May 1, 2006
By Julie Summers Walker
Marilyn Elizabeth Thompson knew she wanted to fly when she was 9 years old. Touring the crash site of a downed Vanguard aircraft with her father, an electrician and building inspector in Ottawa, Canada, Thompson stood inside the cockpit and looked at the gauges. "I'm going to learn what every one of those gauges mean," she told her father. He probably looked down at his beautiful green-eyed daughter and smiled.
When she told her mother she wanted to learn to fly, her mother said, "No daughter of mine will ever associate with those wild pilots." Neither parent stopped her. Saving every penny she earned, Thompson learned to fly in 1963. Today, she has a multiengine airline transport pilot certificate, a Cessna Citation type rating, commercial privileges for airplane single-engine land and sea, and private privileges in rotorcraft. "I will fly anything," she says. "Just give me the opportunity." Don't let her glamorous outfits and beauty fool you — her vast experience includes extensive tailwheel time in the Cessna models 140 through to the 195 as well as time in the de Havilland Beaver on skis and floats.
While another successful woman might purchase jewelry or real estate for her birthday, Thompson gave herself a Bell 407 helicopter, which she named Awesome. She added it to her collection of aircraft that includes her "everyday ride," a Cessna CitationJet, and her "girl's sport jet," a French Fouga CM-170 Magister twin-engine military jet trainer, which she refurbished in one year "from top to bottom" complete with glass cockpit and gray and red leather interior. It's named Bad Boy. She's awaiting delivery of a Cessna Mustang and "he" too will get a name. "I name my airplanes after men, not girls like men do," she says with a smile. The one aircraft she regrets never flying? The SR-71 Blackbird.
Over the years, Thompson's varied life and career have taken her from Canada to California; she's piloted a Learjet 24 and Mitsubishi MU-2, and was a pilot on contract work for the Navy with top security clearances.
Oh, and she did finally take her mother flying — on a Mother's Day soon after she got her certificate — and her mother loved it.
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.
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