Who the first woman to captain the Boeing 747 jumbo jet?
On July 18, 1984, during a transcontinental People Express (a short-lived budget airline that merged with Continental in 1987) flight from Newark to Los Angeles, Baltimore-born Beverly Burns went down in history as the first female pilot to command a Boeing 747. This game-changing feat that garnered Burns the Amelia Earhart Award the following year.
In addition to her duties as captain, Burns, an erstwhile American Airlines flight attendant, also served as a baggage handler, gate agent, dispatcher and avionics trainer while with People Express. By the time she retired in 2008, Burns had logged a total 25,000 hours of flight time and had piloted not only the Boeing 747, but also the Boeing 757, Boeing 767, Boeing 777 and a variety of McDonnell-Douglas commercial aircraft.
The reason she became a commercial airline captain in the first place? Burns recounts, during her flight attendant days, a first officer explaining to the crew why there were no female pilots of commercial aircraft: "He said, 'Women are just not smart enough to do this job.' I knew as soon as the words came out of his mouth — "women cannot be pilots" — that I wanted to be an airline captain immediately.