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Colorado Native Honored For Flying Through Glass Ceiling

By Raetta Holdman

DENVER (CBS4)- Colorado native and flying pioneer Emily Hanrahan Warner is being inducted in the Irish American Hall of Fame Saturday in Chicago.

She broke the glass ceiling for commercial pilots when she became America's first female airline pilot.

Warner told CBS4's Jim Benemann it's a real honor.

"When I got the word that I was going to be inducted, I was really thrilled," Warner said. "I was really excited. My family was all Irish and my mother had a beautiful voice and at night she would sing Irish songs to put my sister and me to sleep. And it worked."

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CBS4's Jim Benemann interviews Emily Hanrahan Warner (credit: CBS)

And while she slept, Warner dreamed of flying.

Born in Denver during the Great Depression, Warner didn't consider herself a pioneer as she nourished her dream.

"I wanted to learn how to fly," Warner recalled. "I asked my mother and she said, 'Oh that's foolish.' I said 'Could I just take a couple of lessons? I'll pay for them myself, Mom.' She said, 'Well okay.'"

Warner worked two jobs to pay for those lessons, one as a sales clerk and the other as a secretary. At 18, she earned her pilot's license.

"I ended up a few years later taking my dad and mother for their first flight in an airplane. My mother wanted to take over the controls."

But it was 1973 before her life really changed when a friend introduced her to Ed O'Neil, then Frontier Airline's Vice President of Operations.

"Jack said, 'Ed this is Emily Hanrahan' at the time. 'I'd like you to meet her and listen to what she has to say and give her a chance,'" Warner recalled.

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Emily Hanrahan Warner (credit: CBS)

"So Mr. O'Neil listened to me for a while and we talked. Sort of toward the end of our meeting with him he said, 'Well, what we will do for a uniform for you?' I just about died. I said 'Mr. O'Neil, that's the least of your problems.'"

On April 10, 1973, Warner became the first woman hired by an American carrier and took control of a 737 for Frontier Flight #379A. In 1976, she became America's first female airline captain.

She adds the induction into the Irish American Hall of Fame to a long list of awards and accolades.

Warner traces her Irish roots to Longford in County of Westmeath and Waterford. Her family came to the United States during the famine of 1845-50.

Other inductees include actors Spencer Tracy and Brian Dennehy as well as Pultizer Prize winning author Frank McCourt and baseball legend Nolan Rylan.

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Emily Hanrahan Warner (credit: CBS)

"This is one of the best experiences of my life. I'm so proud and so thankful for the Irish Hall of Fame for giving me this honor."

Raetta Holdman is a veteran newscast producer. She's been with CBS4 for more than 25 years, coordinating events -- large and small -- from the control room. Contact her by clicking here.

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