NASA Headquarters Oral
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Carol Butler
Cocoa Beach, Florida – 18 July 1999
is July 18, 1999. This is Carol Butler, and I'm doing an oral history
for the NASA History Office, with Wally Funk, retired NTSB [National
Transportation Safety Board] investigator, senior flight instructor,
chief pilot, wonderful woman of aerospace.
Thank you for joining us today.
you very much for having me.
begin, if we could talk briefly about your early career and your interest
in aviation developing, and how you moved forward into the aerospace
career as a woman.
aerospace really was not a name in my young life, but flying airplanes
was. I got my first try at flying, just pure flying, by flying my
Superman cape off my daddy's barn when I was about five years old.
I was allowed to make airplanes out of blocks of balsa wood and hang
them from my ceiling.
When I went on to college, I was allowed to take flying, as my mother
had dearly loved flying, and her father wouldn't allow her to, so
they encouraged me then to fly into my aviation career. I was at a
girls' school for two years, got my private [license] there. Then
I went on to Oklahoma State University, who was the best flight school
in the United States at that time, from, say, the fifties, mid-fifties
on through to the seventies. I'm a national/international judge for
SafeCom [or NIFA] performances for all schools, universities, and
colleges, so now I'm giving back the safety that I've learned over
my forty-four years of instruction to the kids just starting out in
the flying that I started in, in the late fifties. So it all has come
around full circle.
Oklahoma State afforded me most of the rest of all my ratings. I would
trade off mowing grass between the runways for my glider rating or
my seaplane rating, and that was a great experience as a kid of nineteen
doing such things, and there was never any eyes raised or eyebrows
raised about, "What's that girl doing?" I had great parental
enthusiasm and helping me to continue my education that I wanted in
And it wasn't until I graduated from Oklahoma State and went down
to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where I was a flight instructor, that I learned
about Jerrie Cobb had been in phase two, off the magazine cover of
Life magazine, and I wrote immediately to the doctor that had used
her as a subject, was Dr. Sechrist at the VA [Veterans Administration]
Hospital. He puts me in touch with Dr. Randy Lovelace at Albuquerque,
New Mexico, and within two days Dr. Lovelace writes back, "Fill
out this form and your date is a month away. Can you come?" So
I was not on the original list, and I was twenty-one and I was too
young, so they had to get extra permission for me to take the same
test as the Mercury 7 astronauts took.
Now, they have picked twenty-five women candidates out of the records.
There [were] records in Washington, D.C., in those days. Or, yes,
there were, and at 99 Headquarters, but it wasn't as it is today,
so comprehensive. They found women that had a college education, over
1,000 hours of flight time, and had to have a commercial instrument
rating, top physical condition, and be willing to go through these
tests. So I said, "Yes, of course I want to go, and, yes, of
course get information for me to go, because I'm just a kid."
Well, it turned out that was to my benefit, because I had no preconceived
ideas of what was going to happen in any of these tests. I had no
idea that things could be done to my body and to my mind that they
did do, as a youngster, as you will. Being a grownup now, I might
have had some reservations going in, as many of these other women
probably did. [Laughter]
I took a lot of pain that was associated with some of the tests that
we took. I took it in stride. It was going to get me one step closer
into space, and this is where I wanted to go. Of course, I did as
much as I could in space exploration for physical tests, psychologist
tests, as possible, to get me into absolutely a race for space against
Russia in those days.
So it's interesting to know that twenty-five women were put through
the tests, but thirteen passed, so that's why we're called the Mercury
13. Now, unfortunately, the lady that I—we went through by twos,
but the lady that I went through never made it through the first day,
and I really didn't know—we all didn't know who each other were.
Not until four years ago did we know who each other were in total.
Of course, I was in a flourishing field of my own, so I didn't get
to go to some of these meetings that the other women could go to,
because they were retired and I was still working. But we finally
all got together and exchanged stories, and I hope that you're going
to get many of these gals' stories.
I applied to NASA four different times, to be turned down four different
times because I did not have an engineering degree, and they gave
me nine months to obtain such a degree, which was an impossibility.
