No Pussyfooting In-Flight!

OK guys: Get your minds out of the gutter, and rest assured that this piece from the Flemish paper De Morgen is entirely on the up-and-up.

Captain Pussy
Yes, that’s “Captain Pussy” (civilian name: Yvonne Cunha, 28 years old at the time, must be of Portuguese extraction) sitting there in the cockpit of a Boeing 707, in a picture taken forty years ago. Her sitting there is no joke, either: yes, it’s a publicity photo, but not one of some stewardess called forward to look pretty in the cockpit. She was the pilot! Sure, not the only pilot in charge of flying that airplane (for the defunct Trans European Airways – TEA), but definitely the first female commercial pilot in Belgium.

So this piece takes advantage of what is roughly the 40th anniversary of her becoming a pilot to look back on how times have changed. For one thing, the early 1970s were clearly a rather politically incorrect time: TEA had just started operations, and as a publicity stunt they were looking for “a woman and a black” to make into pilots. Still, it was very tough to fight against the prevailing stereotype that placed her to the rear as a stewardess rather than up front flying the plane. For one thing, when she finally became a pilot they had no uniform to issue to her: she had to make her own. And yes, when she finally had gained enough seniority to be in charge of flights, she became known far and wide as “Captain Pussy,” on her way to accumulating more than 25,000 flight-hours.

One thing she never did, though*, was fly as part of an exclusively female set of pilots in the cockpit. “The bosses said there had to always be a male co-pilot or captain present on any flight. With two females the passengers would get too nervous, they thought.” Nowadays – and perhaps you didn’t realize this, just as I did not – all-female crews of pilots are not uncommon at all.

* OK, another thing she may not have ever done – but who knows? – is join the “Mile High Club” – but I thought I asked you gentlemen right at the very start to keep your minds out of the gutter? Anyway, if you want to know about that, you’ll just have to get in touch with her.

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