Emily Howell Warner

RJ McHatton & Emily Howell Warner

RJ McHatton & Emily Howell Warner

I flew on Frontier Airlines that day to Denver to go interview an American hero, Emily Howell Warner. 

I only got two hours to sleep when my Blackberry alarm went off.   I was on my way within a half hour. 

It was spitting snow all over Seattle but no one but me on the roadways. The flight to Denver went well.  I got a chance to write some notes and to listen to some great podcasts on my ipod.

I rented a car from Budget.  The girl at the counter called everyone “Sweetie” because she was the only girl working there.  I told her that she had the “power.”  She smiled.  I got my keys and GPS machine and I was on my way to see Emily.

I was in Denver to interview Emily for the Airport Journals video project called the “Legends of Aviation.”  Emily Howell Warner is being recognized for her groundbreaking aviation career and also for being the first woman pilot to work for a US Airline.

I had put Emily’s name into Google a few weeks ago and I was tanken by her awesome smile.   In all of her photos, Emily had this giant smile.   Like she was always happy and having a good time. 

After a quick Starbucks stop where I could double check my equipment, I headed to Emily’s house.  I had called Emily about a week ago and found her to be very nice and cordial.

It was unbelievably sunny in Denver that day.  Blue skies all the way to the Rockies.  It had been 40 years since I had lived in Denver and it looked different but felt the same.

I lived in Denver from 1965 to 1971.  I remember playing football as a kid and always it would snow at night but be sunny during the day.  Not sometimes, but all the time it was that way.  Stormy at night, sunny during the day. 

The GPS machine gave me great directions.  The woman’s voice saying “Left in point two miles, right in point two miles.”  I heard that some of the GPS machines had voices with different accents, like Australian.  Not this GPS machine, though.  It only had one voice.  I wish it had a southern accent or a New York accent, or especially a Philly accent.  My dad was from Philadelphia and I liked the unique accent from there, especially my late Grandmother’s voice.

I drove through many different kinds of neighborhoods.  Hispanic, African American, Asian, and then the houses turned all at once from older neighborhoods, to new townhouses and condos.  I would learn later from Emily that this area used to be Lowry Air Force Base but it had been re-developed to housing and retail.

Emily met me at her door with her big smile and her puppy.  Emily was dressed very nicely.  She is a tall, slender woman with short, well-groomed hair.  She showed me her small office area where there was a wall full of placques and trophies and photos.  She said there was also a larger display at the Wings Museum located about three blocks away.

I went out to my rented SUV and got my lights, camera, and cases.  I set up very quickly.  I could tell Emily was a very organized, prepared person.  She had all of her photos and materials ready for me. 

After a few moments of making some adjustments to the white balance, I positioned the camera so a model 737 would be seen above her right shoulder in the camera frame.  I told her I was ready.

We had a really great interview.  At first I asked her about her family history.  I learned that she was a twin and that her family came to America from Ireland.  Emily was very proud of her Irish roots.  She remarked several times that her maiden name was Hanrahan and of her Irish determination.

We talked about her parents and then her childhood.  Emily loved her childhood.  She talked about her close relationship with her father.  We talked about Emily’s first learning about flying from a book she read.  She talked about her favorite teacher who was a num at St. Catherine’s.  Emily talked about how she got her first job at May Company, which allowed her to earn her own money.  She talked about how a girlfriend wanted to be a stewardess.  Emily thought for a while about being a stewardess, but one day her friend suggested to her the idea of Emily learning how to fly.  Emily talked about how she went down by herself on a two hour bus ride to learn about what it would take to learn how to fly.

She found out that it cost $12.50 per hour to learn how to fly, which was a lot of money in those days.  She only earned $36 a week at the May Company.  Emily talked about how her mother thought she was being foolish, spending do much money on flying.  Her mother had survived the Great Depression and every penny counted.

But that did not stop Emily.  She kept taking those lessons and one day she did her solo.  Emily lit up with emotion when she talked about her first solo.  Like it happened this morning.  Emily remembered every moment.  She talked about how she told her mother that she had just solo’d and that for the first time her mother said it wasn’t foolish.

Emily talked about how she became the first woman flight instructor in her area and then how she decided to become the first woman pilot for an American airline.  She told me exactly how she did it and how she never gave up.

Even though everyone told her it was hopeless, she kept on.  Eventually becoming the first Captain.  Emily has flown over 21000 hours in an aircraft.  She is so inspiring to us all.

After the interview, Emily had me follow her over to the Wings Museum.  She showed me her placques and photos.  She told me how the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC had called her one day asking if they could have her uniform or flight suit for the Smithsonian Museum.  I could tell that Emily was very proud and honored to have helped inspire so many others.

Emily told me there are now 6000 women pilots out of 50,000.  Still a long way to go.  As we left the Museum, Emily gave me a copy of her book and she signed it “To RJ. Happy Landings, Emily.”

We then went back to her home and I got some photos of her with her husband Julius and then Julius took one of Emily and me!

I really enjoyed my short visit and two hour interview with Emily Howell Hanrahan Warner.  As with most heroic people I have met over the years, Emily was humble, caring, and focused on helping others.  Emily still flies occasionally and she spends a lot of her time mentoring young people about the benefits of learning how to fly.

She told me she had over 21,000 air hours as a pilot.  I asked her what her goals were for the next five years.  She said that she wants to inspire more young women to become pilots and then she smiled and said “I would like to go up in one of those rockets, once the price comes down.” 

You could see her love for flying in her eyes and that big bright smile.  I looked over at a photo of Emily that was taken 30 years ago when she was “Captain Emily.”   She had that same smile in the picture and in real life. 

Emily said once they asked her what her title should be–should it be “Aviatrix” or “captain” or ?   Emily said that “Captain” sounded pretty good.

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