Jerrie Cobb and I had at one time described that we would buy a jet
aircraft from England, which was called a small Vampire, but then
NASA reorganized their nomenclature, so to speak, that you had to
have jet test pilot time. This was impossible for a girl to have in
those days. It's taken us thirty years for Eileen [Collins] to go
up into space, and she was the first girl to be able to go through
Edwards Air Force Base [California], so she was twenty years in front
So the thing that I'm most happy about is that Eileen is going to
be in that left seat in less than two days. She had a vision, and
at five she knew that she wanted to fly. She patterned her life. There
was at least enough knowledge out there to pattern one's life, to
know that she had to get her licenses, she had to go into the Air
Force. She blossomed in the Air Force, got on with NASA. This is her
[third] trip up. But we've got a girl in the left seat, and that is
just absolutely incredible. And this is going to show youngsters and
young ladies that are going to see this particular program that you
can do anything you want to do with your life. Math, sciences, engineering,
very important to stick with and have as your personal goals. Eileen's
tenacity, her personal goals, her dedication, has made it possible
for you and I to come together and a lot of people from around the
world to come together.
It's fabulous. Absolutely. Before you got involved in the testing
program, had you thought about even the possibility of going into
I read about Jerrie Cobb?
Funk: I didn't
even know about it. It was not something we knew about. It was just
as new as new. We didn't know what "astronaut" meant.
you just jumped into it.
Funk: I knew
that was for me. I wanted to go into exploration. I've always sort
of been an explorer in my youth.
And you've continued to be an explorer. You're exploring still.
I hope to go on to Russia with the Zegrahm Voyages and be a part of
a cross-training of American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts so
that we can use their facility at Star City and go through some of
the same tests that Eileen's gone through in Houston. I've been down
to Houston many times. I've observed what she has done and what the
astronauts are doing down there, but I could never have the chance
of partaking in such a wonderful schooling.
will be interesting to see how the training that you're able to go
through in Star City measures up with the testing and training that
you did do earlier when you first started out as a twenty-one-year-old,
not knowing anything about the space opportunities.
what's interesting about your statement is, we've come such a long
way in technology, that the things that I was tested on people aren't
tested on anymore. They were testing us to our extremes, to how much
can we take of ten-degree water being injected into our ears, and
how fast is our eye going to stare at a particular object, and I'd
have no control over my body. And was I going to fall off or not?
Yes, I would have if I wouldn't have been strapped into a dentist
chair. Or what would I do in a tank of water, and the humidity of
the room that was so perfect controlled to my temperature that I couldn't
feel the water on my hands or my face because there was no hearing,
smelling? All your senses were taken away from you, and you were to
stay in there as long as possible. And I broke the record of ten hours
and thirty-five minutes.
must have been a very interesting experience.
you know, it was so easy for me. As a youngster then, you didn't have
a lot on your mind as youngsters today do. The question always comes
up, well, how could you stand ten hours and thirty-five minutes? On
the contrary. When they said, "How long do you think you've been
in there?" I said, "Oh, I wasn't hungry. I didn't have any
bodily needs. About five hours." So everybody that has taken
this particular test has cut their time in half, which is unbeknownst
to the scientists today in an isolation situation. Everyone cuts their
time in half.
Now, the guys, the Mercury 7, were set in a lit room. Well, you know,
you can count a lot of things in a lit room and entertain yourself,
where I was on my back, floating in this water, with all my five basic
senses taken away, couldn't smell, touch, taste anything. I just had
to lay there. Now, they wanted me to talk or sing, but in those days
I didn't talk. This would be a very difficult interview if this was
a long time ago. [Laughter] But I've learned to talk since then.
that's good. You mentioned a couple of the other tests, the water
in the ear. As you came down for the first phase of testing, what
were some of those tests? At any point did you stop and think, "What
am I doing?" or anything along those lines?
Funk: To answer
your last question first, no. I had not a shadow of a doubt. I was
their subject. They could do anything with me that they wanted to
do. I didn't know that you could get X-rayed from head to toe and
it would take a whole day, and every single tooth and every single
bone, but they wanted perfect specimens at that time.
