Thursday, May 23, 2013

Asians Out Loud: Katherine Sui Fun Cheung

Today, I'm going to highlight one of my very favorite Asian American firsts. Her name was Katherine Sui Fun Cheung and she was the very first Asian American female pilot in the United States!

Katherine Cheung: 1st Asian American Aviatrix

Talk about amazing. In a time when race and sexism were hurdles many women could not break through, Katherine opened her wings and took flight.

Born in China in 1904, Katherine joined her father in America at the age of 17, studying music at the University of Southern California. During that time, her father had agreed to teach her how to drive, which was a rarity in the 1920's.

Luck would have it that Katherine's father brought her to an empty parking lot next to the Dycer Airfield to practice her driving skills. As she watched the airplanes land and take off from across the field, Katherine's love for aviation was born.

She was a very quick learner and after merely 12 1/2 hours of flight lessons, she took her first solo flight. By 1932, Katherine earned her pilot's license, making her a member of an elite group of aviatrix (only 1% of licensed pilots in America were women at that time).

As one can probably gathered from her determination to break society's rules, Katherine decided to continue her flight career as a Barnstorming pilot. What does that mean? It meant that during the 1930's Katherine travelled to towns across America going to fair after fair, performing dare devil stunts. She took part in acrobatic loops, barrel rolls, spiral dives and even flying her open cockpit plane upside down. How amazing. She was a true adventurer.

By 1936, Katherine was invited to join the prestigious Ninety Nines Club, which was an international group of female pilots founded by Amelia Earhart. Katherine and Amelia forged a great friendship and she was devastated when Amelia disappeared over the Pacific.

Ninety Nines Club
(Bottom 3rd from left) Amelia Earhart (Top 2nd from left) Katherine Cheung

Katherine was also very much involved with the Chinese community and was a good friend of the Hollywood actress Anna May Wong. During the war, Anna May Wong helped raise the funds to purchase a Ryan ST plane for Katherine in hopes of providing aid to the Chinese resistance against the Japanese. Unfortunately, Katherine's cousin crashed and died in the new Ryan ST while pulling a prank. Katherine never made it to China, promising her father she would never fly again.

Katherine did fly a few more times after her father passed away, but she soon settled into daily life. She has been inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame, the Museum of Flying's International Women in Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum as well as other honors.

She once said in an interview:

There's no feeling like it in the world......being up in the air, the wind blowing, the exhilaration....that's my definition of joy. It's complete freedom. You haven't lived until you've truly felt that.

Katherine is a truly inspirational woman.....I want my children, especially my girls, to know that they too can achieve things, even when society frowns upon it.....have courage and passion to follow your dreams. You never know where it can take you.

Who inspires you?


  1. It is so important for girls to know that they indeed can do whatever they want, if they really want it. Thank you also for sharing this truly inspiring story!

  2. Hello Jules

    What a great post. My mother flew at around the same time; I love flying; my brother has flown and he's now organised for an introductory flight for his daughter to see if she'll enjoy it. I've copied your post on to his blog ( if you'd like to see what he's written about flying. Interesting the synchronicity...

    Also to let you know that I've nominated you for a Sunshine Award over at my blog. :)

  3. My mom flew, I fly and now it's my daughter's turn. No feeling like it, soar like an eagle.
    Blessings, Geoff.

  4. This is an amazing story...this fact that she was a pilot is astounding, but as you said, the simple fact that she was learning to drive and attending college as a woman (never mind an Asian woman- and an immigrant!) in those days was such a rarity! I don't think my girls truly understand how lucky we all are today! :) Great post!

  5. Stumbled across you this morning and have enjoyed browsing your plot, especially your photography.


  6. ah, very cool...and def inspirational...our children need positive role models like that surely...all boys here, but i def want my boys to know about strong women as well...

    hope you did get inspired and look forward to seeing your response to the pics...smiles.

  7. Awesome story, how good of you to bring this to life. She was truly a woman before her time. By the way, how do you get your cool signature at the end of your posts? Nice feature.
    Oozing Out My Ears

  8. Have you considered writing a book/story about her? I love being introduced to interesting people/pioneers I'm not familiar with. I was talking just the other day about how important Judy Blume was to me when I first discovered her books as a young teenager. She was the first author I'd read that wrote about contemporary issues that were important to kids. She opened up a whole new world to me.

  9. Awesome story! I always fancied becoming a pilot...not for the passion for the profession but to get that rush of freedom, flying up in the air.

  10. Hello, I am your newest follower. You have a sweet and encouraging blog. I'm excited to be your newest follower and look forward to reading many posts.

  11. I've lost track of how many times I've popped in, though I don't leave a comment each time since there's no new blog post; but thought I would today to say, I hope you're ok...I wonder since you're not blogging.

  12. I'm always a fan of women who does the impossible and hearing about Katherine is a great thing. I have not read about her before, I suppose Amelia Earhart is better well known but still, it's quite an accomplishment to anything that doesn't follow the norm and certainly it inspires us to do more.

    hope you have a sweet day.

  13. Hey! I have nominated you for Sunshine Award! If it's not too much, can accept it! :)


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