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

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, 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. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Mary Wunder

Friday's Fabulous Flyer

"I started flying in 1978 not because of some life long passion to become a pilot but out of shear determination to live."

Mary Wunder

What may have started out as a shear determination to live ended up being the journey of a lifetime, and Mary just keeps on racing to that finish line.  Mary is the Wunder part of the "Wunder Women" team who will be racing in the Air Race Classic, June 18-21, 2013. After reading her story, you can imagine how fortunate any woman would be to spend four days of flying fun with her. 

Please welcome Mary Wunder~

"Although my Dad had been a pilot in the Army Air Corp, he stopped flying when I was 6 years old to follow his dream of being a restauranteur. Being only 6, I have a just few memories of his flying days. One was that we were at the pylon club (a bar at the airport) and it seemed that they drank first and flew later (what did I know about FARs), and that there was really no Santa Claus as I walked in on my Dad's friend who was getting ready to be Santa Claus for all of us kids. But I have had a very synchronistic life as I have come to be where I am in life through no fault of my own. 

I had 4 girlfriends in high school and we all got engaged for high school graduation. I was the only one who didn't get married and the only one who didn't get divorced. But my only goal in life at that point was to get married and have children, so I did not go off to college like the rest of my friends. Instead, I went to work in the operations research office of a steel mill. 

They were all math majors and in order to work my way up, I too would have to learn all of that. Thus I spent the next 8 years going to night school at Villanova. Unfortunately, 7 years later, the steel mill closed due to foreign imports and I was out of a job. The good news was that at the young age of 25 the government was going to pay me to stay home. What a great opportunity!!!! In the mean time, I had met my future husband at my parent's restaurant and he was just learning to fly. 


He wanted me to go flying with him when he got his license and I must have had the controller genes in me then because there was NO WAY I was getting in that little airplane and not know how to fly it. I figured since my future husband was older than me, if it was his turn to go it didn't need to be mine. 

While we were taking flying lessons, there was a postcard on the bulletin board that announced that they were giving the Air Traffic Controllers test to the first hundred people at the federal building in downtown Philadelphia. My future husband pointed this out to me and since I was out of a job - I took down the information. I was still single at the time and the test was being given on a Saturday. I went out with my girlfriends, got home at 2AM - got up at 5AM - took a shower and was down in Philly at 6AM standing in line with 99 other people waiting for the doors to open at 8 (the resiliency at that age).

As with all things governmental, you hurry up and wait and so it was. My unemployment was over and it was time to get a job. I had a degree in business and my husband worked at the electric company and their credit union needed an office manager. 

I had a little advantage and they hired me. I worked there and built the business to where it had grown from a one teller operation (me) to where there was 6 tellers and loan officers. They were having an election and since all the people on the board were men with high school educations and I had a college degree, I wanted to run. Back in the late 70s, early 80s they wanted no part of that and they told me if I ran that they would fire me. The bylaws said that I was qualified so I ran and they FIRED me.

Some people just can't keep a job and within the span of 11 years I was unemployed AGAIN. 

During this time, I had gotten my pilots license in 1979 and the airlines were hiring pilots with 500 hours. It was something to think about. My husband and I continued flying. We married in 1979 and we took our little Cherokee to Florida for our honeymoon. After 2 weeks of flying around Florida and the Bahamas - it was time to start home. We made it as far as Jekyll's Island and we put down there for weather. 

We had called our flight instructor to see if he would fly down and fly us home instruments and he said NO WAY. We were sitting there with some seasoned pilots and they talked us into flying up the coast at 500 feet until we got into better weather. Gotta love that gethomeitis because that is exactly what we did. But NEVER to be in that position again we came home and started working on our instrument and then commercial and multi-engine ratings. After all, if I was going to be an airline pilot I would need that.

Then, 3 years after I took the ATC test (who even remembered) Reagan fired the air traffic controllers on August 3rd, 1981. I received a phone call - could I be in Oklahoma City for the September 30th class? Why not - I wasn't working. And so the saga began. Now remember that I am in my 20s (if you have had your 31st birthday you will not be hired) and I had never even been in a control tower and here I am on my way to become a controller. 

My husband drove me down because I didn't want to be without a car for 4 months (another control issue :) and as I was sitting in orientation a woman comes up to me, sees my wedding ring and asks me if I needed a roommate. Thank God because you need your girlfriends and they were the toughest 4 months of my life. I had never been away from home for that length of time and the curriculum was intense. They taught the whole private pilot ground school in 8 hours and you had to pass a test on it. Training in Oklahoma City wasn't really a learning experience but a screening process. It measured how quickly you could learn, how well you got along with people and how much stress you could handle. You did not know until the last day if you passed the course and there was a 50% washout rate. The good news was that I passed.