Now, let's go back to the men, the Mercury. There were 159 men selected
from the armed services to go through these tests at Lovelace. How
many were selected?
women were selected, and how many passed? Thirteen. So do we have
a little bit of information here on how well do women do things? How
well did they come across on the Mayflower? Terrific. How well did
they go across the prairies and settle the West in their covered wagons?
Great. Big families. Didn't think anything about it. Why can't we
fly and go into space? The men today that think that we can't, as
women, do things, sorry, folks, we can do it. A woman—and I'm
sure Eileen has tried extra hard to do her best, because nobody wants
to fail, and failure is not a part of my makeup. I do the best I can
do and I kick as many doors in as I possibly can, no matter where
you have fun doing it, I'm sure. [Laughter]
yes. I love life. You bet.
wonderful. That's the way to do it. You've got to enjoy life. As you
were doing the testing, you said you didn't know any of the other
women that were going through it, but you had, of course, read about
Jerrie Cobb. After you were done with the first phase, what contact
did you have with people running the program or with Dr. Lovelace?
How did it continue that you could go on with the next phases of the
Funk: I found
out what Jerrie Cobb had done down in Pensacola [Florida], because
she had done this about six months to a year prior to my going through.
[Interruption. Tape recorder turned off.]
were talking about how you became involved in the second round of
the testing and how you found out even about the opportunity.
the second round of testing would be what Jerrie Cobb had gone through
in Pensacola, Florida. We were to have had a chance to go down, but
it was all scrubbed. Most likely a political situation. A lot of the
girls were disappointed in that, but I kind of went on and went on
to an alternate, if you will, and I went overseas for three years.
I learned a lot about many countries. I was in fifty-nine countries.
I did a lot of camping and met a lot of neat, neat people that I still
stay in correspondence with.
But anyway, I learned what the Pensacola tests were all about, so
I kind of made a list of what I could do in California and various
states. So at USC [University of Southern California] I was able to
take the centrifuge test. Now, being a civilian and being a girl,
they would only give me 3 Gs, and I could not have a G suit. Only
men could have those things. So I called Mother up in Hemet, California,
and I said, "Mom, I need your worst Merry Widow and girdle when
you were a girl. Can you get those to me?" "You betcha."
So I modified and made my own G suit out of her Merry Widow, and just
stuffed my body in this tight little thing, then put my flight suit
over it, because I knew once they started to twirl me around in the
centrifuge, obviously they thought that I was going to go out within
the first go-round of 3 Gs, but I knew to keep the blood rushed up
in my body and up in my head. So obviously they gave me three 3Gs
for two minutes at a time, and the cameras were set at different places.
We went second round. No big deal. I punched out the buttons of lights
that were coming up for my assignments. Third time around, no big
deal. Feeling a little tired, but it was okay. Fourth time around,
I don't know if the guy really hit the button and gave me a few more
Gs or it was really that many more Gs or that same amount of Gs but
my body not having a rest in between, but what happens is when you're
going around this long arm, extended arm, going around this room very,
very quickly, and trying to punch out the different lights that they're
giving you as assignments, you start the gray-out, and when the gray-out
effect starts is when the blood is coming down from your brain at
about half-mast to your eyes. Part of it's gray and the rest I could
see you. Well, I knew that was happening, so I just closed up my body
and my neck and I pushed all that blood back up in my head, and it
cleared up. So then I could keep doing my thing. I never told them
until it came out in "Dateline" twenty-five-some years later
that I had made my own G suit and I passed with flying colors.
the other test was the Martin-Baker seat ejection test at El Toro
[California], and that is where I was placed in a particular flight
suit and parachute rig, and I was shot up on a long, long pole. It's
almost like to go hit the gong and then come down with a crash. I
was a lightweight; I only weighed about 110 pounds then. So obviously
I went up as far up as the slide would go, but came down with a terrible
thud, not really realizing what was happening. To make this thing
go, there was kind of like a lot of powder. Not dynamite or not like
a lot of firecrackers, but like a bunch of firecrackers, I guess you
could say, underneath my seat. And what I did was I pulled this canopy
up over my helmet to keep my head rigidly back against the back head
rest so that my head wouldn't come forward, because you could break
your neck, and ride the post up.
