Katherine Stinson

Katherine Stinson
Born (1891-02-14)February 14, 1891
Fort Payne, Alabama
Died July 8, 1977(1977-07-08) (aged 86)
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Nationality American
Spouse Miguel Antonio Otero, Jr.
Relatives Marjorie Stinson, Eddie Stinson
Aviation career
Known for Aviator, stunt and exhibition flying
First flight January 1911
Flight license July 24, 1912
Pine Bluff, AR

Katherine Stinson (February 14, 1891 – July 8, 1977) was a pioneering American aviator. She set flying records for distance, endurance, and aerobatic maneuvers, and taught at her family's aviation school.


She was born on February 14, 1891, in Fort Payne, Alabama.

She was the fourth woman in the United States to obtain a pilot's certificate, which she earned on 24 July 1912, at the age of 21, while residing in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Initially, she planned to get her certificate and use money she earned from exhibition flying to pay for her music lessons. However, she found she liked flying so much that she gave up her piano career and decided to become an aviator. In January 1911, Stinson went to St. Louis to take flight lessons from Tony Jannus who only allowed her to fly as a passenger.[1] She more than likely received some ground schooling and words of encouragement from Wilbur Wright himself as she is seen in his company about to refuel an aircraft in early 1912 but Wilbur died in May 1912 and before her flight training was begun or complete. She then took flying lessons from the well-known aviator Max Lillie, a pilot for the Wright Brothers, who initially refused to teach her because she was female. But she persuaded him to give her a trial lesson. She was so good that she flew alone after only four hours of instruction. A year after receiving her certificate, she began exhibition flying. On the exhibition circuit, she was known as the "Flying Schoolgirl." Katherine Stinson tried to tell newspaper reporters she was actually 21, not 16, but they refused to believe her.

After she received her certificate, Stinson and her family moved to San Antonio, Texas, an area with an ideal climate for flying. There she and her sister, Marjorie, began giving flying instruction at her family's aviation school in Texas. In March 1915 the famous Lincoln Beachey died in a crash at San Francisco and Stinson later acquired the rotary engine from his wrecked plane. On July 18, 1915, Stinson became the first woman to perform a loop, at Cicero Field in Chicago, Illinois, and went on to perform this feat some 500 times without a single accident.[2] She also was one of the first women authorized to carry airmail for the United States. During World War I, Stinson flew a Curtiss JN-4D "Jenny" and a Curtiss Stinson-Special (a single seat version of the JN aircraft built to her specifications)[3] for fundraising tours for the American Red Cross. During exhibition flights in Canada, Stinson set Canadian distance and endurance records, and, in 1918, made the second air mail flight in Canada between Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta.[4]

On December 11, 1917, Katherine Stinson flew 606 miles from San Diego to San Francisco, setting a new American non-stop distance record.

The Stinson School closed in 1917, and Katherine became an ambulance driver for the Red Cross in Europe.

In 1918, she flew non-stop from Chicago to Binghamton, New York.[5]

In Europe during World War I, she contracted influenza, which damaged her lungs, making her susceptible to tuberculosis. In 1920, she retired from aviation.

In 1927, she married airman Miguel Antonio Otero, Jr., son of the former territorial governor of New Mexico. She worked as an architect for many years in Santa Fe, New Mexico.[6]

She died in 1977 at the age of 86.[7][8]

Katherine Stinson's biography is featured in CBS TV series The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation, S3/Ep02 (2016), originally aired October 8, 2016, episode 54 in the series.[9]


Stinson's flying inspired her brothers to form the Stinson Aircraft Company. All of her stunt flying was done in aircraft using the Wright control system, which uses two side-mounted levers for pitch and roll, with top mounted controls for throttle and yaw.

The second oldest general aviation airport in the United States, Stinson Municipal Airport (KSSF) in San Antonio, Texas, was named in the Stinson family's honor. A middle school in northwest San Antonio, TX, Katherine Stinson Middle School, was named in her honor.

In 2000, Stinson was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum.[11]

Works featuring Katherine Stinson

  • Katherine Stinson: The Flying Schoolgirl by Debra L. Winegarten (Eakin Press, August 2000)
  • Flying High: Pioneer Women in American Aviation by Charles R. Mitchell (photographer) and Kirk W. House (Arcadia Publishing, June 2, 2002)
  • Before Amelia: Women Pilots in the Early Days of Aviation by Eileen F. Lebow (Potomac Books Inc., August 1, 2002)
  • Hatch, Sybil E. Changing our world: true stories of women engineers. American Soc. of Civil Engineers. ISBN 0784408351. 
  • Layne, Margaret. Women in engineering. ASCE Press. ISBN 9780784472354. 


  1. Lynn M. Homan; Thomas Reilly; Rosalie M. Shepherd. Women Who Fly.
  2. Lori Burrup (Winter 2003). "Katherine Stinson Pioneering Aviatrix". AAHS Journal.
  3. Air Trails: 47. Winter 1971. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. Shiels, Bob (1974). Calgary : a not too solemn look at Calgary's first 100 years. Calgary: The Calgary Herald. p. 146.
  5. "Travels 783 Miles Without a Stop on Her Way from Chicago to New York. Lack of Gas Forces Her to Make Descent, Which Damages Machine. Will Complete Trip Today. Left Chicago at 7:37 A.M." (PDF). New York Times. May 24, 1918. Retrieved 2014-02-12. Katherine Stinson, who left Chicago this morning with Government mail for New York, landed two miles north of this city at 6:50 this evening.
  6. "PIONEER AVIATRIX NOW IS ARCHITECT". New York Times. Associated Press. November 4, 1936. Retrieved October 2, 2015. (Subscription required (help)).
  7. Dan K. Utley; Cynthia J. Beeman. History Ahead: Stories Beyond the Texas Roadside Markers. p. 252.
  8. Wedemeyer, Dee (July 11, 1977). "Katherine Stinson Otero, 86, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved October 2, 2015. (Subscription required (help)).
  9. https://www.thehenryford.org/explore/innovation-nation/episodes#tab=season-3
  10. Ford Richardson Bryan; Sarah Evans. Henry's attic: some fascinating gifts to Henry Ford and his museum.
  11. Sprekelmeyer, Linda, editor. These We Honor: The International Aerospace Hall of Fame. Donning Co. Publishers, 2006. ISBN 978-1-57864-397-4.
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