Who is Fran Bera?
I recently learned about her from a NYT headline: Fran Bera, Competitive, Record-Breaking Aviator, Is Dead at 93. So of course I read the article and began an internet search. This is what I learned:
She saved money to start her flight lessons at the age of 16 by skipping lunch (for four years)…and finally had to tell her parents what she was doing when she needed them to sign off on her first solo.
Her career in aviation spanned 75+ years and she logged over 25,000+ flight hours (that we know of…she stopped counting sometime in the 1980s after reaching 25,000 hours).
Her career included ferrying surplus aircraft after the war, flight instructing, running her own flight school and flying as an Experimental test pilot.
She set an unbroken National Aeronautic Association record for highest altitude attained in a twin-engine Piper Aztec. She flew her piston-driven aircraft to 40, 154 feet!
She became a flight examiner at the age of 24 (the youngest allowable at the time) and administered over 3,000 flight evaluations to new pilots.
She has many, many awards for her aerial feats, including the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum’s Wall of Honor, a Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award from the Federal Aviation Administration and an Elder Statesman Award from the National Aeronautic Association.
She last flew her white Piper Comanche 260 (decorated with pink and magenta stripes and the phrase “Kick Ass” stenciled on the fuselage) in January 2016, when she was 91 years old!
These are but a few of the mileposts in her amazing 93 year life. A more eloquent account of her life and achievements can be found in her New York Times obituary and the San Diego 99s website, where she was a active member until she died.
Reading about Ms. Bera, I found myself laughing, crying, and rejoicing. More importantly, I wondered “Why didn’t I know about her?” This is why organizations such as the 99s and Women In Aviation, International and others are so important. It is why all of us are important — we have a rich history in aviation that is yet to be shared and bright futures to be mentored and encouraged. Get out there and share your passion for aviation with others. I’m not saying we will all get to 25,000+ flying hours or give over 3,000 checkrides, but if we can each pass the love and joy of an aviation career to just one person who may not have realized it was possible, we win.
I challenge each of you to “Kick Ass” like Fran Bera.