National Native American Heritage Month: Madine Pulaski, Pilot

Madine Pulaski had a passion for airborne travel that took her from serving as a flight attendant to becoming a versatile pilot. A member of the Cherokee Nation, she was born as Etha Madine Waltrip in 1936 in the community of Eldon, Oklahoma. When Pulaski was in the eighth grade, she and her family moved to California. She eventually attended Sierra College there in Golden State. Pulaski became a flight attendant for Trans World Airlines (TWA) in 1957, working first out of Chicago and then out of Los Angeles.

Pulaski’s strong interest in aviation ultimately led her to give up her job as a flight attendant and instead pursue a career as one of the people operating planes. She earned a pilot’s license and, over time, added a wide range of ratings to that certification.

Pulaski put her skills to use as a flight instructor and also as a cargo and bush pilot. In addition, she flew chartered planes that brought healthcare providers to impoverished areas in Mexico. Pulaski established herself as well as a formidable competitor in various long-distance air races. She also spent her spare time piloting hot air balloons. Pulaski won considerable renown for all of these airborne accomplishments and achieved the distinction of being the first woman appointed to the California Civil Aeronautics Board.

Pulaski died in Newport Beach, California, in 2005 at the age of 68.  Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith, in paying tribute to Pulaski at the time of her death, said that she “dared to have big dreams.” He also noted, “She had courage and spirit, and she was a great adventurer. She also had a gift for bringing people together and was an inspiration and mentor to many young people.”  Pulaski’s husband Rolly underscored how much she cherished her Native American roots throughout her life. He said, “She was very proud of her Cherokee heritage and was always supportive of the nation.”

For more information on Madine Pulaski and other Native American women aviation pioneers, please check out https://airandspace.si.edu/stories/editorial/native-american-women-aviation-pioneers.

A video highlighting Pulaski and her achievements is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtWWaGCQAXA.

(Photo courtesy of Cherokee Phoenix.)

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