Women couldn’t fly a plane without a man present. That was the rule at the small regional carrier Air Illinois in the late 1970s. But fate in the form of some bad weather gave Lynn Rippelmeyer and Emilie Jones a chance to change things — and make aviation history.
On Dec. 30, 1977, stormy weather prevented some crew members from getting to the airport. So Rippelmeyer and Jones were allowed to fly their turboprop commuter plane together through the rough weather for that day’s schedule of six flights — as long as they didn’t make any announcements and kept the cockpit door closed.
“You have to have a man up there in case anything goes wrong,” she said, mimicking the thinking of the time. “And we don’t want to scare our passengers away, do we?”
That made them the first all-female crew for a scheduled airline.
“But then after that — I guess since nobody died and nobody refused to get on the airplane — they let us fly together again,” Rippelmeyer said.
In fact, the two flew together on a regular basis about a dozen more times until Rippelmeyer left to fly for TWA a year later. But she wasn’t done making history, becoming the first female pilot to fly a Boeing 747 and the first female to captain a 747 transatlantic flight.