The First Female Boeing 707 Pilot Was Known As 'Captain Pussy'

Illustration for article titled The First Female Boeing 707 Pilot Was Known As 'Captain Pussy'

When Yvonne Cunha applied for flight school in 1969, she was told they were only accepting applications for stewardess training. But she didn't let that stop her, and went on to become the world's first female 707 jet pilot, fulfilling a childhood dream.


In 1974, at the same time airlines were marketing themselves to male travelers by using attractive women, a relatively new airline called Trans European Airways (TEA) was looking for a unique edge and put out an all-inclusive call to women and blacks — neither of which were commonly seen working on the flight deck with airlines. 1974 also saw the first woman to be designated as a Naval Aviator, Barbara Allen Rainey.

Illustration for article titled The First Female Boeing 707 Pilot Was Known As 'Captain Pussy'

TEA Airways Boeing 707 (Wikipedia Commons)

At age 28, Cunha, known as "Captain Pussy" to both her friends and foes became the first woman to pilot the Boeing 707. She faced more obstacles than just turbulent skies. She faced harassment from the men who flew in the seat next to her, telling her she should "stay in the kitchen, pregnant, and cooking for her husband." She even had to design her own uniform. Cunha went on to become a Boeing 737 Captain, followed by the Airbus A300. She flew until 2005, logging about 25,000 hours in the cockpit over her career.

The International Society of Women Airline Pilots estimates that only 4,000 of 130,000 airline pilots in the world are women, with only 430 of those being Captains. If you know a woman looking to become a pilot, Women in Aviation and The Ninety-Nines are both excellent resources.


Top image: Captain Yvonne 'Pussy' Cunha

Paul Thompson is a aviation journalist with over 13 years of experience working in the airline industry, who maintains the website Flight Club for You can contact Paul to submit story ideas, your own "Plane Porn" photos, and comments regarding this or any other aviation topic via email at You can also follow Flight Club on Twitter: @flightclubnews



I honestly never knew of this airline and its role in Black history. I knew i was going to be a pilot. My mom worked for Pan Am and i always spent half our trips in the cockpit (different world then). On my first day of junior high my math teacher told me to forget about it, "they dont let blacks become pilots." I was so crushed ive drifted ever since. Im glad this lady was stronger than me and followed her dream.