Katherine Cheung

Year Inducted: 
2000

Katherine Cheung received her pilot's certificate in 1932 as the first licensed Asian-American female pilot in the U.S. In 1935, she obtained an international airline license and flew as a commercial pilot. She flew aerobatics in an open cockpit Fleet and regularly entered competitive air races including the Chatterton Air Race in 1936. Born in China in 1904, Katherine came to the U.S. to join her father, a Los Angeles businessman. She attended the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music (and later the University of Southern California) where she studied music and piano. She was married in 1924 to George B. Young. In 1931, a pilot-cousin invited her to take an airplane ride. That was when her love for flying began and she signed up for flying lessons.

She was disturbed at the news that women were not allowed to enroll in Chinese flying schools in her homeland. Katherine received her certificate in 1932, at a time when only 1% of licensed pilots in the U.S. were women. She also became a member of the Women's International Association of Aeronautics that year. Katherine then began her aerobatics/air show career. From 1933 to 1937, she entered numerous competitive air races and continued her aerobatics career. In 1935, she was invited to become a member of the International Association of Women Pilots, the Ninety-Nines, and became friends with Amelia Earhart. Following the Japanese invasion of China and the disappearance of Amelia Earhart in 1937, Katharine declared her intention to return to China and participate in the war effort by opening a flying school to teach Chinese volunteers to fly. However, a male friend was soon killed while flying her airplane. Katharine’s father, who was seriously ill and near death at the time of the accident, worried that something similar might happen to his daughter and secured a promise from her to give up flying. She is listed in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum as the nation's first Asian aviatrix. The Beijing Air Force Aviation Museum calls her "China's Amelia Earhart." She died in 2003 at the age of 98.

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