But coming down with a thud, I didn't realize it, but the guys knew
it, I would have a tremendous headache and you could have a back compression.
Well, I had never told anybody I had broken my back skiing, trying
to prepare for the Olympics. So I thought, "Ah-oh. Wonder if
anything has happened here," but nothing happened. I was fine.
So they took all the gear off me.
The next thing, they just ushered me right into the high-altitude
chamber test, and in those days they could take a civilian up to 39,000.
Today it's only 29,000. We zoomed on up there. And, boy, on 100 percent
oxygen, I was feeling great. I mean, that's just the best way, they
say, to get over a hangover or to get rid of a headache, is to breathe
100 percent oxygen. So I was feeling great. And, of course, here comes
the test. "Wally, take your mask off." So I take my mask
off. "We want you to write your name and anything you want, and
add some numbers on this piece of paper." So at that altitude
you can only last a matter of ten, fifteen seconds without oxygen
again. So I'm writing, and I think I'm doing just really terrific,
because you have a euphoria and a feeling of well-being here without
oxygen. This is how come a lot of airplane people have accidents,
because they have a feeling of euphoria, and not getting the right
oxygen to the brain to read their instrumentation correctly, and then
they get into trouble.
Well, of course we had a lot of noses pressed up against every window
looking at this girl in there, because they'd never had a girl before,
wondering how she's going to do it with her mask off. So I'm just
blithely writing down and doing my assignment, thinking I'm doing
a great job, and I heard it, but I didn't respond, they said, "Wally,
put your mask on. Wally, put your mask on." But, you see, I was
already in another state of deterioration of no oxygen to the brain.
They let me go as long as possible, and somebody just slapped the
mask on me, and then everything came clear as a bell. I looked down
at what I was writing; it was all scribble. And not only had I not
stopped at the end of the page here, I had gone on into infinity,
and thinking I was just doing great. So that was the high-altitude
The last test was phase three, which was conducted at the VA Hospital
in Oklahoma City, and that's where we were put into the tank, as I
had described earlier.
an interesting array of tests that you went through.
then on top of it, in the eighties I went to Space Camp [Huntsville,
Alabama] for a week. So I've done everything I could possibly do to
learn and grasp more about the wonderful world of space travel.
great. It's good to see you being so interested in maintaining that
enthusiasm. That helps to pass it on to others.
Kids today have a wealth of knowledge, if they just have parents or
a teacher to say, "You can do anything you want to do and go
after it." The encouragement of going after it, taking all the
math and science and engineering courses throughout. And kids are
on computers today. The youngsters that I'm teaching to fly today,
I've got a sixteen- and a seventeen-year-old this summer that I'm
teaching. They're grasping flying, and I'm soloing them at seven and
eight hours because of the computer industry, that they're learning
to fly on the computers. So this is pretty neat.
whole new way to learn.
Funk: I mean,
there's no way to teach me. When I learned, I learned by the seat
of my pants. You show me, then I respond. And that's exactly how I
learned to fly. It wasn't really out of reading a book; it was show
and tell. In my acrobatic instruction, I would look at the picture,
have somebody show me, and off I'd go.
good way to learn, just by doing it as you go. While you were doing
the testing, shortly after that they had congressional hearings actually
dealing with bringing women in as astronauts when NASA was hiring
the second group of male astronauts. Were you aware of those at the
Funk: I can't
really remember. I don't remember exactly where I was at that period
of time, and I've been asked that over and over again. I don't think
that any of us knew what Jerrie and Janie Hart had to prepare themselves
to do, to go and defend us as a group. Now, mind you, we didn't know
each other yet. And so I knew Jackie Cochran. She'd been very generous
to support phase one financially, and I've had wonderful letters from
her and from Jerrie Cobb, but I didn't realize. Here I was out of
the country, where I was so buried in my work that I didn't realize
under after it was over with, that these hearings had gone on. And
then that's when we found out the parameters are jet test pilot experience
to be an astronaut, which let us out of the league.
the time being, at least.
yes. Thank you for asking that, because Eileen did it. Yes. We have
three girl test pilots, and I think we've got two female, Eileen and
another gal, that are testing, because Eileen has to have a backup,
a girl backup.
hopefully we'll be seeing more and more as time is going on.
you said, you were traveling overseas for lengths of time. You had
your career in aviation. Tell us some about that, if you would, an
overview of what you continued to do.
