Grand County commissioners, state officials celebrate local pilot
March 8 is designated as Celebrate Emily Warner & Women Airline Pilots Day
March 8 has been declared a celebration of Emily Warner and Women Airline Pilots Day. Fifty years ago, Warner paved the way for women to become pilots. Although many have visited Emily Warner Field Granby Airport, some might not know the pivotal role Warner played in aviation history – both in the U.S. and here in Grand County.
When Warner was 19 years old, she took an airplane flight from her home city of Denver that would change her life’s trajectory. She was considering a career as a stewardess, and this flight was to help her learn more about the job. But when Warner stepped inside the cockpit and saw the view, she knew where she really wanted to be – in the pilot’s seat.
“I looked out that front window and it just hit me,” Warner said during a 2001 interview with The Denver Post. “It’s so beautiful looking out of the front window instead of looking out of the sides.”
As a young woman learning how to fly in an industry dominated by men, Warner took the adage “the sky’s the limit” seriously. When other teenagers were enjoying leisure time, Warner held down two jobs to pay for expensive flying lessons, which were $12.75 an hour.
“Flying was so important to me, I was willing to sacrifice the things that young people normally buy with their hard-earned wages,” Warner said during a 2001 interview with Colorado Country Life magazine. “No records, ice cream, movies. It was a struggle at first … I probably only made $50 a week. But, I loved flying and was determined.”
Her determination paid off in 1973, when she shattered the glass ceiling by joining Frontier Airlines as America’s first permanent female commercial airline pilot. Also in 1973, Warner helped create the Granby Airport as a terminal for Rocky Mountain Airways. In 1976, she became the first female airline captain.
“I always felt like the United States — all countries, really — they only use half of their manpower,” she told the Denver Post of why she made it her mission to break the glass ceiling. “If they only use men, they’re losing a lot.”
Once Warner put Granby on the aviation map by convincing Rocky Mountain Airways to make it a terminal, she frequently flew into the town, both commercially and recreationally.
Rocky Mountain Airway’s roundtrip route traveled from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to Steamboat Springs, Granby, and then Denver – with Warner often in the cockpit. She eventually made her home in Granby, when she and her husband built Ouray Ranch. For over 25 years, Warner and her husband stayed at the ranch. They would fly over the Continental Divide, cross Devil’s Thumb Pass, then park their Cessna 182 at Granby Airport.
Here, Warner gave free check rides and flight instruction for pilots. She was also the founding member of Friends of the Granby Airport. In 2015, Grand County commissioners named the airport after her.
The airport’s former terminal has been memorialized as the Emily Warner Field Aviation Museum. The museum is home to a replica of Warner’s captain uniform that hangs in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, as well as her nametag and captain’s wings.
In addition to earning her captain’s wings, Warner went on to receive numerous accolades during her long career. She received the Federal Aviation Administration’s Wright Brother’s Award in 2015. She has also been inducted into the following: Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame (1983); Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame (1992); National Women’s Hall of Fame (2001); Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame (2002); National Aviation Hall of Fame (2014). Warner passed away at the age of 80 in July 2020.
To honor her achievements and celebrate the 50th year anniversary of Warner becoming a pilot, Grand County commissioners designated March 8 as Emily Warner and Women Airline Pilots Day. During their Feb. 21 meeting, commissioners Richard Cimino, Merrit Linke and Randy George signed a proclamation to celebrate this day every year forward.
March 8 was chosen for its significance – it is International Women’s Day, which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world. March is Women’s History Month as well as Irish-American Heritage Month. Emily Warner, née Hanrahan (her Irish name), was born into an Irish family and was inducted to the Irish-American Hall of Fame.
The commissioners’ proclamation received attention from state officials, plus many other historical and aviation organizations. Colorado State Senator Dylan Roberts and Colorado Speaker of the House Julie McCluskie, who both serve Grand County, will recognize the day.
After the March 8 opening gavel in the House Chamber, Sen. Roberts and Rep. McCluskie will hold a 50th anniversary tribute to Emily Warner and women airline pilots, which is open to guests. Roberts will hold the Senate tribute and McCluskie will hold the House tribute. Several Grand County guests will attend, including Shanna Ganne, executive director of the Grand County Historical Association, county commissioner Merrit Linke, and Josh Schroeder the Emily Warner Field Airport manager.
Back in Granby, the Grand County Historical Society will host an open house at the Emily Warner Field Aviation Museum from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on March 8. The Granby Rotatory Club will also host their noon meeting at the museum, to celebrate a grant they gave for the production of the Great Colorado Women documentary on Warner. The documentary was filmed at the museum in December 2022.
The documentary, “Emily Howell Warner: Pushing Frontiers in the Sky,” will be broadcast on Rocky Mountain PBS on Thursday, April 6, at 7:30 p.m. mountain time, and it will be rebroadcast Friday, April 7. It can also be viewed online at video.rmpbs.org.
Trimbi Szabo, Colorado Aeronautical Board
Gary Tobey, Colorado Civil Air Patrol
Sue Osborne, Colorado Pilots Association
Jan McKenzie, International 99s (women pilots)
Amanda Wilson, Colorado 99s (women pilots)
Shanna Ganne, Executive Director of Grand County Historical Association
David Kempa and Mellisa Berg, Colorado Aviation Historical Society
Stephanie Wells, Military Women Pilots
Grand County Commissioner Merrit Linke
Emily Warner Field Airport Manager Josh Schroeder
Donna Miller, Women Airline Pilots
Gretchen Jahn, Women in Aviation International
Jean Harper, Charter member of the International Society of Women Airline Pilots
Barbara Beckner, Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame Board Chair
Patti Theil, Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame
Elizabeth “Betty” Heid, Executive Producer of Great Colorado Women Documentary Library, Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame
Sally Boccella, Northern Colorado Regional Director, Office of U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper
Hetty Carlson, Colorado Division of Aeronautics
Robert Doubek, Centennial Airport Board Commissioner
Jim Huffman, Centennial Airport Board Commissioner and Colorado Aviation Historical Society Board member
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