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Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie

Known as the "godmother" of early Tennessee aviation, Phoebe F. Omlie started her career as a barnstormer, wing walker, and stunt pilot. She and her husband Vernon settled in Memphis in 1922 and opened Mid-South Airways, the first flying service in the Southeast. In the late 1920s and early 1930s she attained prominence representing the Mono Aircraft Company in national air races.

Omlie was the first woman appointed to a federal aviation post. From 1933 until 1936 she served as special assistant for air intelligence with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (the predecessor to NASA). From 1941 until 1952 she worked with the Civil Aeronautics Administration (the forerunner of the FAA). Omlie introduced the federal airmarking program through the Works Progress Administration, and prior to and during World War II she started schools for primary flight instruction and aircraft mechanic training.

In the late 1930s Omlie introduced aviation into the Memphis public school curriculum, a program that the federal government adopted for its Civilian Pilot Training Program. She and W. Percy McDonald, head of the Tennessee Bureau of Aeronautics, authored legislation that provided the state with funds to improve airports and provide pilot training. In 1942 they started the Tennessee Women's Research Flight Instructor School to ease the pilot shortage in World War II. The program graduated one class of ten and received national recognition but was not adopted and funded by the federal government. After retiring from aviation in 1952, Omlie ranched, ran a restaurant, and traveled as a public speaker.

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » February 23, 2011