Katherine Sui Fun Cheung, The First Asian American Women Pilot

katherine-cheungOn December 12, 1904 Katherine Cheung was born in Canton, China. It is unique that her Chinese name means courage and long life. She sure exhibited both of these words. She and her father immigrated to American in in 1921 at the age of 17. She originally wanted to be a singer but her entire life changed when her father taught her to drive and took her to Dycer Airport in Los Angeles. Katherine looked into the sky and was mesmerized by what she saw. This began her life long affair with aviation. She wasn’t content with just learning to drive and decided to look skyward. She broke cultural traditions by driving and again by flying.
After Katherine learned the basics of flight in 12 and half hours of instruction she was given permission to solo. In 1932 she received her pilot’s license.
The Chinese community helped raise $7,000 dollars to by her a plane. It was the time when the Chinese Aeronautical Association, Japanese invaded China. Katherine wanted to return to her homeland and teach volunteers how to fly. She never made that trip but she did become well-known for her flying in the United States.
Soon Katherine dropped out of the Conservatory and married her father’s business partner, George Young. She told him that she wanted to learn to fly. Oddly, her did not object. Then the most important event in her life occurred. Her cousin invited her to take a ride in his plane. At this time in China women were not allowed to fly. She quickly signed up for flying lessons even though only 1% of pilots were women. Katherine didn’t care she was courageous and brave. She is a woman we should know and honor .
Katherine went to the Chinese Aeronautical Association and began to learn to fly. Imagine, the lessons were five dollars an hour.
Katherine stopped flying because of two significant things in her life.
Her cousin was killed in a plane crash. This was the same cousin that took Katherine up for her first plane ride.
Also, Katherine’s father became very ill. He asked her to promise that she wouldn’t fly anymore. She agreed.
Katherine’s legacy lived on. She was honored in by many aviation organizations:
1. The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Association called her the first Asian American pilot.
2. Beijing’s Air Force Aviation Museum listed her as China’s Amelia Earhart.
3. She was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame and the Women in Aviation International.
4. Her home village of Epping showed photos and memorabilia and the Epping Aviation Association and Research Institutes celebrated her coming home.
5. Katherine was honored with a bronze plaque embedded in the Walk of Fame Flight Path. She was one of 30 that were so honored.
6. She was included in an Chinese-American photographic mural displayed in Los Angeles.
7. A playwright performed a play entitled “Into the Blue” about her accomplishments.
8. In 2003 the Centennial of Flight recognized her as one of the most influential in aviation.

Though the Chinese women was brought up to be meek Katherine Cheung was far from meek. She was a role model for other women who wanted to be pilots. Her career wasn’t very long but she made a lasting impact on Chinese women and others who wanted to do something outstanding.

Katherine died on September 7, 2003. She was 98 years old. She lived a long and productive life and should be remembered by the general public.

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