Funk: I went
over to Russia with two goals in mind: to see the Paris Air Show and
to meet Valentina Tereshkova, because she had already gone up in '63.
I was in Russia in '65. So I saw the Paris Air Show. I went to Russia
by myself, scared to death, on a train from Vienna [Austria] to Moscow,
and never got to meet her. I was being sponsored to get to Russia
to meet her, but the Russians didn't—this was Cold War time—they
did not want us to meet. They sent she and her husband off, they said,
to Japan. So there I was in Russia by myself for one week. That's
what my ticket allowed me to be there for.
It was an interesting experience going over on the train. When you
get to the border between Poland and Russia, they stop the train.
Everybody has to get off for a good hour, and nobody knows what's
going on. They tried to give me shots. They took my passport away.
It was a little spooky. Got everything back, said, "No, you're
not sticking me with any needles." And got back on board and
no more knowledgeable about why they took us off, but when I went
through—I was in Russia now, or in Moscow. I got to see a lot
of the things that they wanted me to see—the university, the
Kremlin, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da. Didn't dare speak to anybody.
Nobody would speak to me.
But getting back on the train to go back to Vienna, when we got to
that border crossing, I decided to play sick and stay on the train.
I wanted to know what was going on. So, of course, they came and pulled
all the shades down, said, "Just stay right there." Ya vol.
And when they left, the guards left, I peeked underneath one of the
blinds and took a picture, and what they were doing is they had great
big forks, and they came and they lifted each train car up and slid
a narrower track underneath them and set it back down, so Russia had
real wide tracks in their country and the rest of Europe had narrower
tracks. This was one of their ways of protecting Russia from any high-speed
train going into their country.
then in those days we didn't know how the Russians were landing. It
was my second trip over to Russia, when I really got to meet Valentina
Tereshkova, and I asked for two interpreters in Russian and two interpreters
in English, because I wanted to know what was going on here. We were
the first tourists ever to be taken into Star City, and this is like
the astronaut center [Johnson Space Center] of Houston would be, but
tourists were never allowed in there. And on the wall you could see
the reentry, which we all as Americans thought that the cosmonauts
came down in the Soyuz and landed with their parachutes. Not so. When
the Soyuz got into the troposphere, a manhole cover blew off the Soyuz
and the astronaut was ejected out, and they came down in their own
parachute stuff, and the Soyuz came down in its own parachute rig.
So this means they didn't reach all of the goals of making a first,
because when you go into the rules of IAC in Paris are that when you
want to make a record-breaking situation, you go up with your vehicle,
you come down with your vehicle. And they didn't come down with their
vehicle. So this is a first that we knew what kind of shenanigans
they were pulling.
Did you get to take a picture of that wall to bring back and show?
Funk: I sure
I got forty-five minutes with Valentina. My first questions were,
"How did your parents feel?" Well, she had been taken from
her parents as a child. The father went to one labor camp, the mother
went to another labor camp, and she was raised in a child labor camp.
She was brought up as a textile factory worker. Everybody in Russia
can have an extracurricular activity. Hers was parachuting. So then
you put it together. Obviously they took her for her parachuting qualities.
I think she had about 350 jumps. They say that she really hadn't been
schooled that much on the capsule, and she was told what to do.
This is what kind of is interesting, the fact that we could have done
it if they would just let us. A dog did it. A monkey did it. Man did
it. Woman can do it. We had to wait thirty-some years for Eileen to
do it, to show us.
but good finally.
finally for progress.
it fascinating to be able to meet Valentina Tereshkova and talk with
but she was very guarded. Of course she would be. She held a position
in Moscow as the first lady. Rather interesting. If you lived in a
block of buildings and you were to report to her if there was any
misconduct in your building, it was your Russian duty to report to
her if you overheard anything, if anything was against the government,
and this is the way they worked their system.
