women in aviation and space history

Suzanne Asbury-Oliver

Suzanne Asbury-Oliver
WEB12336-2012
Suzanne Asbury-Oliver

Suzanne Asbury-Oliver

Born in Forest Grove, Oregon, Suzanne Asbury-Oliver was very close with her father who had always wanted a career in aviation, but went to medical school instead. When Oliver’s father received a Father’s Day gift of a ride in a sailplane, he naturally took Suzanne with him. Upon landing, her father proclaimed his love of flying and enthusiastically asked when Suzanne could begin taking lessons. She began flying gliders at 14, and first soloed when she was just 15 years old. By the time she was 18, Oliver had her powered-aircraft instrument rating, commercial certificate, flight instructor and instrument-flight instructor certificates, as well as a multiengine rating. She had become an aviation professional. Oliver searched for a way she could do what she loved, fly, and make a living. At the start of the 1980s the major airlines were in trouble and there was little opportunity for public aviation careers. When she saw an advertisement put out by Pepsi-Cola for a skywriter, Oliver first thought it would be impossible to get the job. But she realized there probably wasn’t anyone more qualified, inquired about the position and was promptly put in a plane with the current Pepsi skywriter. During their initial flight, the other pilot, Jack Strayer, wrote “Pepsi.” Suzanne was almost instantly successful and worked with Strayer for a year before he retired and she became head skywriter. Suzanne and her husband, Steven Oliver, became America’s only husband and wife professional skywriting and aerobatic team.

Skywriting is not only a time-honored advertising tradition, but one of the most exciting and influential forms of advertisement. Though it is rarely used today, skywriting becomes very impressive and effective when performed. The Pepsi-Cola company has used the skywriting advertising technique since 1932, and it is perhaps the only company that still employs skywriting today. Asbury-Oliver has been skywriting messages across the skies above the United States and Canada for Pepsi since 1980. From the open cockpit of the famous 1929 Travel Air biplane, the Pepsi SkyWriter, Oliver created thousands of letters 3,048 meters (10,000 feet) above the earth for Pepsi Cola. While she has logged over 5,500 flying hours, her personal favorite are those spent in the Travel Air. Of the plane, she remarks, “I fell in love with the open cockpit flying. Most pilots stare out at the sky through two layers of dirty Plexiglas, but in the open cockpit plane, there is just the sky, the wind, the cold, the ground, and me.” Touring North America from coast to coast, Oliver, now flying a modified De Havilland Chipmunk, skywrites over 500 messages in more than 150 locations each year. She remains the only professional female skywriter in the world.

(information compiled by D. Cochrane and P. Ramirez)