The important history behind the Southside’s Stinson Municipal Airport

The Chisme is a culture series looking at San Antonio’s fun facts, useless trivia, and, of course, local chisme of varying degrees.

San Antonio can claim plenty of notable women for one reason or another. Although one history-making lady only spent a brief period of time in San Antonio, it’s clear that Katherine Stinson, remembered as the fourth woman in the U.S. to earn an FAI pilot certificate thanks to her 1912 achievement, made a lasting impression and vice versa. 

Stinson, born in Fort Wayne, Alabama in 1891, not only broke down walls by becoming an early female pilot, but also did so by setting flying records related to aerobatic maneuvers, distance, and endurance. She first began flying at the age of 14 and even flew a hot-air balloon from her home in Arkansas to Kansas City. She then sold her piano to pay for flying lessons, moving to St. Louis. Her mentor was aviator Max Lillie, a pilot for the famous Wright Brothers. He initially refused to teach Stinson because she was a woman.

When she was 21 years old, Stinson, later known as “America’s Sweetheart of the Air,” earned her pilot certificate. In 1915, she performed a loop for the very first time, a treat she completed more than 500 times. She was the first female pilot to ever fly in Canada and Japan, one of the first pilots to ever fly at night, and the first nighttime sky-writer when she spelled out “CAL” while flying over Los Angeles.

Katherine Stinson is remembered today as one of the greatest female aviators in history.
Katherine Stinson is remembered today as one of the greatest female aviators in history.Courtesy University of New Mexico Library

Though she had many adventures around the world, Stinson had a soft spot for San Antonio, considering the Alamo City as having the ideal flying climate. She spent some time here as she stored her aircraft at Fort Sam Houston, encouraged by Lillie. Stinson flew in other parts of Texas such as El Paso and Beaumont.

Stinson’s lasting impression on San Antonio, however, is due to her family establishing the Stinson Municipal Airport and the Stinson School of Flying on the city’s Southside after leasing land from the city. Stinson financed the school while her mother Emma managed it, brother Eddie Jr. worked as a mechanic, and sister Marjorie instructed flights. The school was forced to shut down in 1917 in the wake of World War I.

Majorie (left), Edward and Katherine Stinson pose next to a modified Wright Pusher Model B in 1916.
Majorie (left), Edward and Katherine Stinson pose next to a modified Wright Pusher Model B in 1916.File photo / San Antonio Express-News

Although she had an impressive career, Stinson’s aviation career ended not long after. She briefly worked in the U.S. airmail service during the war and was assigned the New York City-Philadelphia route. During her first trip, she followed her instructor, a veteran pilot, who followed her back to make sure she had the route down. The press reported that she had beat her teacher in a race, which then caused animosity toward Stinson in the community, causing her to quit and end her aviation career forever. Stinson, who died in 1977, was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2019.

Still, Stinson is remembered for her accomplishments and especially honored for them in San Antonio. Northside ISD’s Katherine Stinson Middle School is named after her. The Stinson Municipal Airport, located on the city’s Southside, is also the second-oldest, continuously-operated general aviation airport in the U.S. Today, aviation and history enthusiasts can visit the Texas Air Museum located on site at the airport.

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