Captain Kahn Photo | Credit: Courtesy

Captain Karen M. Kahn, a longtime fixture of the Santa Barbara Airport and among the first female commercial airline pilots in the country, received the esteemed Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award last week. The Federal Aviation Administration’s most prestigious award is bestowed upon pilots who have exhibited professionalism, skill, and aviation expertise for at least 50 years.

“It is with great honor that we celebrate Captain Kahn’s landmark achievement,” said Henry Thompson, director of the Santa Barbara Airport, where Kahn serves as a commissioner. “Captain Kahn has reached the highest level of honor for a U.S. pilot. She is truly a leader, and we are proud to call her one of our own.”

Prior to beginning her Continental Airlines career in 1977, Kahn taught flying at Sierra Academy in Northern California, where she also operated her own weekend ground school. Since her retirement from commercial aviation, she has been working as an activist with a local nonprofit, A Different Point of View (ADPOV), helping to advance the lives of “at-promise” youth through exposure to the field of flying.

“When youth see Captain Kahn in her captain’s uniform and she engages with them, they receive the lasting message that the sky really is the limit,” said Ali Cortes, ADPOV Executive Director. “At each step of her career, she blazed trails for aviators of all kinds to achieve their goals. She continues doing this with every young person who has the chance to meet her.”

Kahn was the first female pilot to be type-rated on the Lockheed JetStar, a private business jet built in the 1960s and ’70s. She is also rated for multi-engine aircraft, turbojets, seaplanes, and helicopters.


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