Funk: In fact,
when our astronauts go over—and I've heard this from Shannon
[Lucid]—it was a terrible time. The food, the quality, the housing,
the clothing, the fact that Shannon didn't get all her gear for a
month up into the Soyuz and into the module that they were circling
the earth with, was really too bad, but she told me about her experiences.
I'm looking forward to going to Russia, and I hope it will be a little
bit different than what Shannon experienced, but yet when we have
the Russians come over to America, what do we do? We put them up in
a nice place to stay, a car or a chauffeur-driven car, clothing, great
experiences. But this is just the difference in cultures. You're right.
interesting differences. Quite. You continued to be a pioneer in aviation
for women, went on to work with the FAA and the National Transportation
Safety Board. How did those opportunities arise for you? How did you
find out about the openings and move into them? What did you do?
by accident. [Laughter] Being in the right place at the right time.
I was chief pilot for a company out in California. I took a lot of
wealthy people back and forth to [Las] Vegas [Nevada] at all times
of the night. Interestingly enough, men made their decision-making
and shook hands over deals in the airplane that I was carrying them
in going to Vegas and back, not necessarily so much going back, but
I was applying for a professorship in University of Alaska, and I'd
used an FAA chap's name that I had known. He said, "Wally, what
is this? You be in my office at nine o'clock Monday morning."
I said, "Oh. Okay." I was there and he said, "You're
set up for an interview next Monday morning because we want you to
be an inspector for the FAA."
I said, "Oh my goodness. Well, that takes an awful lot of education.
I don't know if I can—of course I can do that." I caught
myself. "Of course I can do that. I can be the first girl inspector
for the FAA."
And I had my interview, and my first boss was Bill Glenn [phonetic],
and I answered all their questions, and then I asked them all about
the FAA and what they expected of me and what I was going to—where
was I going to go with the FAA? He said, "I like her line of
questioning. You're hired."
So I was with the FAA, had a great time with them for four years.
Then NTSB stole me over, and then I became an investigator for the
rest of my tenure until I retired in '84. I've done over 450 accidents,
whether large or small.
must be a challenge.
was a great challenge, yes, but very interesting, and every accident
investigation was different.
I'm sure it was a learning experience, too, to see all the different
considerations, safety considerations and things to watch out for.
correct. You hit on a very good word, of "safety," because
most of the accidents, there has been a safety problem with that accident,
either by pilot not taking heed or maybe the mechanic or maybe the
That's one of the reasons why I retired early, because I wanted to
take my Wally Funk Safety slide presentation around the world, in
the United States, to universities and colleges, and show them why
people crash into mountains on a clear day. It's incredible. I mean,
in the middle of Arizona is Taylor Mountain. Or, no, excuse me. Flagstaff.
Can't recall the name of the mountain right now. Looking around it,
and yet I've done several accidents where people are coming and going
right into that particular peak, and that was the only peak for maybe
hundreds of miles. I climbed that one many a time. I've gotten to
many accidents by horse, by mule, by helicopter, by repelling, by
being dropped down, by boat, walking. You name it, I've gotten there.
an active life you've had.
I've loved every bit of it. Wouldn't change it for the world.
great. I hope that I'm able to say that and still be enjoying life
as much as you in my own few years.
I've got a lot to do. I've got fifty more years of stuff to do, so—
got to keep on going.
I'm sure you will. I'm sure you will. You mentioned earlier that you
hadn't known any of the women that went through the Mercury testing
with you at the time. You knew Jerrie Cobb and Jackie Cochran, but
not the others that had passed, and that you only got to meet them
a few years ago. What was that like?
