This is my grandmother, Nathalie Myrtle Brown:

Nana and Dad

The big-eared kid she's posing with is my dad.

She has a claim to fame in that she was the first female instrument-rated pilot in the state of Iowa, a fact that figures prominently in her obituary

In the 1960s [...] Nathalie and Walt took flying lessons and became licensed pilots. Natalie, the first woman pilot in the state of Iowa to hold an instrument rating, enjoyed flying their planes back and forth between Iowa and Colorado.

I distinctly remember, though, my mother telling me that Nana was the first female instrument-rated pilot west of the Mississippi River.

That memory is the only basis I have for thinking the achievement might have been more than 'first in Iowa'. Unfortunately, Mom died a few years ago and no one else in the family remembers anything bigger than the state of Iowa for the claim.

So, I'm curious. How can I read her pilot certifications from the 60s, possibly earlier?

The sub-question here has been answered to my satisfaction. The "west of the Mississippi" memory is nothing.


next day: I found a newspaper clipping from The Carroll Daily Times Herald, 19 June 1965, showing that she landed in Carroll, Iowa that week. Apparently all landings at the Carroll airfield made the paper. Amusing.

Newspaper Clipping

Here's an undated photo from the website of my cousin, Maribeth:

Nana with plane and friends

Perhaps there's a clue in the picture to date the plane? I have no idea which came first, the Piper Cherokee or the Cessna. @reirab points out in comments that people without an aviation background often call small planes Cessnas and the fact that Cessna is misspelled on the picture certainly supports the idea that it was done by someone without said aviation background. This could be the Piper Cherokee?

  • 4
    I was totally winging it (haha) when I picked tags. Please edit as appropriate. – Jolenealaska Dec 7 at 7:02
  • 3
    Welcome to aviation @Jolenealaska! It's a long way from Cooking.SE! I'm assuming you looked through personal effects? Can you give us an idea on the year she got her IR? That will give us a better idea of how to answer. – GdD Dec 7 at 8:31
  • 2
    Any chance you could locate her logbook(s)? Those would be a treasure! – Fred Larson Dec 7 at 21:36
  • 1
    A charming story. Yay Nathalie! – Stu Smith Dec 8 at 17:02
  • 1
    I think the pictured aircraft may actually be the referenced Cherokee. A lot of people who aren't very familiar with general aviation just call any light, single-engine plane a 'Cessna,' even if it isn't really a Cessna. Most Cessna light aircraft are high-wing designs, whereas the pictured one is low-wing (and, at least from what I can see of it, it looks like a Cherokee to me.) – reirab Dec 9 at 5:33

The FAA has an airmen inquiry search portal. I put Nathalie Brown and came up with Nathalie Myrtle Brown with the following details:

Certificate: PRIVATE PILOT Date of Issue: 11/25/1968

Ratings: PRIVATE PILOT

AIRPLANE SINGLE ENGINE LAND

AIRPLANE MULTIENGINE LAND

INSTRUMENT AIRPLANE

As @FredLarson points out in comments the date supplied seems to be the last change to their database, i.e. address, name or addition of rating, so that means she must have gotten all of her certificates at or before the 25th of November, 1968.

This is a start, but it doesn't give you real dates. If the FAA has that much information they should have a lot more, to get details you should contact the airmen certification branch. I'm not sure what hoops you have to go through, maybe prove you are family, etc.

There is a big database of pilots from the FAA search portal, but it is not complete - your grandmother wasn't in it for example, and there's no dates of ratings anyway. Maybe the FAA can get you access to a better airman database with more of those records, it's possible they simply don't exist anymore though, you'd have to ask.

If she has personal effects left then her pilots certificate or other details may be there, certificates used to be paper, probably folded up. Really useful would be her logbook, which would be a record of every flight she made, there would be endorsements in these which would be useful in learning when she achieved her ratings.

  • 1
    Glad I could help a bit @Jolenealaska, I've added more details which may be useful, it depends how much digging you want to do. – GdD Dec 7 at 9:38
  • 5
    Are you sure the "Date of Issue" means when she originally got her private pilot certificate? Just looking at my pilot certificate, it has a "Date of Issue" that matches when I got the latest certificate due to an address change, which is nearly 20 years after I got my original private pilot certificate and about 15 years after I got my instrument rating. – Fred Larson Dec 7 at 17:18
  • 8
    Just followed the link and looked up my own information and sure enough, it give the same date that is on my certificate -- 20 years after I became a private pilot. So I'd say she got her instrument rating no later than 1968. – Fred Larson Dec 7 at 17:20
  • 1
    I just found a newspaper clipping that has her landing in Carroll, Iowa in June of 1965, so your conclusion that her license was prior to 1968 is correct. – Jolenealaska Dec 9 at 1:57
  • 1
    @FredLarson That makes a lot more sense. It seemed nearly unbelievable that no female pilot had received an instrument rating in the entire state of Iowa prior to 1968. – reirab Dec 9 at 5:39

You may wish to contact FAA Airmen Records in OKC. They will likely have the record. They are retained indefinitely. It will likely have been pruned from the current database, since she does not hold a current medical.

The Date of Issue of certificates is not always the original date of issuance. It is merely the date the FAA made a record update which constitutes a change of issuance for their record keeping. A common example is a certificate number change from a SSN to a pilot ID assigned by the FAA. It used to be that name changes caused a new Date of Issue. Also revoked licenses and their subsequent re-issuance will trigger a new Date of Issue.

As for verifying the other claims, such as whether she was the first instrument pilot in a region, the FAA has not retained that data in the Airmen Registry, and newspaper articles or other sources may be a better source.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.