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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

Type rated on A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration.

Friday, September 11, 2015

911 and Beverley Bass

Friday's Fabulous Flyer!

New hire pilot with American 1976.  Third female hired with the airline.

Beverley Bass

I am not sure there is a pilot around who does not remember where they were during 911. I was in Texas instructing in American Airline's simulators. And while this horrific event took the lives of many, and change the lives of everyone else in the world, what it also did was show that when times are the most difficult, there is a goodness in the world and human kindness will prevail. Today is the story of a Captain, her life, and what happened during that fateful time. Karlene 

How I (Beverley) Became a Pilot 
And what happened during 9/11


"I don’t really know what caused my fascination with flying, but I do know that I simply can’t remember a time when I wasn’t passionate about airplanes. I remember jumping off of the kitchen counter and wondering why I couldn’t fly across the room. Of course I always ended up in a heap on the kitchen floor."

When I was around 8 my parents went on a weekend trip to Miami and my Aunt Ginger was keeping me for the weekend. We were driving down the strip and saw a sign on the side of the road that said “airplane rides” for a penny a pound. This was it. This was my chance to go flying. all I needed to do was scrounge up 3 quarters and I was good to go. I begged and begged her to let me go, but she wouldn’t because she was responsible for me while my parents were away. It would end up being the only argument she and I would ever have.

Flying first officer on the B727, 1980

A few years later National Airlines began flying a B-727 from Tampa to Ft. Myers every night around 9pm. I would ask someone to drive me out to the local airport so I could watch the jet as it gently let down on it’s final approach and subsequent landing. 


It was such a thrill for me. I would stand right next to the chain link fence never taking my eyes off of it’s landing lights and truly believing that the guys in the cockpit without a doubt had the most exciting job in the world. I knew right then that that was what I wanted to do someday. 


When I was 16, I wanted to take flying lessons, but my parents would not agree to it. We were very busy raising, training and showing registered quarter horses and I think they were afraid that flying would interfere with the horse operation.

However, when I left for college in 1970 we sold the ranch and I took my first flying lesson after my freshman year at TCU. I came home from that lesson and told my parents I would fly for the rest of my life. Of course I didn’t know in what capacity, but I knew it would be forever. It WAS my passion!

 First female captain with American B727, 1986


My parents raised me to believe no dream was too big. I could do whatever I wanted as long as I was willing to work hard to achieve my goals. I am an only child who hunted on horseback in the Florida everglades at night with my dad, and was in fashion shows with my mom. There is no doubt they supported me every step of the way, but what they failed to tell me was there was something called gender discrimination.


I went to college during the day and spent afternoons and evenings working on my flight ratings and licenses. I applied for numerous jobs with lots of aircraft experience under my belt, but was turned down with statements such as: 
“We would love to hire you, but we just can’t have a woman flying our airplanes. I mean what would the wives of the executives think?” 

I didn’t really have an answer for that. I just wanted to fly the airplane.

New captain 1986 B727


All it takes is that one person to give you a break and for me it was a gentleman by the name of Lynn Stiles in Ft. Worth, Texas. He was a mortician who kept his “body hauling” bonanza at our flight school. One day he needed a pilot and I was the only one around. I volunteered to deliver a 19 year old girl who had died of an overdose to her family in Hope, Arkansas. I was only 21 at the time. For the next two years I flew for him logging hundreds of hours and my pay was $5.00 an hour. It was my first break AND my first flying job.

From there I went on to fly for two corporations and a night freight company out of Dallas Love Field.


In 1973 Frontier Airlines became the first airline to hire a female pilot. Her name was Emily Warner. Two months later American hired Bonnie Tiburzi who flew for 8 months and was then furloughed for 21/2 years.

 Captain B777, 2006


Even though American was one of the first airlines to employ female pilots there were concerns about our longevity. They feared we would get married, have kids and quit flying defeating the huge investment that is put into each pilot throughout their career.