Funk: It was
pretty neat. Being the youngest, I was outvoted on who was going to
talk first, so I sat there and listened a lot. And I did have my camera,
so I got to film a lot of what was going on in the various impromptu
little clutches that we would get into. And every time we'd get together,
there's more stories that come out, because they've all thought of
things, especially some of the girls that went together. See, I was
by myself, so I didn't have anybody to talk to. But they, being older,
could have each other to talk to or they'd talk more to the doctors
and the nurses more than I would be. I just considered myself a subject,
and I was there to take tests and I didn't ask questions. I just was
So I still listen. I listen to their stories, because I didn't have
the fascinating stories. I've told you some of my experiences, but
some of them, like Sarah [Gorelick] Ratley, she said she had her hair
all done up the day before she went to Lovelace. And, of course, the
minute you go in, you're handed a weekly sheet of expectations, and
the first thing was "Wash your hair thoroughly and don't do anything
with it. And you're going to take an enema." Da-da, da-da, da-da.
So we did everything we were supposed to.
Interesting. Interesting. And now how have you kept in contact then
since you've all met and kept up regular correspondence or meetings?
we have Jerri [Sloan] Truhill is our gal that everybody calls and
gives information to, and when we come down here to the Cape to see
Eileen off, we all get together, those of us that can still travel.
good. That's great to see you all still keeping together and keeping
up. When did you find out that Eileen was going to have the opportunity
to pilot the shuttle?
I think we met back in mid eighties. She had just been hired by NASA.
At the Women in Aviation conference in Las Vegas.
The Women in Aviation is a large organization now that encompasses
all girls that want to fly around the world, whether you want to fly
for the airlines or for commuters or, as I am, a chief pilot, or just
as a beginning flight student or a NASA individual like Eileen. We've
all been speakers. This has opened the floodgates to let people know
there's an organization for young people to come to, to find out about
military, to find out what's out there for them. Peggy Baty from Dayton,
Ohio, is the one that started this organization. We've just had our
tenth anniversary. We meet the second week of every March somewhere
in the United States.
Women in Aviation International has probably given out hundreds of
thousands of scholarships for the airline industry, for anything that
any girl wants to apply for. Those things are out there. We teach
people how to get hold of scholarships, to use Pell grants. None of
this was even remotely thought of fifteen years ago when I was struggling
and getting my licenses and what Jerrie and all the rest of the girls
had to do to get their licenses.
wonderful to be able to work with a young generation and to help them
have the exciting experiences you have.
And when you interview the WASPs [Women Airforce Service Pilots],
you'll find you're going back in time even more. They helped open
the gates for us in Women in Aviation and for us getting into some
of the space program.
I'm guessing many of them are involved in the Women in Aviation group.
And also the Forest of Friendship inducted quite a few ladies in Atchison,
Kansas, in middle of June this year, and I suspect there were about
twenty there. You see, there's about four or five organizations where
we all see each other through the year, whether you're a helicopter
pilot, fixed-wing pilot, Women in Aviation, or Forest of Friendship
up at Amelia Earhart's home town of Atchison, Kansas.
yes, a great network today.
mentioned all the different types of pilots there can be, and you've
flown a variety of different aircraft, if I'm correct. Was there a
favorite that you had?
a Stearman. It's an old bi-wing, open-cockpit airplane, and I owned
one as a youngster. Well, "as a youngster," as a twenty-two-year-old
in Hawthorne, California. Silly me, I sold it when I wanted to go
overseas, because I couldn't get anybody to work on the radial engine.
And jets were just coming in, and of course to find a mechanic to
work on a radial or a cylinder type of an engine when they could be
out there working on a jet engine, nuh-uh, unheard of. I sold it for—audience
will love this—$3,000. Today that airplane is worth, in good
And I'll go up to somebody that's got a nice Stearman and I'll say,
"Can I have a ride? Can I pay you for a ride? I used to own one
of these. I've got about 3,000 hours in one, and T-6s and WACOs, all
the old war birds."
"Well, I don't know. You have to take our course."
"Okay, let's go for a ride." [Laughter]
I did make an advertisement in the early eighties for Merrill Lynch,
and I flew a Stearman, and I did all kinds of acrobatics and did a
big enough loop where I could have a helicopter run through. It was
wonderful, because Mother could be in the chase plane, and she'd never
seen me perform. For Merrill Lynch, as I went into the sun, the bull
was coming out of the sun, and then I had some words to say. But as
we were going back home and the sun was setting, Mother was in the
chase plane and I was right next to her, and we were both tears coming
down our eyes because we could be up in the air together. She had
her wish and passed on to her daughter with the gene of flying.
wonderful. That must have meant so much to her.
