Hamilton: Look homeward to Granby, Emily
Americans love a good Horatio Alger story where a person rises from humble origins to fame as a result of hard work, determination, courage, and honesty. So, once upon a time, there was an angelic little Denver girl named Emily Hanrahan. Her folks were Irish-Americans.
When Emily was just old enough to travel by herself, her first flight was in an old DC-3 airliner. En route, the female flight attendant asked Emily if she would like to take a peek into the cockpit. Little Emily took one look at the dazzling array of dials and switches and it was love at first sight. Back at a time when little girls were not supposed to think such thoughts, Emily vowed to become a pilot.
Little did she and the world know that Emily Hanrahan (later, Emily Warner), would someday make American aviation history. Little did she know that she would become one of the most celebrated female pilots in the history of American aviation. Little did Emily know that at 10 a.m., on Saturday, July 11, 2015, the airport that would be “home” to Emily and her late husband, Julius, for over 25 years would be named Granby/Grand County Airport — Emily Warner Field.
Working in a Denver department store, young Emily saved every penny for flying lessons. The flight school owner was so impressed with Emily’s winning personality and her obvious gifts for flying that he offered her a job as the school’s receptionist. Soon, Emily had her private flying license and, not long after that, she went from private pilot to flight instructor to being the flight school’s chief pilot.
The flight school had a contract to teach young Frontier Airline pilots how to improve their instrument-flying skills. Back in those days, the airlines would only hire male pilots. Ironically, it was Emily who was teaching the Frontier pilots. Summoning her courage, Emily applied to Frontier Airlines for a job as a pilot. She filled out an application form, attached her resume showing over 7,000 flying hours, and mailed it to Frontier. She waited and waited for a reply.
Finally, Emily began to sit quietly in the waiting room at the Frontier Airlines headquarters in the hope of talking with someone. Anyone. Then, out of the blue, Frontier’s chief pilot grabbed Emily from the waiting room and put her into an instrument-flight simulator Emily had never used before. He had Emily perform dozens of instrument approaches. The “test” took what seemed like hours. When it was finally over, Frontier’s chief pilot told Frontier’s CEO that he had just “flown” with a great pilot.
In 1973, Emily became the first woman to be hired as a pilot-of-the-line by a major, scheduled U.S. airline. In 1976, she became America’s first female airline captain. Emily captained the first all-female airline flight crew. Emily, with over 22,000 flying hours, holds more records and awards than there is space here to recount.
Emily’s hard work, determination, and courage opened the door for thousands of young women to become airline pilots. On July 11, dozens of women airline pilots, who consider Emily Warner their “patron Saint,” will flock to Emily Warner’s “home” airport to pay her homage.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame, and is a recipient of the University of Nebraska 2015 Alumni Achievement Award. He was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.
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