30 April 1969: Turi Widerøe made her first scheduled flight as the first officer of a Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) Convair 440 Metropolitan. She was the first woman to fly for a Western airline.
Captain Widerøe earned her commercial pilot certificate in 1965 and flew the Noorduyn Norseman and de Havilland Otter for Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S, a regional air service founded by her father, Viggo Widerøe. In 1968 she joined SAS and completed the company flight academy in 1969, qualified as a first officer. She later was promoted to captain, and flew the Caravelle and Douglas DC-9 jet airliners.
The New York Times, in keeping with the sexist attitudes of the era, referred to her as a “svelte blonde” and made sure to include her physical dimensions: “. . . who has the height (just under 6 feet), the cheekbones and the long, shapely legs of a fashion model. . . her shapely statistics only in centimeters (98–68–100, which translates out to about 38½–26½–39). . .” ¹
In 1969, Ms. Widerøe was awarded the Harmon International Trophy “for the outstanding international achievement in the arts and/or science of aeronautics for the preceding year.”
Turi Widerøe left SAS in the late 1970s following the birth of her second child. Her airline officer’s uniform is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
Turi Widerøe was born 23 November 1937 at Oslo, Norway. She is the daughter of Viggo Widerøe and Solveig Agnes Schrøder. She studied at the Statens håndverks- og kunstindustriskole (the Norwegian National Academy of Arts and Craft Industry), graduating in 1958. She worked as a book designer and magazine editor, then as assistant manager of a mine in Troms.
Ms. Widerøe qualified for a private pilot license in 1962. After earning a commercial pilot license, she went to work for Flyveselskap A/S, though her father was initially opposed to her career change.
After leaving SAS, Ms. Widerøe went to work for NRK, the national radio and television broadcast service of Norway, as a program director.
In 1972, Ms. Widerøe married Karl Erik Harr, an artist. They divorced in 1975.
She earned a master’s degree in history from the University of Oslo in 1998, and a second master’s from the University of Tromsø in 2006.
¹ “Svelte Blonde Is a Commercial Pilot,” by Judy Klemesrud, The New York Times, 16 February 1970, Page 40, Columns 1–4
© 2018, Bryan R. Swopesby