The Blankinships Become 1st Father-Daughter Flying for Airlines

This “All in the Family” submission comes from the ALPA archives, a reprint of a 1977 article by Carolyn Lee Wills.

Eastern and Piedmont scored a first this spring when a captain’s daughter donned a steel-gay flight officer’s uniform with three stripes and began earning $850 a month. Atlanta-based Eastern Airlines DC-9 Capt. Clyde D. Blankinship can’t hide his personal pleasure in seeing his only child, Denise, master the airman’s art so well she easily qualified for a pilot’s job with a commercial airline. On April 1, First Officer Denise Blankinship went on line for Piedmont and today is based in Wilmington, N.C. as a YS-11 pilot.

No one, though, is happier about it than Denise, and at age 26 she’s already looking forward to the day she’ll get that 4th stripe, much less a lifetime of flying for Piedmont. Looking the part totally, Denise admits that although her dad didn’t “push” her into a flying career, having an airline pilot for a father certainly helps.

“Anyone who wants to fly out to fly,” Capt. Blankinship remarked, “but they must have their own motivation. Denise accomplished it all on her own because it’s what she wanted most.

As a freshman in college, Denise decided she wanted to learn to fly. She was going to major in business, but after flying, her next interest was interior design, so she wound up majoring in home economics at the University of Georgia.

Already she was looking at an airline rating.

“You never know when you might have a medical problem,” she reasoned,” and might lose your first-class medical certificate. So I figured I had to have something I liked to do to fall back on. That’s why I majored in home economics—actually interior design.”

Denise entered college in 1968, starting at West Georgia in Carrollton. It was here the flying bug bit her. She had flown on a pass, had traveled, and of course knew quite a bit about a big airline such as Eastern. She went to work on her private license and received it in May 1969. She transferred to the University of Georgia after two years at West Georgia and began pursuing a double career.

By Jun 1971, she had her commercial ticket, and through intensive training, met all requirements for her instrument rating which was granted her in July 1973—before she graduated from Georgia.

“Dad got interested in little airplanes,” Denise went on, “and I would come home on weekends—it was the only time I had to fly. Dad bought a Piper Twin Comanchee, then a Beech Traveler, Cessna 150, and Cessna 172. He had his own flying service for a while.

“Flying for him let me build up my hours without costing the family. My commercial license didn’t cost $2,000!”

By the time Denise’s graduation day rolled around, she had accumulated 350 hours.

“I guess that’s when I really set as my goal flying for a commercial airline,” she said. But she realized she had a considerable amount of work to do. Her first (of many) jobs was at Scranton with Century Aviation. She pumped gas and answered phones—anything to stay near airplanes.

By October 1975 she had her instructor’s license, and in January 1976 received her advanced school instructor’s license. Last came her air transport pilot’s ticket, which she received almost three years to the day after she graduated from Georgia. By this time she was working for Tifton Contractors as company pilot, flying a Cessna 310.

“I even got in about eight hours flying a DC-3,” she said. “That was the biggest airplane I had flown until the YS-11.”

Last January [1976], the job situation with the airlines eased—and five carriers contacted Denise in short order. She chose Piedmont because she could start higher up the ladder—as a first officer. And in her class of 18, she proved to be among the most experienced, with 3,700 hours.

Capt. Blankinship, who flew Martin 404s and Convairs from Charlotte in 1962, then the Electras, making the left seat in February 1966 as a Convair captain, hasn’t as much time in those small planes as Denise.

And Denise has more time than Piedmont’s other woman pilot, Cheryl Ritchie (formerly Cheryl Peters, who felw for Eastern as a flight attendant). Cheryl had 1,800 hours when she joined Piedmont in June 1974.

As No. 426 on Piedmont’s seniority list, Denise wryly admits nine pilots have less seniority.

“But most pilots at Piedmont look up to me,” she said, smiling. They are not as tall as I am [5 feet, 11 inches].”

Denise, in fact, is taller than her father, so there’s no reason she can’t make it to the left seat, and maybe before she’s past her mid-30s.