Pilot Irene Leverton will be honored on a special Pilot Appreciation Day by North-Aire Aviation Thursday, 24 March 2016, at the flight school’s Prescott AZ training center. The company will celebrate Leverton’s many achievements in flying and aviation since the 1940s. The event will be open to the public from 12:30 pm to 2:30 pm at 6501 N. Wilkinson Drive, across from the control tower at the Prescott AZ Municipal Airport. Irene’s arrival will open the ceremony as she is flown in from Cottonwood AZ by North-Aire Flight Instructor, Cheri Warner. Cake and ice cream will be served.
Triumph Over Hindrances
The most inspiring stories in any career – including aviation – are those in which people triumph in achieving greatness even after their dreams are hindered by obstacles beyond their control. Leverton, for example, was among 13 women who in 1961 volunteered for and secretly passed NASA’s Mercury Space Program’s basic medical tests for becoming an astronaut. Unfortunately, the privately managed and funded program never took off. NASA specifically sought astronaut candidates who had military flight experience, which left out women and other minorities. The Soviets surpassed the US with both the Sputnik launch and the first woman in space.
“(These women) passed the same battery of tests at the legendary Lovelace Foundation as did the Mercury 7 astronauts, but they were summarily dismissed by the boys’ club at NASA and on Capitol Hill,” states an Amazon synopsis of a book about the Mercury 13. That book, The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight, was written by journalist and university professor Martha Ackmann.
“For the first time,” Amazon notes, “Martha Ackermann tells the story of the dramatic events surrounding these 13 remarkable women, all crackerjack pilots and patriots who sometimes sacrificed jobs and marriages for a chance to participate in America’s space race against the Soviet Union.”
Life’s Passion and Rewards
Flying has been Leverton’s passion in a life filled with aviation awards and experiences. During World War II, she tried to serve among 1,000 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) flying more than 70 million miles and piloting 12,650 airplanes across the US for military purposes. WASPs participated in all aspects of military flying, except combat missions and ferrying planes overseas. The WASP program was suspended in 1944, the same year the Chicago-born Leverton completed her first solo in a Piper J-3 Cub.
Leverton joined the Civil Air Patrol and began learning stalls, spins, forced landings and winter flying on skis from an ex-military flight instructor. She sprayed and dusted crops during 1949 and into the 1950s in Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Michigan. In 1950, she participated as lead pilot in opening ceremonies at Chicago’s Meigs Field. In subsequent years, she piloted commuter flights, ferried aircraft, served as a corporate pilot, taught glider students, flew for a multi-engine air ambulance service, taught students studying commercial instrument and multi-engine flying, provided check ride testing for pilots, and graduated from San Jose State College in 1976 with an Associate Degree.
Awards and Honors: Irene Leverton Awards to be Celebrated on Pilot Appreciation Day
1964 – First Place, Woman’s National Pylon Race in Reno, NV
1986 – Women With Wings Award from the Women’s Air and Space Museum in Cleveland, OH
1996 – Inducted into Women in Aviation Hall of Fame; Honored by the International Forest of Friendship.
2004 – Civil Air Patrol (CAP) Commanders Award; CAP Meritorious Service Award; Induction into Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame.
2005 – Received the FAA Master Pilot Award; Honored as member of Mercury 13 by the Texas Women’s University; Honored as Mercury 13 Speaker at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium.
2007 – Received honorary Doctorate of Science Award for Mercury 13 efforts from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
2010 – Retired Flight Pilot Certification with more than 25,762 flight hours during a 65-year aviation career. During that time, she flew more than 25 types of multi-engine aircraft and dozens of single-engine planes. Leverton also logged 200 hours as a co-pilot in a DC-3 flying military personnel throughout the US.