I didn't know about the gene until about four years ago. She just
had told me. [Laughter]
mother sounds like a really wonderful woman.
was. She was great. She was everything to me.
great. Nice to have so much support at home. That must have helped
in your career in being able to have so much fun at what you did,
to have her as such a support and a friend.
both were. Mind you, I grew up in an area where you had free spirit.
There was no reins. I was brought up by the Indians of a Taos pueblo,
and they taught me how to fish and hunt and camp at a very early age,
and survive the wilderness. So I had all that going for myself, where
a youngster today is in a city, in an apartment, and that's all they
know. They don't know ocean and skiing and snow and air as I was able
to know it, and that's why I thank the good Lord for putting me where
he put me.
were in a wonderful environment, it sounds like.
future. We were talking earlier, and you had quite an exciting future
in front of you. You mentioned going over to Russia to do the training,
but you're also gearing up for—
I'm gearing up to go into space, and it's really going to happen.
I always knew, even though the Mercury tests were stopped, I knew
that I would one day go up. It's in my bones. I knew it. And, sure
enough, a company called Zegrahm Voyages out of Seattle, Washington,
has the plans to put a vehicle into space with a space cruiser attached
underneath. And what will happen is that the mothership will take
the space cruiser up to the troposphere and peel off, and then the
space cruiser will then go into orbit. And they'll only have nine
of us on board. It's going to take a lot of training before we get
to go up, but by space Star City training will help for that, of course.
And I'm going to have my nose pressed against that window as hard
as it can go and watch what the astronauts see when they could around.
And I'm not going to have any duties.
the best way to go. [Laughter]
going to go as a paying passenger.
be able to look all you want.
will be fabulous. Hopefully we'll be able to have a chance to sit
down and talk afterwards.
will. Maybe you can come to the launch, because the launch will be
somewhere in California. Because, you see, the vehicle will be able
to take off and land at an airport.
how it's being designed.
put it in on my calendar. I'll definitely be there.
Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect for you in your
Career. Not tests?
I can't say that my tests have been a challenge, because I went in
not knowing what was going to happen to me. So nothing was preconceived.
Challenging. I suspect when I was an investigator and going to all
the schools that the NTSB allowed me. I went to five schools a year.
I went to every aircraft manufacturer, engine manufacturer, propeller
manufacturer, and any of the parts that go with any of the engines.
That was challenging. Going to an accident investigation of a large
magnitude was challenging. But we always came up with a solution.
Today it takes much longer because we've having more accidents, unfortunately,
and we don't have the manpower—excuse me—the peoplepower.
But in my tenure in the office in Los Angeles [California], we had
three states, the entire South Pacific to have as our territory, and
there were only six of us. So we were really scattered, and I was
on the road about every third or fourth day. So I had a life that
was on to the beeper. We didn't have faxes in those days. We didn't
even have ways of transmitting information. It was the good old phone
and pagers were just coming in.
certainly have seen a lot of change in technology since you started
out, both in aviation technology and just—
I teach somebody to fly, it's a challenge. Of course, going back to
our earlier conversation, the kids of today are great. But if I take
a person who has not had any athletic abilities, they're a challenge,
because I've got to teach them eye-hand coordination, and that takes
a long time. One thing I can't teach, and that is good old common
that's very important. What would you consider your most significant
golly, gee whiz. I haven't gotten there yet. [Laughter] If I can make
it through Star City and I can make it into space, that would be it.
But everything has been like building up to it, and I've had wonderful
experiences and wonderful accomplishments, and I couldn't do it without
all the people that were helping to push behind me and seizing opportunities.
It's recognition of the opportunity.
a very important factor that I'm sure you pass on to your students,
to take advantage of those opportunities when they come up.
want to thank you for sharing so much with us today. It's been fascinating.
been my pleasure to be here with you, and I hope that all your viewers
will enjoy it as much as I have.
sure they will. They'll enjoy as much as I have. Thank you.
Funk: My pleasure.