Wall of Honor Location:
Foil: 9 Panel: 4 Column: 1 Line: 72
Wall of Honor Level:
Air and Space Friend
Frances Bera started flying in December, 1940 in Grand Rapids, Michigan while attending high school in the small town of Lake Odessa. She skipped school to take lessons and when it came time to solo in early 1941, her instructor informed her that she needed her parents' written permission since she was only 16. Fran had been taking lessons without their knowledge and was a little worried about having to explain her recent adventures. No one in the family had even been in an airplane. However, with her persuasive nature, they signed the papers and said "good luck, do it well." With this encouragement she has been flying continuously ever since.
Fran secured her Commercial license and Flight Instructor rating, became a free fall parachutist, ferried surplus aircraft after World War II, and continued her aviation education while working in the business as a flight instructor. She now holds an Airline Transport Pilot license and is rated in single and multi-engine land aircraft, single engine sea, helicopter, hot air balloon and is CE-500 (Cessna Citation) type rated. She is a rated flight instructor for airplanes, instrument and rotor craft. In addition, she was one of the first women in the 1940s to be designated as a Federal Aviation Agency Pilot Examiner at the then minimum age of 24. She took the exam at 23, but when they discovered she was not yet 24, she was told to come back on her birthday for the certificate. She has been a designated Pilot Examiner for private, commercial, multi-engine and instrument for the FAA for more than 25 years during which time she has licensed 3,000 plus pilots and lost track of the number she soloed.
With more than 24,000 hours, Fran has been chief pilot for various aviation firms, charter pilot, flight operations manager and has owned and operated her own flight school and aircraft sales business. She was also an Experimental Test Pilot for the Lift Systems, Inc., who developed a new design in rotor craft with no tail rotor. In the 1960s, Fran became the first woman to fly a helicopter with no tail rotor.
Fran is an active member of the International Organization of Licensed Women Pilots, also known as the Ninety-Nines, Inc., the Whirly Girls, licensed women helicopter pilots, Silver Wings, Aircraft Owner and Pilots Association, and other aviation organizations. She was appointed to serve on the Women's Advisory Committee on Aviation (WACOA) for three years. WACO A was organized by the FAA in Washington, D.C. In the 1960s she served on Governor Ronald Reagan's Aviation Education Task Force in California.
Also in the 1960s Fran was asked to participate in a week long testing program of potential women astronauts at the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the original seven astronauts were tested. Twenty-five women took these tests who were sponsored by the Lovelace Clinic and Jackie Cochrane.
Since moving to California in 1950, her hobby has been air racing. Fran has set an unequaled record as a seven-time winner of the All Woman Transcontinental Air Race, also known as the Powder Puff Derby. She has placed second five times and has placed in the International Women's Air Race, the Reno National Air Races, and various other races including the Great Race from London, England to Victoria, B.C., Canada. In 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2003 Fran won the Palm To Pines All Woman's Air Race and placed second in 1999. She also placed in various other air races.
Fran has held the world altitude record for class C-l-d, established in June 1966 in Long Beach, California in a Piper Apache for the past 31 years. This record has not been broken to date.
On March 4, 1975, Fran Bera's name was written into the congressional Record in A SALUTE TO WOMEN IN AEROSPACE by the Honorable Don H. Clause. She was named as one of the dedicated women who were aviation pioneers and played a leading role in advancing aviation, aeronautics, and aerospace programs and sciences.
In 1978, Fran's name was placed on a granite plaque in Memory Lane at the International Forest Of Friendship in Atchison, Kansas, along with other aviation notables.
She was named "Woman Pilot of the Year" by the Silver Wings Fraternity in 1980.
Fran made her living flying from 1945 through 1985, and in her forty-year career she never had any trouble getting a flying job. She was always employed as a pilot, and having so much fun getting paid for what she loved to do, she didn't know she wasn't liberated, always so happy to be flying and never feeling discriminated against.
Ms. Bera retired from the Beech Aircraft Company in 1985 after a successful fifteen-year career as a sales representative. She demonstrated and sold new aircraft in southern California.
After retirement, there was no standing still! She always said "when I retire I'll get my own plane and go where I want - when I want." After so many years of teaching and flying other people about, she gets great pleasure in flying her Piper Comanche. She is on her second plane since retiring, needing a fast plane because, as she says "I'm getting older and need to get places quicker!"
In 1993, she flew her single engine Piper 235 Cherokee to Siberia, "just for the fun of it." Since then she purchased the Comanche 260B and installed the latest avionics: autopilot, GPS and other great equipment available today. This is a far cry from the early days of no radios.
At the age of 70, Fabulous Fran needed a little challenge, so again she went back to school and was type rated in a Citation jet!
Fran has Real Estate investments, flies to Mexico for pleasure, to Texas on business and anyplace that sounds like fun.
Her newest goal in life is to be able to join the flying Octogenarian Club.