Evelyn B. Johnson | Early pilot, 102
Pioneering female pilot and Guinness world record holder Evelyn Bryan Johnson, 102, known as “Mama Bird,” died Thursday, according to a funeral home in Jefferson City, Tenn.
Pioneering female pilot and Guinness world record holder Evelyn Bryan Johnson, 102, known as "Mama Bird," died Thursday, according to a funeral home in Jefferson City, Tenn.
Mrs. Johnson, of Morristown, Tenn., started flying in 1944 and went on to run her own flying service and manage a small-town airport.
"I don't care how many problems you have down on the ground, you forget about them" while flying," the barely 5-foot-tall woman told the Associated Press in 2005.
Mrs. Johnson was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2007 after flying for 55 years and spending the equivalent of seven years in the air. She was estimated to have flown 5.5 million miles — equal to 23 trips to the moon — and never had a crash despite her share of mechanical troubles in the sky.
She held the Guinness Book of World Records certificate for most hours in the air for a female pilot. She was also one of the first female helicopter pilots.
Her office at Morristown's Moore-Murrell Airport, 45 miles northeast of Knoxville, was filled with awards, citations and mementos. At 95, she was still managing the airport she had run since 1953, where she had taught more than 3,000 student pilots and certified more than 9,000 pilots for the Federal Aviation Administration.
She was also a member of the Flight Instructor Hall of Fame at Oshkosh, Wis., the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame — she was a Corbin, Ky., native — and the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame.
She taught public school for two years before meeting William Jennings Bryan while attending the University of Tennessee in the 1930s, where she earned an English degree. They married and moved to Jefferson City near Morristown to start a dry-cleaning business.
When World War II came, Bryan hoped to learn how to fly in the service. He landed at an air base in Florida in charge of laundry.
"He started in to fly but ended up washing clothes. I was washing clothes and ended up flying," Mrs. Johnson said in 2005.
Her joy became her work. Both Bryan, who died in 1963, and her second husband, Morgan Johnson, who died in 1977, became pilots. She operated a flying service for 20 years, mostly to train pilots but also to ferry sightseers, passengers, and cargo around the country and once to South America. She never crashed. — AP