I was recently granted the privilege of interviewing Gloria LaRoche, the 4th female airline captain in the United States to fly large aircrafts. Gloria shares with us how she knew she wanted to be a pilot at a young age and the challenges she faced as a woman trying to do a “man’s job”. Her story is a rare gem and an inspiration to women everywhere to follow your dreams and never give up. A link to short video clip of Gloria is also included at the end of the interview.
Gretchen: What is your name, age, location and current title/occupation?
Gloria: My name is Gloria R. LaRoche, age 60. I work as an FAA Aviation Safety Inspector for Flight Standards in FAA headquarters in Washington, DC. My area is airline pilot training, where I write policy and regulations and assist in background information in aviation accidents. I retired this May as a wide-body international airline captain for United Airlines.
Gretchen: When did you first know you wanted to be a pilot?
Gloria: At the tender age of eight I knew absolutely what I wanted to do with my life when I wrote in my diary, “Today I have decided to be a piolet. (sic) I’ve not told anyone but God yet.” I went on to fulfill my plan, to be an instructor of pilots, an airline pilot, and an instructor of airline pilots. I even made it into the history books as the 4th woman airline captain in the United States in big airplanes. That was in a Convair 580 in 1982.
Gretchen: How old were you at the time of your first solo flight and were you nervous?
Gloria: The earliest a person can solo is at age 16 and that was me when I took off from a little airport near Nashville. Mother, who’d always encouraged me to follow my dreams, was literally standing by the runway. I surprised myself (but not my mother) when I nervously brought the Piper J-3 Cub back to earth. My flight instructor clipped my shirt tail and put it on the wall at operations and I was in seventh heaven.
Gretchen: Who are some of your female role-models?
Gloria: I had two favorite role models. One was the Baroness de la LaRoche. She was the first licensed woman pilot in the world, from Alsace Lorraine, France. My great-uncle insisted we were related to her as our family was from that area but I’ve not yet found the genealogical connection. My mother, however, felt I was her reincarnated, for the Baroness had set her altitude record on my birthday. (!) Another of my favorites was Amelia Earhart, and I still have a picture of her, in leather flying garb, on my wall.
Gretchen: What are some of your most memorable moments in the air?
Gloria: The MOST memorable incident was a double-engine failure over the Bermuda Triangle in a thunderstorm, at night in a DC-3 (with only two engines). We were in a descent from 8,000′, out of radio contact and with the rain so loud one had to shout to be heard. Luckily, I was able to get the engines running again and we limped to the Miami shore.
Gretchen: Do you have a favorite aircraft?
Gloria: My two most favorite aircraft are the DC-3 and the B-747-400. Surprisingly, both of these airplanes fly the same and one cannot do a bad landing in either of them.
Gretchen: What were some of the challenges you faced as a female pilot and how did you overcome them?
Gloria: I’m sure the first woman doctor or the first woman lawyer never had it as tough as the first woman airline pilot! Male chauvinism was not only tolerated, it was graded! I tried to diffuse their hostility with humor, if I couldn’t just ignore it. Meanwhile, I tried my hardest to outfly them, which of course made them angrier. There’s an old saying, “In order for a woman to be considered the equal of a man, she must be twice as good.” Luckily, this is not difficult.
Gretchen: What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of in your life?
Gloria: The accomplishment most dear to my heart has been being a mother to a tiny baby girl named Kathryn. She is now in college pursuing her dream, as her mother did, and also “making it happen!”
Gretchen: What other hobbies or interests do you enjoy?
Gloria: Had I not been a pilot I’d have been an archaeologist. The new branch that traces the movement of mankind from out of Africa via genetics has currently sparked my interest. And I also love to sit for hours in the archives pouring over old records for our family’s genealogy research.
Gretchen: What advice would you offer to young girls considering a career in aviation?
Gloria: Despite the financial setbacks the aviation community has had in the last few years, the field of aviation is wide open to those who love to fly. So many pilots are retiring now that there will soon be a shortage. And despite the hard life that pilots have, the rewards far offset that. For where else could one have a job akin to being a mouse working in a cheese factory!
Learn more about Gloria, including how her mother helped her sneak in flying lessons at the age of 12 while her father was away on assignment by watching her interview on “Focus FAA”.