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Captain Janis Keown-Blackburn: Retired Spirit Airline Pilot

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Andrea Tarr

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Since 1784 when Elisabeth Thible became the first woman to fly in a hot air balloon, women have been a part of aviation history. The US Navy announced pilot training for women in 1973; progress was slow but steady, and finally in 1973, a woman piloted a Boeing 747. Janis Keown-Blackburn had a 36-year career as a pilot, 14 of which were spent with Spirit Airlines, and racked up more than 22,000 hours of flying time. Her career aspirations began as a young girl when watched small planes flying. Back then, she wanted to be a flight attendant “because that is what girls did in the 1960s.” She interviewed with Eastern Airlines to become a flight attendant, wasn’t hired, decided to take flying lessons, and has never looked back. During her career, Janis has been a pilot for Princeton Airways, Summit Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, Eastern Air Lines, KIWI International Airlines, and Spirit Airlines. She has seen many changes and challenges during her career in the aviation industry. In 2015, Captain Keown-Blackburn was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame and Museum of New Jersey. As the first female pilot to retire from Spirit, she remains engaged with her efforts to promote aviation to youth groups, student pilots, and the public. These days, the retired captain spends her time as a town council member of Belmar, NJ and as a flight instructor at the Monmouth Area Flying Club. With all this, Janis also found time to write a children’s book Teddy, The Airplane. After the interview, please check After Hours at Jersey Coastal Live for more info.

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