SP Guide Publications puts forth a well compiled articulation of issues, pursuits and accomplishments of the Indian Army, over the years

— General Manoj Pande, Indian Army Chief

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— Admiral R. Hari Kumar, Indian Navy Chief

My compliments to SP Guide Publications for informative and credible reportage on contemporary aerospace issues over the past six decades.

— Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari, Indian Air Force Chief

Fran Bera (1924 - 2018)

Fran Bera was such a prolific flyer that she stopped logging her flight hours after 25,000. She won the Katharine Wright Award in 2011 in recognition of over 50 years in aviation with no aviation accidents.

Issue: 06-2022By Joseph Noronha

Not many veteran pilots can boast of a flying career that lasted 75 years. Frances “Fran” Bera was unique in that she not only crossed this milestone, but did so without any accident or significant incident. She was an accomplished pilot who was certified to fly propeller and jet aircraft, helicopters and hot air balloons. On her 24th birthday, the youngest permissible age, she became a Federal Aviation Agency Pilot Examiner – the youngest person, and the only woman at the time, to be so qualified. Thereafter she licensed more than 3,000 pilots. She was such a prolific flyer that she stopped logging her flight hours after 25,000, perhaps deeming the exercise superfluous. One of her friends estimated that she had spent the equivalent of more than three continuous years flying.

Fran Bera was born on December 7, 1924, in Mulliken, Michigan to Hungarian immigrant farmers. She was the youngest of eight children. Her lifelong fascination with flying began when she took a joy ride at an air carnival in Michigan in the 1930s. As a young teenager she hitchhiked more than 50 km to an airfield where she worked odd jobs and saved money so she could learn to fly. Her parents were unaware of this. However, when barely 16, she was ready to fly solo and needed their written permission to do so. They were stunned since no one in the family had ever flown before. Fran managed to convince them and they said, “Good luck, and do it well.” It was advice she took to heart. Following her graduation from high school she applied to join the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (the Wasps) an organisation that ferried military aircraft on noncombat missions during World War II. But she was rejected because of being too short.

Unfazed, Fran turned to air racing and went on to win more than a dozen races. An intrepid participant of the All Women’s Transcontinental Air Race (better known as the “Powder Puff Derby”) she entered the iconic competition 20 times, winning it an amazing seven times, and being placed second five times. Since the race was discontinued in 1977, hers is an all-time record. Another record she established in June 1966 was the world altitude record for class C-1-d normally aspirated aircraft. On this occasion she flew a twinengine Piper Aztec to a mindboggling 40,154 feet, using bottled oxygen to survive in the rarefied atmosphere. This mark too may never be exceeded.

Apart from her other achievements, Fran Bera sold aircraft for Beechcraft and Piper. She was also a free fall parachutist and a test pilot. In 1969 she was an experimental test pilot for Lift Systems, Inc., which was developing a new helicopter design with no tail rotor. In the course of her duties, she became the first woman to fly a helicopter with no tail rotor.

In 1993, aged 69, she flew her single-engine Piper 235 Cherokee to Siberia –“Just for the fun of it,” as she later explained. A woman with a ready wit, she then declared, “I’m getting older… I need to get places faster.” So she purchased a speedier plane – a Piper Comanche 260B complete with all the latest avionics and other fancy equipment. Now 70, but still in search of new horizons, she went back to flying school and got a type rating in a Citation Jet. Yet she was very modest about her many achievements. In fact, on first meeting this woman in a dress who stood under five feet tall, most people didn’t give her a second glance till some more knowledgeable person began to recount her numerous feats.

Fran Bera won the Katharine Wright Award in 2011. It was in recognition of over 50 years in aviation with no aviation accidents or incidents. Another well-deserved trophy she received was The Elder Statesmen Award for Aviation. Established in 1954, its express aim was to honour older people – atleast 60 years of age – who had made a significant and lasting contribution to aviation. For much of her life she flew her own pink and white Piper Comanche, PA 24 – 260, single-engine plane. It had “Kick Ass” printed under the tail section. She last flew it (with a co-pilot) in January 2016, when she was 91. She would probably have continued flying, but chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, arthritis and other health problems made entering the cockpit – which had to be done by climbing onto the plane’s right wing – too difficult. Once she was asked about discrimination in the male dominated world of aviation, Fran Bera replied, “I was having so much fun getting paid for what I loved to do that I didn’t realize that I wasn’t ‘liberated.’” She died on February 10, 2018, at her home in San Diego, following a stroke. She was 93