I remember during my interview being quite emphatic about having no plans to get married and certainly would not be having any children and I made it very clear that I was in for the long haul. I had every intent of being a Captain on the biggest airplane in the system.

Shortly after my first child was born
his name is Taylor Stawicki, 1991


In 1976 Bonnie was recalled from being furloughed. Angela was hired in September and I was hired in October. We had nearly 4,000 pilots on the seniority list at that time so the three of us were novelties for sure. We were known by our first names only and pretty much lived in a fish bowl. Nearly every cockpit we entered had never flown with a female aviator.

When we walked through airport terminals we were stared at, whispered about and smiled at. Many passengers would take the time to speak to us. It was a very exciting time for sure.

I remember being a new flight engineer when the passengers were boarding our B-727. One lady peeked into the cockpit and saw me sitting there. She said to the flight attendant:

 “I didn’t know the captain had a secretary.”


We no doubt presented new challenges to the company. American did everything possible to not dress us up like male pilots. We had a female blouse, tie and hat. I always appreciated that when I saw female pilots with other airlines who looked as though they were dressed up in their father’s clothes.


In 1977 I met a gal who flew for Braniff. She and I actually lived in the same apartment building in New York City. We became instant friends and thought it would be fun to meet the women who were flying for the various airlines. There were approximately 30 of us in the U.S. at that time. We wrote a letter and sent it to the chief pilot of every airline that employed a female pilot.

ISA convention in Berlin 2015  all of these gals will be in Seattle
Terry Rinehart, Beverley Basss, Karen Nathan, Judy Lee


And so it was in 1978 we had our first gathering in Las Vegas. We formed a social organization called ISA+21, International Society of Women Airline Pilots. There were 21 of us at the first convention. The organization is still going strong today with several hundred members from all over the world.


It has been said by many that I had a charmed career and I would have to agree with that. I flew every airplane I wanted to, was a  Captain Check Airman (CKA) for 16 years on 4 different jets and never endured a furlough.

There have been many milestones throughout my career that spanned over 3 decades, but I have attributed many of those to “simply the seniority system” and the way it works. I had the privilege of being the first female captain for American in 1986 and only one month later had the first all female crew on the 727.


After a 2 year stint as Captain I was honored to have been asked to be a CKA. I am grateful to the chief pilots for not only approving my application, but for taking a chance with me. None of us were sure of how the senior Captains would handle getting a check ride from a relatively new Captain whose uniform hat didn’t look quite like theirs. Needless to say, they were stoic professionals and we quickly learned that it was never an issue. 

My daughter Paige stawicki 2015


Shortly after the completion of 767 training in 1990 I learned I was pregnant with my first child. I was on maternity leave exactly one day when I was offered a ground job working in flight standards, which I gladly accepted. On the last day of that job the office surprised me with a baby shower. There is nothing unusual about that except… it was given by all male pilots. Ladies, do you have any idea wheat it is like to be at a baby shower with all men? I returned to my position as CKA on the 767 flying international when my son was only 9 weeks old.

This is my son Taylor Stawicki with me in Buenos Aires around 2003.
he’s sitting in the engine of a B777. He is 24 years old today

Only a few months later I was expecting my second child. Now, if you will remember, these are the children I was never going to have with the husband I was never going to marry. This time I was offered a job as an assistant Chief Pilot working in the DFW Flight office.


One day Captain Mike Hixon came in and said he needed to get a 757 over to Alliance and would I go with him. Apparently I was the only other pilot in the office that day qualified on the airplane. I said, “Mike, look at me, I have on a dress and I’m 7 months pregnant.” He said, “That’s no problem, “I’ll bring the kitbag, just meet me at the gate.” So there I was doing a walk around in my pink dress. I figured I could talk on the radio while he flew. Oh no, he says hop in the left seat and fly us over there. Now, you can only imagine what those poor maintenance guys at Alliance thought when they walked into the cockpit and saw a pregnant pilot in a pink dress flying the airplane!

