|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?