By Betty Rowley, 99 NEWS editor
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN PILOTS / 99 NEWS MAGAZINE
Fran Bera, Mission Bay Chapter, started flying in December 1940 at Grand Rapids, Michigan, while attending high school in the small town of Lake Odessa. She skipped school to take lessons. When it came time to solo in early 1941, her instructor informed her she needed her parents' written permission, since she was only 16.
She had been taking lessons without their knowledge and was a little worried about having to explain this. No one in the family had ever been in a plane. Her persuasive nature convinced them and they sighed and said "Good luck, and do it well." With this encouragement, she has been flying continuously ever since.
She secured her Commercial license and a Flight Instructor rating, became a free fall parachutist, ferried surplus aircraft after WWII, and continued her aviation education while working in the business as a flight instructor.
She now holds an Airline Transport Pilot license, is rated in Single and Multi-engine Land aircraft, Single Engine Sea, Helicopter, Hot Air Balloon and is CE-500 type rated. She is an instrument rated flight instructor of airplanes and rotor craft. In addition, she was one of the first women in the 1940s to be designated as a Federal Aviation Agency Pilot Examiner which she received on her 24th birthday. She has been a designated pilot examiner for private, commercial, multi-engine and instrument for the FAA for more than 25 years. During this time, she has licensed more than 3,000 pilots.
With more than 24,000 hours, she has been chief pilot for various aviation firms, charter pilot, flight operations manager and has owned and operated her own flight training school and aircraft sales business. In 1969 she was an experimental test pilot for Lift Systems, Inc., which developed a new design in rotor craft with no tail rotor, thus becoming the first woman to fly a helicopter with no tail rotor.
Fran is an active member of The 99s. She also is a member of Whirly Girls, Silver Wings, AOPA, and others. She served three years on the Women's Advisory Committee on Aviation which was organized by the FAA in Washington, D.C. In the 1960s, she served on Governor Ronald Reagan's Aviation Education Task Force in California.
Also in 1960, she was asked to participate in a week - long testing program of 25 potential women astronauts. This was done in early 1961 at the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the first seven male astronauts were tested.
Since moving to California in 1950, her hobby has been air racing. She has set an unequaled record as a seven time winner of the All Woman Transcontinental Air Race, placed second five times and has placed in the International Women's Air Race, the Reno National Air Races and many other speed races, including the Great Race from London, England, to Victoria, British Columbia. She has held the world altitude record for class C-1-d for 32 years, since establishing it in June 1966 at Long Beach, California.
On March 4, 1975, in a salute to women in aerospace, her name was written in the Congressional Record by Hon. Don H. Clausen. She was named as one of the dedicated women pioneers of aviation who played a leading role in advancing aviation, aeronautics and aerospace programs and sciences. In 1978, along with other aviation notables, Fran's name was placed on a granite plaque in Memory Lane at the International Forest of Friendship in Atchison, Kansas. In 1980, she was named "Woman Pilot of the Year" by the Silver Wings Fraternity.
Fran made her living flying from 1945 through 1985 and never had trouble getting a flying job. She was always employed as a pilot. "I was having so much fun getting paid for what I loved to do, that I didn't know I wasn't liberated," she said. Fran was always so happy to be employed flying that she never felt discriminated against. She worked for Beech Aircraft Company for 15 years as a sales representative. demonstrating, and selling new aircraft in southern California, retiring in 1985.
"When I retire," she always said, "I'll get my own plane and go where I want to go, when I want to go "' And she has. After so many years of teaching and flying other people around, she now gets great pleasure in flying her own plane on many trips. In 1993 she flew her single engine Piper 235 Cherokee to Siberia "just for the fun of it." Then she said she needed a faster plane. "I’m getting older," she said.. "I need to get places faster." So she purchased a Piper Comanche 260B complete with all of the latest avionics, autopilot, GPS and other great equipment avail able - a far cry from the early days of no radios. In 1997 she won the 750-mile Palms to Pines Womens Air Race flying solo in the Comanche. And then won it again in 1998 with copilot C.J. Strawn.
At the age of 70, Fran felt the need for a challenge. She went back to school and got a type rating in a Citation Jet. She has invested in real estate which helps support her hobby. She flies to Mexico for pleasure, to Texas on business and anywhere else that sounds like fun.
Fran's new goal is to join the Flying Octogenarian Club. "I'm going to wear out, not rust out," she says.