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She Aimed for the Sky...and got what she wanted.

Nancy Corrigan was born in Owenduff in Achill, in the west of Ireland, on June 21st, 1912. She was the youngest of four daughters. Nancy’s father was a railway worker who died in a tragic accident, leaving his wife, Maggie, destitute, which forced each of his four daughters to emigrate to the United States. Almost certainly facing a lifetime of poverty, Nancy instead took her fate firmly into her own hands when she set off for America.

In 1929, at the age of 17, Nancy sailed from Cork to New Jersey and eventually settled in Cleveland, Ohio, where she found work with an affluent family as a nanny. It was while she was living in Cleveland that Nancy became interested in flying. While uncommon for a woman to fly in 1932, and extremely expensive, that is exactly what Nancy did! She calculated it would take approximately $700 to earn a pilot’s license, and she was only earning about $10 a week as a nanny. She was determined and had a plan.

Nancy took up modeling to help subsidize her plan to fly. She was a brunette beauty, and launched her career as a model with the prestigious New York agency Powers, where she held her own alongside some of Hollywood’s leading starlets of the day. Nancy was very successful and after three years could leave her position as a nanny. She was now a “Powers Girl” and she maintains that status for about ten years. While in New York Nancy bought her own plane and could finally devote more time to her passion, flying, although still somewhat constrained by her budget, she couldn’t afford many training hours. Quite remarkably, she qualified in 1932 as a pilot after only four hours and forty-five minutes in the air! This created such a stir in Cleveland that her story was reported in several newspapers. 

When the United States joined World War II, Nancy took on the role of fighter pilot trainer in Oklahoma and Missouri. She was the first woman to train male pilots. While in Missouri, as head of the head of the Aeronautics Department at Stephens College, she supervised six hundred women on flight programming certification and all six hundred graduated. When the war ended, Nancy became only the second woman to earn a commercial pilot’s license in the United States. In the years that followed, she logged 600,000 miles in commercial jets and took part in daring high speed flying races and realised one of her greatest ambitions when she competed in the prestigious Kendall Trophy Race at the Cleveland Air Races in 1948. Nancy became one of only two women with a multi-engine, commercial-rating pilot’s license in the 1950s.

Nancy Corrigan’t life is celebrated in a TV documentary, “Sky-Woman of Achill.” 

There is a museum dedicated to her on the Westport Greenway in Ireland. 

The story of Nancy Corrigan’s life appears in the Tonnage NS Centenary book. 

“The Model Pilot” is a special exhibition at the International Women’s Air and Space Museum at Burke Lakefront Airport and it celebrates the life and times of Nancy Corrigan. 

Eimear Healy, who produced a documentary on Corrigan, states, ‘Throughout the course of her career, Nancy obtained virtually every aviation certificate known at the time.’   


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