Phoebe Omlie – The 1st Female AMT
Aviation Maintenance Technician Day is celebrated on May 24th, which is the birthday of the man who invented the first aircraft engine, Charles E. Taylor). In honor of this day, I wanted to recognize an amazing woman – Phoebe Jane Fairgrave Omlie (November 21, 1902 – July 17, 1975). She is someone to be celebrated and remembered not simply because she is the first female to receive a FAA aircraft mechanic’s license in 1927, but because she’s an aviation pioneer.
Phoebe Omlie started out as a barnstormer and air racer. She set many records and had many wins, including 1929’s First National Women’s Air Derby, 1930’s Dixie Derby Air Race, 1931’s Transcontinental Handicap Sweepstakes, and 1931’s National Air Races in Cleveland (which happened to be the first year women were allowed entry). Additionally, Phoebe performed stunts, such as hang from planes by her teeth and wing walking. She even had her own show called, Phoebe Fairgrave Flying Circus.
Phoebe achieved the world record for highest parachute jump by a female on July 10, 1922 with a distance of 15,200 feet. In 1927, she became the first woman to received a transport pilot’s license and, in 1928, the first woman to cross the Rocky Mountains in a light aircraft while on the Edsel Ford National Air Tour. Having supported President Roosevelt during his campaign, he assigned her as “Special Adviser for Air Intelligence to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics“, making her the first woman to be appointed to a federal aviation position. While serving in this post, she opened 66 schools in 46 states to help the WWII pilot shortage. Among them was where the famous Tuskegee Airmen trained.
This amazing woman changed history… for aviation, for women, and for how things were structured. Phoebe assisted with training 5,000 airport ground personnel as part of a joint Works Progress Administration and Office of Education initiative. While working as a senior flying specialist for the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), her flight school model was so successful that it became the standard. Her efforts earned her a citation in 1942 from the National Education Association.
There’s so much more to know about this pioneering aviator and mechanic. I encourage you to do your own research!