First B777 captain 1998 for an airline

1998 777 CKA

Now I’m going to fast forward to 1998. American had purchased the brand new B-777 and I was invited to be one of the original 22 Check Airmen who would be responsible for introducing the aircraft and developing the training program for the new jet. We were wined and dined by Boeing in Seattle as we awaited the delivery of our first aircraft. It truly was like waiting for the birth of a new baby. They even passed out cigars!! Those were the glory days. We were making money, buying jets and hiring pilots.


I’m sure every person in this room can recall where they were the exact moment they learned about the events of 9/11. I am no exception.

Early that morning I was on the other side of the Atlantic in Paris preparing for our 10 hour flight back to Dallas. As I recall it was a beautiful day. The co-pilot and I had just finished lunch. We were right over the middle of the North Atlantic when we heard on the radio that an aircraft had hit the world trade center. 20 minutes later we learned a second aircraft had hit the remaining tower.

We quickly learned that not only was New York’s airspace closed, but now all of the U.S. airspace was closed and every single a/c that was airborne would be planning a diversion. Our aircraft was ordered to divert to Gander, Newfoundland where we would ultimately spend the next 5 days.
Recipient of the Katherine Stinson award in Washington DC
after the 911 diversion to gander, 2002

Gander, Newfoundland


We were the 33rd out of 37 wide bodies to land, and upon touchdown at approximately 10 am we were told we would not be deplaning until sometime the next day. We spent the next 21 hours on the plane with our 156 passengers and crew.

Everything you can imagine had to be delivered to the airplanes during the night. Over 2,000 prescriptions were filled. Diapers, formula, water, nutria-grain bars and smoking patches were delivered to every airplane. All the animals in the bellies had to be cared for. 

Gander 9/11


The school bus drivers were on strike, but came off to shuttle 6500 passengers to facilities and hotels all over Newfoundland. The women of Gander stayed up all night cooking so each and every passenger was offered a buffet of food as they deplaned and were officially registered by the Red Cross.


For the next 5 days every passenger got three hot meals a day. The folks of Gander never stopped cooking and preparing food for the uninvited guests. Walmart opened their doors and allowed people to get pretty much anything they needed for free.


The Newfies treated us like distinguished guests. They took passengers hunting, fishing and cooked moose burgers for them.


I sent two plaques to the Gander Airport with our flight number and names of all the crew members to thank the people of that tiny town who spared nothing, not even their hearts to welcome us to their land.  A beautiful documentary narrated by Tom Brokaw aired two years ago during the winter Olympics. It was called Operation Yellow Ribbon and it told the story of Gander and the role they played during 9/11.


My husband and I actually returned to Gander for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I wanted him to know where I spent those 5 days that will forever be etched in our memories.


I continued to fly for seven years after 9/11, but elected to retire early in 2008. I was in my 32nd year of the most amazing journey anyone could have asked for. I can honestly say that I was right about those pilots that I used to watch land that B-727 when I was a kid. They DID have the most exciting job in the world and I was lucky enough to live that dream." Beverly Bass. 

And then came the play... 

Come From Away is an original, rock-inspired world-premiere musical based on the true story of when the isolated town of Gander, Newfoundland played host to the world. What started as an average day in a small town turned in to an international sleepover when 38 planes were diverted to Gander on September 11, 2001. Undaunted by culture clashes and language barriers, the spirited town cheered the stranded travelers with music, an open bar and the recognition that we’re all part of a global family.

Inspired by true events

Book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein

Directed by Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley

A co-production with Seattle Repertory Theater

My husband Tom Stawicki, daughter Paige
and  at the play in La Lolla

Come From Away


Enjoy the Journey! 
XO Karlene

1 comment:

  1. What a great Friday flier, and so apropos on 911.

    I can't wait to see the play in Seattle. I'm going with a group of ISA+21 women and Beverley (and Karlene!) on opening night, November 18th. Tickets are available at the Seattle Repertory Theatre:

    It's supposed to be so good that it is headed to Broadway after Seattle! Held over twice in San Diego this July!


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