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Meet Our Aviation Alumnus: Julie Clark

— A Julie of All Trades —

Aviation alumnus Julie Clark began her incredible aviation journey at the San Carlos Airport. However, her goal of achieving a childhood dream of becoming a commercial airline pilot was filled with challenges.

Growing up in the Bay Area with her sisters, Julie faced adversity early on when tragedy struck her family. In 1963, her mother passed away unexpectedly, leaving Julie and her sisters and dad to navigate through the loss. The following year, Julie’s father, who was a commercial pilot, tragically lost his life in a hijacking incident on board an aircraft.

Julie, who had spent many happy moments onboard her dad’s flights and enjoyed his educational talks about the mechanics and aerodynamics of how airplanes operate, was driven to follow in his footsteps. This passion for aviation propelled Julie to take flight lessons during college, eventually soloing and earning her pilot certificate in 1969 at San Carlos Airport.

In the early 1970’s, Julie continued to fund her flight ratings through her work as a water ski performer at Marine World, the former animal theme park located in Redwood City; modeling for San Francisco and Oakland Helicopter Airlines ads; and being a flight attendant for World Airways.

This beauty queen says her female “indoor plumbing” didn’t help in her goal to becoming an airline pilot.

“I just couldn’t land a job, despite building hours and ratings, flight instructing, learning how to fly in formation, and expanding my skills to aerobatics and air racing,” Julie said.

In pursuing a pilot position with Golden West Airlines at SFO in 1976, Julie was told she would have to pay for her own training in a de Havilland Twin Otter…in Canada. Training was geared toward Canadian pilots who flew the bush, and who were required to maintain and repair the planes they flew, and survive in remote areas. True to her goal, Julie headed to Canada, and returned with her certificate.

“Despite passing, when I returned I was told they couldn’t hire me for various reasons, including that my hair was too long, and that there wasn’t a women’s bathroom in the airline’s ramp office at LAX,” she recalled.

Growing increasingly frustrated, she persisted. “I cut my hair, then got up in the face of the chief pilot, telling him I would knock three times, call out “this is Julie” three times, before entering the restroom.”

Having run out of excuses, the chief pilot hired Julie after telling her that he “liked her spunk.”

Later moving to Hughes Airwest, owned by Howard Hughes, Julie became one of the first 21 women hired to fly for a major U.S. airline as a first officer, retiring in 2003 as a Northwest Airlines Airbus A320 captain.

During her airline career, she continued to develop her piloting skills in air shows, performing as Julie Clark’s American Aerobatics in her T-34 Mentor, which she had purchased in a government surplus auction in 1977, and lovingly restored and maintained. As a solo aerobatic pilot, Julie’s choreographed and patriotic routine thrilled audiences across the U.S. up until her last airshow in 2019, announcing plans to donate “Free Spirit” to display at the Hiller Aviation Museum at SQL.

Today, after 55 years since soloing at SQL and having logged some 37,000 flight hours, Julie continues to inspire others. A long-time resident of Cameron Park (O61), a residential airpark in El Dorado County, CA, she and her partner formed Clarks Canine Care, a nonprofit that airlifts dogs out of harm’s way—which they did during the Paradise Fire in 2018—or from over-crowded shelters, with utmost care and dignity.

Learn more about Julie Clark’s life story—past, present, and future—in her book “Nothing Stood in her Way,” by Captain Julie Clark,, and


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