This is Katherine Sui Fun Cheung (1904-2003), the first female Asian American aviator. She earned her pilot’s license in 1932, and became a barnstormer who performed acrobatic mid-air stunts at fairs and festivals. She was a member of Amelia Earhart’s prestigious international club of women aviators, the Ninety Nines Club. She was a friend of Anna May Wong, who more than once helped her raise money to buy planes. “I thought it’d be fun to fly so I did it,” she recalled many years later. “There’s no feeling like it in the world. Being up in the air, the wind blowing, the exhilaration…that’s my definition of joy. It’s complete freedom. You haven’t lived until you’ve truly felt that.”
Hazel Ying Lee 李月英 (1912-1944), a native of Portland, Oregon, took her first flight in 1932 at the age of 19. She joined the Chinese Flying Club of Portland and in that same year, received her pilot’s license, becoming one of the first Chinese American women to do so, and among the 1% of American pilots who were women. Following the Japanese attack on China in 1933, Lee traveled to China and volunteered to serve in the Chinese Air Force. As the Air Force did not accept women pilots, Lee settled in Canton and took a job flying for a private airline, before returning to the United States in 1938. In 1943 Lee joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (“WASP”) which was created in an effort to sustain the war effort and overcome the shortage of male pilots at home. She became the first Chinese American women to fly fighter planes for the U.S. Army Air Forces. Lee was killed in a flying accident at Great Falls, Montana on November 23, 1944, while ferrying a P-63 from Buffalo, New York.
More images: Texas Woman’s University Libraries
Documentary by Alan Rosenberg and Montgomery Hom, “A Brief Flight: Hazel Ying Lee and the Women Who Flew Pursuit”: www.hazelyinglee.com
United States Planes in World War II. Illus by Herbert Townsend, from America, the Story of Our Country, 1951