Marylee at the 727 flight engineer’s panel

Aviation World Mourns Loss of Evelyn Bryan Johnson

‘Mama Bird’ was the highest-time female pilot in history

Evelyn Johnson        Evelyn Bryan Johnson in 2003. (Photo courtesy John Riedel/Women in Aviation International)

May 14, 2012 – Evelyn Bryan Johnson, who had more flight hours logged than any living female pilot in the world, died Thursday, May 10, in Jefferson City, Tennessee. She was 102 years old. According to the National Aviation Hall of Fame, which inducted her in 2007, “Mama Bird” Bryan Johnson had 57,635 flight hours – more flying time than any woman in aviation history and second all-time only to Ed Long’s 64,000. She also taught more than 5,000 pilots how to fly, and as an FAA designated pilot examiner since 1952, conducted more than 9,000 checkrides. Evelyn was a member of EAA from 1979 to 2009, and was a Vintage Aircraft Association member from 1980 to 2008. * (excerpt from the May 14, 2012 EAA electronic newsletter)

Evelyn is one of the many wonderful women in aviation who has contributerd so much to fellow pilots. One of her colleagues stated that she had trained as many as 3,ooo pilots who went on to get their private pilot’s license. During my many air show presentations of my book, The Rogue Aviator, I have been fortunate enough to meet and chat with several of the WASP aviatrix ladies and it was always an enlightening experience. Many of them, now in their 90’s, have the spirit and mental acuity of a teenager. The level of chutzpah that they exhibited by going off to fly airplanes is an example of getting “way out of the box,” especially if you consider that is was only a couple of decades prior when women were finally given the right to vote.

During my 36 year aviation career I was fortunate enough to have trained several lady pilots in my capacity as a check-airman in the Boeing 727. One of those ladies was Marylee Bickford. We flew together at four different airlines and became good friends. For nearly a decade she insisted that I write a book about my radical aviation career. Here goading was the impetus for my book. Yesterday, my wife and I met her for lunch in Sausalito, California and she once again displayed that wonderful personality pizazz that led her to aviation as a young woman. The Powder Puff Derby and the organization, Women In Aviation provide a wonderful platorm for the aviatriz. As the cliche goes, “You go girl!”

This blog is prepared by Ace Abbott, author of The Rogue Aviator: in the back alleys of aviation.  www.therogueaviator.com 



  1. rick broomell

    I enjoyed your post about Evelyn Johnson. I met her one time, quite by accident, about 10 years ago. She was the manager of the airport at Morristown, TN. I enjoyed an extended conversation with her. She was starting to be affected by glaucoma. She said she wasn’t able to fly because of it. Her energy and confidence was still very evident, the same strength that prompted her to respond to a newspaper ad to learn to fly many years ago.

    • Hi Rick, If you read my book, The Rogue Aviator, you probaly noticed that an aviatrix by the name of Marylee Bickford provided the encouragement and impetus for me to write my book. All of my many encounters with female pilots since I have been doing book events has been very rewarding. “Keep your airspeed up in the turns.” Allen Morris/aka Ace Abbott

  2. Allan W g Knott

    I salute this intrepid lady, As an R.A.F.wartime pilot of Mosquitoes,Beaufighter,and,Short Stirling heavies I truly admire her.Mick Knott. Thank God for people like her.Over and out!!

    • Hi Mick, It was nice of you to give a favorable”shout-out” to this wonderful lady. I envy you for your interesting aviation background. also, please check out my book, The Rogue Aviator (www.therogueaviator.com). It includes some seat-of-the-pants flying which you are quite familiar with. Allen Morris/aka Ace Abbott

    • She certainly was an unheralded icon amongst the many aviatrixs that did not receive their due. My book, The Rogue Aviator, was written as a result of a good friend lady pilot who insisted I should tell my story. there is a great photo in my book of marylee sitting at the 727 flight engineer’s panel.

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