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Aviation World Mourns Loss of Evelyn Bryan Johnson

'Mama Bird' was the highest-time female pilot in history

Evelyn Johnson
Evelyn Bryan Johnson in 2003. (Photo courtesy John Riedel/Women in Aviation International)

May 14, 2012 - Evelyn Bryan Johnson, who had more flight hours logged than any living female pilot in the world, died Thursday, May 10, in Jefferson City, Tennessee. She was 102 years old. According to the National Aviation Hall of Fame, which inducted her in 2007, "Mama Bird" Bryan Johnson had 57,635 flight hours - more flying time than any woman in aviation history and second all-time only to Ed Long's 64,000. She also taught more than 5,000 pilots how to fly, and as an FAA designated pilot examiner since 1952, conducted more than 9,000 checkrides. Evelyn was a member of EAA from 1979 to 2009, and was a Vintage Aircraft Association member from 1980 to 2008.

In 1941, Evelyn's husband, W.J. Bryan, joined the Army and she was tasked with running his dry cleaning business in Jeff City. "And it was getting really boring," she said in a 2003 EAA Timeless Voices of Aviation interview. "And I thought if I could find me a hobby and get out of here an hour or so every week, it might help."

One Sunday morning, a newspaper ad for flight lessons at Island Airport in nearby Knoxville piqued her interest and motivated her to give it a try the following week. "I got on the train in Jefferson City, went to Knoxville, got on a city bus, went to the end of the line out near Island Airport, walked about a quarter mile down the road along the river, got a ride across the river in a rowboat to take my first flight lesson," she said.

"It was love at first flight, and I've been flying ever since."

Among her many honors and awards: Elder Statesman of Aviation Award, Memorial Award-National Aeronautics Association and the 99's, Flight Instructor of the Year, Aviation Airport Manager of the Year, Women of Aviation Pioneers Hall of Fame, Flight Instructor Hall of Fame, and the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award. Read her full obituary

Funeral arrangements are for Tuesday, May 15, at First Baptist Church in Morristown. Family visitation is 4-5:30 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. with the funeral service to follow.

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