Reprinted from Woman Pilot magazine – January/February 2002 Issue By Henry M. Holden
“When I was growing up I knew society opposed the idea of women as professional pilots, but ever since I could remember I had the yearning to fly,” said Connie Tobias. For Connie, daring to fulfill that desire with the necessary dedication, education, and discipline to achieve success would take a while. She had the motivation and the determination required to become a pilot but she lacked the financial ability to afford the expensive quest.
Connie Tobias at EAA Oshkosh AirShow in 2011
Since flying lessons were so costly Connie tried replacing her desire to fly with other adventures hoping they would fill the void. She co‑founded a wilderness excursion group and explored new horizons. In just three years with the group she experienced more excitement and adventure than most people do in a lifetime. She sailed the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean, became SCUBA certified, rode horses, bicycles and motorcycles, climbed mountains and rafted the fastest navigable waters in the world
It was during a 3,000-mile 10‑speed bicycle trip across America that Connie stopped at a bridge in the Midwest and saw something that would give her life new direction. “I stopped to get a drink of water just as a jet airplane took off and climbed out overhead. I watched until it disappeared into the clouds and realized again what I really wanted to do with my life was fly.”
“That’s when I decided after my current trip I would go home, sell everything, and become a pilot. I figured it would be better to shoot for the moon and miss than never take aim at my goal of becoming an airline pilot.”
Connie put herself through college with scholarships, grants, and loans. She graduated summa cum laude with two aviation degrees and completed the academics for a Masters in engineering. She worked simultaneous part‑time jobs to pay for her flight training and endured many hardships in her struggle to make ends meet. “Many a hot meal came in the form of peanut butter on toast but the joy of flying was in my blood. I was determined to make whatever sacrifices were necessary to follow my dream.”
Connie earned her private pilot’s certificate in July 1976, and began building her flight time instructing, flying fire patrol, then moving up to charters, commuters, and regionals. In May 1984, Piedmont Airlines (now US Airways) hired Connie as a First Officer on the B-727. “Making it to the majors made ten years of hard work and sacrifice feel like an overnight success.”
Over the years people had told Connie that she looked like Harriet Quimby. Quimby who was the first woman in the United States to earn a pilot’s license in 1911, went on the become the first woman to make a night flight and the first woman to fly across the English Channel.
“I began to research Harriet,” said Connie “I found we shared other attributes. We were both born into modest, hardworking families, we grew up competitive and goal oriented and we shared a passion for aviation.”
Perhaps it was serendipitous, but about a year ago she met Bob Collings, of the Collings Foundation, a nonprofit, educational foundation. Collings noticed the resemblance between Harriet Quimby and Connie and asked her if she would be interested in historical reenactment of Harriet at an aviation heritage festival.
Connie had a copy of Quimby’s purple satin flying suit made, and Collings had an original Bleriot XI the same type Quimby flew. They discussed reenacting a “Harriet Quimby flight” in the 1909 Bleriot. “It was a chance of a lifetime,” said Connie. I was honored and willing to do whatever it took to be able to fly her.”
Connie flies the Airbus 330 heavy jet on international routes for US Airways so she had to get the feel of a Bleriot. She did this by flying light airplanes again including tail draggers. Before her Bleriot flight Connie also consulted with an engineer, a mechanic and three pilots who had flown either an original or replica Bleriot.
Weather-wise it was a perfect day on Tuesday July 10, 2001. The Bleriot can be a dangerous airplane to fly in winds just 5 to 10 miles per hour. The winds cooperated when Connie and the Bleriot rose into the air. The media filmed the historic re-enactment. After the flight Connie stated she would continue doing events in the purple flying suit. She will also include praise for Harriet’s accomplishments during motivational speeches that raise funds for the Harriet Quimby Scholarship at Ohio University.
A love of flying, confidence, commitment and minimal use of the word “can’t” is Connie’s advice for aspiring pilots. Still taped to her desk is a quote that has been inspirational to Connie in her aviation pursuit, “My successes are a source of my joy and my failures are a source of my wisdom. I can, if I try.”
More information on the Harriet Quimby scholarship can be obtained by contacting Lori Lewis, assistant dean for development at (740) 593-1488.
Publishers Note: Back Issues with original articles and photos will be published soon on womanpilot.com
Henry M. Holden is a pilot, aviation historian and author of over 900 magazine and newspaper articles and over 40 published books. His books are available on his website: women-in-aviation.com
Henry resides in New Jersey