1958, Emily asked the co-pilot, “ Can a girl take flying lessons?” He said she should go to Clinton Aviation for lessons. The next day she was on the bus to Stapleton Airport for her first lessons.
The lessons were $12.75 per lesson. At that time Warner was making $38 per week. Her mother was very strict and didn’t see why she should spend her money on lessons. Emily just kept saying, “Just a few more, just a few more.” It wasn’t long before she soloed. “Guess what I did?” She told her mom. Her mom replied, “You mean you went by yourself? I guess those flying lessons are ok.” Emily would have her pilot’s license before she got her driver’s license. From then on there was no stopping Emily. She got flying time making deliveries and built cross country flying time.
Emily has many aviation firsts to her credit including Operation Air Watch which was the first traffic watch in Denver. She was also a flight instructor, air taxi and flight school manager, FAA pilot examiner and in charge for the UA Contract Training Program for Clinton Aviation. “I was training these men with 1,500 to 2,000 hours who were then applying for airline pilot’s jobs. In 1967, I decided that with all my experience and 7,000 hours flying time that I would begin applying for an airline pilot’s position. It was the 60’s and attitudes towards women were beginning to change.” However the timing was not right and Emily heard all the lines. We’re not hiring now. We’ll take your information and call you back. It took another 6 years of rejection before a friend got her an interview with Ed O’Neil of Frontier Airlines. Ed was willing to take a chance and told her, “We want it to be good for Frontier, We want it to be good for you and it should be good for women.” Unlike the other applicants Emily was required to take a flight simulator test which she passed with flying colors and was offered the job. Emily Howell Warner became the first woman commercial airline pilot in 1973 and three years later the first female captain.
Emily had opened the door for other women who wanted the same dream. It wasn’t long before other airlines stared hiring women pilots and the Navy and AF began assigning women to flight training. That resulted in Eileen Collins becoming the first woman commander in space.
To highlight just a few of the many awards and honors Warner has: She had been inducted into three aviation halls of fame, the Amelia Earhart “Woman of the Year”, 1973, having her uniform installed in the Smithsonian Institute Air and Space Museum, 1976, Women in Aviation Pioneers, 1992, Women Leaders of excellence Award, 2004, Living Legends of Aviation, 2005, Spreading Wings Award, Wings Over the Rockies Museum, 2008, and the Living Legend of Aviation Award, 2009.
Emily is now retired having flown more than 21,000 hours. She lives at Lowry with her husband Julius. Retirement for her means she still inspires and mentors women and young people giving over12 speeches a year. She tries to influence people by exposing them to her love of flying, “It just get in your blood.” and the many job opportunities in aviation. We are very fortunate to have such a pioneering woman living here at Lowry.