Farewell to a flight pioneer
Doris Lockness, the woman who could fly, has landed.
Three days before what would have been her 107th birthday, El Dorado Hills resident and pilot phenomenon Doris Lockness died of pneumonia Jan. 30.
Decades before the feminist movement, Doris flew small airplanes during World War II as part of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots. The select group of women was called on to test and ferry aircraft by the U.S. Army Air Forces. Of the 25,000 women who applied to join, only 1,074 were accepted, including Doris.
She was the 55th woman in the world to earn a commercial helicopter license and went on to gain additional licenses to fly seaplanes, gyroplanes, hot air balloons and gliders and was active in her flying passion until the brink of the 21st century.
Born in 1910, Doris was raised in Ohio but moved to California with her husband and young family during the Great Depression. They lived next door to a small airport, which, coupled with her fascination with the young aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, were key reasons that Doris started flying in 1939.
“I wasn’t young, but I had four children to take care of,” Doris told Village Life the day before her 106th birthday last year. “Once they were all in school, I’d do the fastest housework you ever saw and then hop on my bike to rush to that little airport.”
After the war, Doris worked as a flight instructor, sightseeing pilot and she performed in air shows for decades all across the country, most memorably in her Vultee-Stinson war bird, “Swamp Angel,” which she bought at war surplus and had until she was 90.
“I loved that little plane,” Doris recalled.
Her flying was a source of contention with her first husband and they divorced. She married Robert Lockness and the two were married for 52 years.
When Robert died 16 years ago, Doris followed her son Dave Rhodes, 84, to the Sacramento region. She lived in El Dorado County for eight years and lived independently until she was 105.
Doris’ need for speed carried over to cars, too. An avid Jaguar enthusiast, she was an honorary member of the Sacramento Jaguar Club. She eventually sold her last Jaguar to her doctor when she was 103.
One of Doris’ fondest memories she shared with Village Life was her 100th birthday party at the Serrano Country Club. She flew a Robinson 44 helicopter at Cameron Park airport as her 100 guests looked on. “It was fun; we did some rolls,” she said. Longtime friend Julie Clark, a former aerobatic air show pilot and one of the first female pilots to work for a major airline, gave Doris’ eulogy last Monday at Holy Trinity Parish.
Last year Doris said there were no big secrets to her longevity. “Nothing dramatic,” she said. “I’d have a glass of wine, never smoked and have always been active … maybe the flying kept me young.”
Whatever it is, Doris mused, “I’ve had a wonderful life.”
On Feb. 1 her daughter-in-law Marlene Rhodes said Doris would want to be remembered for her flying. “She is in a better place,” she added. “She was ready and I know she is so happy right now.”
Doris was honored for her contributions to the promotion and public acceptance of women as pilots in general aviation by the Ninety-Nines, OX-5 Pioneers and the National Aeronautic Association. On the Women in Aviation International website it states, “Lockness’ aeronautical achievements have inspired many to set higher goals and stretch to reach them, encouraging countless women over more than seven decades to put on their wings and fly.”