92-year-old woman recalls what it was like to become a pilot in the 1960s

Betty Hostler didn't let prejudice stop her


PALM COAST, Fla. – Some people who get anxious on planes take a pill or have a drink to calm their nerves but one local woman decided to face her fear of flying head-on decades ago by becoming a pilot.

It was a move that defied the perception of women at the time.

"My boss said, 'There are two things that don't belong in an airplane, and one is women,'" Betty Hostler recalled.

The comment was made when she worked part-time at Fixed Base Operators at Boca Raton's airport. It was the early 1960s and there were few women flying planes. 

"We were all in dresses and skirts; there wasn't a pair of slacks to be seen," 92-year-old Hostler said.

Nothing was going to stop her or the women in The Ninety-Nines, Inc., an organization of female pilots, of which Hostler is a member. 

"We were so happy and we all stuck together and we didn't care what they said, we just plowed ahead," Hostler said. 

But the great-grandmother didn't always love flying.

"I was terrified of airliners. I wouldn't set foot in one," Hostler said.

That all changed in 1959, when in her 30s, she took aviation classes. Her best friend had moved a thousand miles away -- so Hostler figured she could fly herself to visit.

"It just seemed like a good idea at the time. The idea just came to me. I knew absolutely nothing," Hostler said. 

Her family didn't support the decision.

"They thought it was the dumbest thing they ever heard of. I persevered. I really wanted to do this," Hostler said.

Soon after learning how to fly, she bought her first single-engine plane for $700. 

"My first one was what we call a tail dragger with a tail wheel in the back. They were very difficult to land," Hostler said.

Her determination led to some of the best years of her life.

"It was the most freedom I have ever experienced. I was just mad about it. The most wonderful experience is meeting the best friends and going to places that I would never have seen," Hostler said. 

Those places included Canada, Nicaragua and Mexico. In the 1990s, Hostler was an official with the Angel Derby, a competition where women had to start or stop in a foreign country. 

Although Hostler didn't make aviation her career, she encourages the girls and women from today's generation to consider it as a career path.

"If they need anything, I would say see the Ninety-Nines; there is financial help and scholarships being offered from us all the time. It's absolutely wonderful, and I wouldn't know all the people I know, I wouldn't have been to any of the places I've been to if it weren't for my own little airplane. There are so many girls now, and if there are any that want a career, they couldn't have a better (one)," Hostler said.

About the Author: