Pilot Gloria LaRoche

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?

Girl PilotGloria: 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”.

17 Comments

  1. Andreya on December 1, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    Wow, I am full of admiration!!
    Cool interview! =D>
    I wanna fly someday too!!

  2. Glen Morton on November 20, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    Hi There y’all
    You had an interview with one of my most admired persons, Gloria LaRoche.
    She referred me to your web site, which I think is great. Gloria was my flight instructor down in Texas, and my first one to amount to anything. She instructed me through my commercial rating. I did not continue with my flying ambition for several reasons, family first, finances, first class medical—- This was back in ’72 over 30 years ago and I have admired and been so very proud of her all this time. We have kept in touch for all these years and her accomplishments and heartbreaks were felt as if they were my own.
    Thank you for a very nice interview with a very great “GIRL” that did “IT”.
    Best of everything to you “Girls That DID IT”

  3. Kat La Roche on March 7, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    Good interview mom I liked you in it. Good job at fullfilling your dreams, I just hope that I can do the same as you did. I love you mom Love Kat xoxoxoxoox xoxoxox

  4. gretchen on March 8, 2007 at 7:54 am

    Hey Kat – thanks for dropping by. You are so fortunate to have such a cool mom! :)

  5. Vanessa on September 23, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    It was so great to see Gloria tell her story…It is truly inspirational.

    Vanessa

  6. Ernie White on October 5, 2007 at 9:59 am

    It’s been a while since we flew together (I also went thru my Comm’l & CFI with Gloria as Chief Instructor) – I knew that “frisky pen” would take you far – not to mention that people who take big bites usually succeed. Congradulations & best wishes. It sounds as if you achieved everything you set out to do!
    Ernie

    Drop me a line if you get a chance.

  7. Christy LaRoche on October 26, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    Gloria,
    If you get this…I am researching some family history. My grandfather(William Fredrick) has a letter from a Gloria LaRoche in 1980 (Michigan) and then another from her again in 1981(Georgia). He has since been trying to contact Gloria LaRoche and has had no luck. If you know anything or even nothing please contact me.
    Christy LaRoche

  8. David Waldrup on January 27, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    Gloria was my flight instructor in 1970-71 at Dallas-Garland Airport. I was not the best of students. My friend took a photo of her one day after Gloria and I had flown a training flight and I would like to pass it on to her. I was amazed to so easily find this blog and the video. What a great story of determination and following your dream. I would very much appreciate a reply as my wife and I now live in Reston, VA and I would like to meet Gloria at some point, if possible, and fly the hangar a bit.

  9. Krissy Najera on February 26, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Great Interview and she is totally correct with her quote “In order for a woman to be considered the equal of a man, she must be twice as good” I’ve been going through this since I started flight training about 8 years ago. From being a Flight Student, a Flight Instructor, a Flight Engineer to being an Airline Pilot I have to work twice as hard as male pilots. I can only imagine what she had to go through when she first began her career. Thank you for being a great role model!

  10. Tom the Silverback on December 11, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    ***Comment Removed by Admin***

  11. captaink727 on December 12, 2008 at 12:28 am

    Mr “tom the silverback” I’m not going to stoop down to your immature level. You obviously DO NOT KNOW what it is or how it is to be a woman in a predominantly male field. Nor do you know anything about me or what I’ve been through. So please leave your negative comments off of this “predominantly woman” website! Thank you and have a fantastic day!

  12. Phil Calvert on May 10, 2009 at 1:06 am

    Gloria was my multi-engine instructor in the 70’s at Dallas’ Love Field. Not only was the best instructor I ever had she was certainly the most beautiful. I’m sure she remembers sitting the back seat of the Seneca on my check-ride and the most interesting ‘engine-out go-around’ we had. Thanks Gloria for everything you have given of yourself in the love of flying. I for one will never forget you.

  13. Emilie Thompson on January 4, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Hi, Gloria. I was wondering if you were still flying. I still the photos I took of Kat when she was brand new. Now I have a granddaughter named Kat as well. I hope you Kat is flying. We are in Virginia, building a light sport and hoping to get back in the air by summer. Emilie and Rich

  14. Larry Hofmeister on September 28, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Hi Gloria,
    Glad to see you are at the FAA.
    They really need someone of your dedication and knowledge.
    I have retired in Florida.
    I am enjoying the great weather, fishing and boating.
    Not doing much Flying anymore.

  15. Shannon {Lawrence} Berrier on May 13, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    Hey Gloria
    I hope you remember me. We were neighbors in Middletown, KY at Vieux Carre. You have come a long way & through the years we lost touch. I see that Kathryn is a grown Woman and doing well. I knew she would be successful just like her mother. George often talked about you & all your accomplishments. He passed away in 2006. I am re-married to Master Sergeant Steven Berrier. Good luck with your currant position at FAA

    • Jack Hinson on December 16, 2016 at 10:54 am

      Good luck and best wishes to Gloria. She was a sky diver at Cornelia Fort airport in Nashville, Tn. The owner of the airport, Bill Colbert, asked me to give her a demo flight that started a relationship. I was flying a lot for a local company. When I would fly back to Nashville, no matter what time of night, she would be the one to vector me to park. She is a remarkable woman.

  16. Madison on August 10, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    I’m sitting with amazing woman right now and before I met her I had no idea of to who she was but now I’m in awe

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