Bonnie Tiburzi: Italian of the Week

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Bonnie Tiburzi was born on August 31, 1948, in Connecticut. Her father was a pilot during WWII with the Air Transport Command and TWA. He later started his own regional airline called Tiburzi Airways. By the time she was 12, Bonnie had already learned how to work the instruments of several different planes and her father had started to give her proper flying lessons. She quickly realized that she wanted to pursue being a pilot for her career.

By 1972, Bonnie had earned her private, commercial, instructors, instrument flying and multi-engine pilot’s licenses. She was flying for a small commuter airline in Florida as well as a copilot for a private charter company in Europe, and the following year when she applied to be a pilot for American Airlines where over 15,000 applicants were competing for 214 positions. Frontier, at that time a regional airliner, had just hired its first female pilot and Bonnie was hopeful that this was a sign of shifting attitudes towards female pilots. She was right – American Airlines hired her as the first female pilot of a major airline and the first female flight engineer of any airline in the U.S. During her tenure as a pilot, and despite her training and status, many customers doubted her abilities. She was regularly asked if she could land the plane or if she was just waiting for her boyfriend. Baseball great Ted Williams “demanded to see her license and during the flight kept asking if she really could fly” (Flying Above the Glass Ceiling).

National Air and Space Museum Curatorial Files'Six years after being hired by American Airlines Bonnie was promoted to co-pilot. In 1988, she was promoted to captain and flew Boeing 757s and 767s to international destinations in Europe and South America. After 26 years of flying, Bonnie retired her wings. She’s received many awards and recognition for her time flying including the Amita Award for Outstanding Italian American of the Year in 1974, the Amelia Earhart Award in 1980, and most recently the National Women’s History Museum gave her a “Women Making History” award in 2015.

 

Sources: Facts on File, American Airlines, Women in Aviation, Flying Above the Glass Ceiling, National Women’s History Museum
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