Asian and Pacific Islanders Aviation Heroes

Asian and Pacific Islanders Aviation Heroes

AFA celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander Aviation heroes. 

Katherine Sui Fun Cheung

Born in 1904, a year after the Wright brothers’ first flight, Cheung arrived in the U.S. in 1921.

After only twelve and a half hours of flight training, Cheung made her first solo flight. She earned her pilot license in 1932, becoming the first Chinese-American woman to do so. At the time, only about 200, or one percent, of licensed American pilots were women.

She was known for performing spiral pes, acrobatic loops, and barrel rolls and flying an open-cockpit airplane upside down at county fairs.

Arthur Tien Chin

Chin is recognized as America's first ace in World War II. A half-century after the war ended, the U.S. government recognized Chin as an American veteran by awarding him the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal. About a month after Chin died, on October 4, 1997, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the American Airpower Heritage Museum in Midland, Texas as the first American ace of World War II.

After his aviation career, Chin became a postal worker in his hometown of Portland. On January 29, 2008, Congressman Representative David Wu (D-Oregon) introduced House Resolution 5220 to name a United States Post Office in Aloha, Oregon after Major Arthur Chin as the "Major Arthur Chin Post Office Building". It was unanimously approved by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. President Bush signed it into law on May 7, 2008.

Hazel Ying Lee

Hazel Ying Lee broke barriers by becoming the first female Chinese-American pilot to fly for the military during World War II.

Lee was born in Portland on August 24, 1912. Her parents, Yuet Lee and Ssiu Lan Lee, were Chinese immigrants who met and married in the United States, and then raised eight children in Portland at a time when anti-Chinese sentiment was prevalent. 

Women were not permitted by the U.S. military to fly overseas missions, but they assumed responsibility for the work in the continental United States. This freed men to be available for flying duty in both the European and Pacific theaters.

Ying Lee was a member of what became known as the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). Initially, the main responsibility of the women was delivering planes to needed locations. Later, they began flying some transport planes to move men to the coasts to board ships to go overseas. Eventually, a select few—including Hazel Ying Lee—were trained for towing targets to give gunners added firing practice. And in 1944, Hazel Lee and a few others were selected to fly “pursuit” planes so that military pilots could practice flying defensively.

Quang X. Pham

Pham was the first Vietnamese American to earn naval aviator's wings in the U.S. Marine Corps and flew CH-46 helicopter missions in the Persian Gulf War.

Pham was born in 1964 in Saigon, South Vietnam. During the invasion of South Vietnam by the Communist North Vietnamese Army, Quang, his three sisters, and his mother left their ancestral homeland, while the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) was defending their country and its capital city of Saigon. Pham and his family immigrated to United States and lived in California.

Pham is a businessman, U.S. Marine Corps veteran, author, and community leader. Pham is an author of A Sense of Duty: Our Journey from Vietnam to America.

In 2000, Pham founded Lathian Systems, a pharmaceutical promotions company, raised $14 million from investors, and was chairman and CEO. D&R Communications acquired Lathian in 2012. He has served on the boards of the Marines Memorial Association, Orange County Forum, and Chapman University Business School Board of Advisers. In 2015, Pham founded Espero Pharmaceuticals and Jacksonville Pharmaceuticals and currently the Chairman and CEO

Sunita L. Williams

Sunita Lyn "Suni" Williams (born September 19, 1965) is an American astronaut and United States Navy officer of Indian-Slovenian descent. She holds the records for total spacewalks by a women (seven) and most spacewalk time for a woman (50 hours, 40 minutes). Williams was assigned to the International Space Station as a member of Expedition 14 and Expedition 15. In 2012, she served as a flight engineer on Expedition 32 and then commander of Expedition 33.

On April 16, 2007, she ran the first marathon by any person in space. Williams finished the 2007 Boston Marathon in four hours and 24 minutes .

In July 2015, NASA announced Williams as one of the first astronauts for U.S. Commercial spaceflights. Subsequently, she has started working with Boeing and SpaceX to train in their commercial crew vehicles, along with other chosen astronauts.

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