I didn't know that you could turn the government down, so although I gave them 6 towers all within 50 miles of my house, they offered me Wilkes Barre - which is over 100 miles one way and a 4 hour drive round trip. I accepted the position only to find out that my girlfriend was offered a few positions (Long Island and Westbury - New York Center and new York Tracon) and told them that if she couldn't have Syracuse than she wasn't interested. After 33 years she just retired from Syracuse. So we are still back in the early 80s and when I walked into Wilkes Barre they told me that I was the third woman to get there, there had not been one that was successful and I should not expect to be the first - alrighty then - welcome to Wilkes Barre. 

The good news is that I proved them wrong and I WAS the first. I could detail the whole career but suffice it to say that over the next 8 years as I was on my career path at different facilities (AVP, ABE and PHL) - the mentality never really changed - they really did believe that women in Air Traffic Control was an experiment that was never meant to happen. But through all the adversity, I had the best career EVER. 

As with your 31st birthday - the month you turn 56 they kick you out (I actually retired at 53 - my Mom had died and my husband had neurosurgery and you realize you aren't going to live forever). But how cool is that - once again the government is paying me to stay home and have fun which is how I got into Air Racing. 

It was never on my bucket list - it was on Barbara Strachan's bucket list. Barb and I had always done a lot of flying together and she wanted to do the air race. She had a cub and it would be a really long time in a cub and we would have to be in the non-competition class. I, on the other hand had a Mooney and was now retired with more flexibility with my schedule than I did when I was working. Barb and I had flown my Cherokee to Kansas City for a 99s convention but I don't know that I had ever been further west than that. 

We, being flat landers, looked at all that yellow and orange on the sectional chart and wondered - what were we thinking. But we were bitten by that bug and our first goal was to make it to Bozeman, Montana without killing ourselves. We got to Billings and there was the pass. the river, the 4 little airports along the way and there was Bozeman in the valley - it was just beautiful. Who needed to race - we had already WON!!!! That was in 2008 and my husband asked me how many years will I race - my answer is till I die.

The past couple years I have taken a new co-pilot every time and not only do you get to know them pretty well after being at fly camp with them for 2 weeks but you get to learn a lot about yourself also. I am hoping that they will share the air race experience with other women pilots.

This year Juliet Lindrooth is going to be the other part of the Wunder Women Team and I think we will live up to our team name. I can not imagine that I have been in aviation all these year and just met her a few years ago but it's like I have know her all my life. You already know what an amazing woman she is and she is always pushing everyone around her to do great things. We are so looking forward to this adventure and she tells me we are going to win. That is our story and I am sticking to it."
Mary Wonder

Mary.... if you ever need a co-pilot, pick me!!! I would be honored to fly with you. To learn more about the ARC ~ Air Race Classic~ Click HERE.  Please wish Mary the best of luck in the race, and share this her story with your friends. The ARC need all the support it can get!

Enjoy the Journey!
XO Karlene


  1. I love the Friday posts. My favotite of the week. You do a great job of highlighting these folks.

    1. Rob, Thank you so much!!!! It's so much fun to meet the people behind the controls!
      Thanks so much for your comment!

  2. Awesome post of an awesome person. Life throws us curveballs, but when the ball comes around it lands in the most awesome directions... especially if it's participating in the Air Race Classic! Once again.. a Friday Masterpiece!

    Have a "Wunder"full Weekend everyone!

    1. Thank you for the comment Jeremy. She is definitely an awesome lady for sure. And you have a Wunderful weekend too!

  3. Thank you!!! So many stories so little time.

  4. Fantastic! Mary's even more "Wunderful" than I'd previously known! Thanks for sharing this, Karlene!
    Marion Nauman

    1. Thank you for the comment Marion! I suspect you are right!

  5. Thanks so much for this post! I love being able to come every week and read about another incredible pilot and see what they do in aviation.

    I didn't know much about the Air Race Classic before, I went to the site and read up on it. Sounds like so much fun! What an awesome experience!

    Thanks for the post,
    Swayne Martin

    1. Hi Swayne, it does look like a great experience for sure! There are so many events like this that you'll have a chance to participate in, in your future. Wait until you see what I'm donating for the auction. :)

    2. Can't wait to see!

      Have a great week, wherever you may be flying off to!


  6. the good thing about the developed world is that you have some opportunities that do not exist in the third world like mine, Kenya, stories like these are great and encouraging, cheers Wunder Women, joe.

    1. Sometimes we just have to create opportunities. Best of luck to you!!!

  7. Thank you so much for sharing such an inspirational journey from such a 'wunderful' aviator!!
    I am truly grateful for such wonderful blogs! Please keep them up!

    - Inna Matsyshyn (future aviator)

    1. Inna, Thanks for your comment! Best of luck on your future aviation!


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