Something’s in the air
Retired Delta Airlines pilot Shirley Shannon is distinguished as having been Delta’s first female pilot and one of the first five women in the world to fly for a large commercial air carrier. A perky 60-year-old, Shannon lives in Forest Ranch on 25 acres—her “hobby ranch,” which includes an olive orchard and a vineyard.
Before working for Delta, she transported turquoise from Nevada’s Blue Star turquoise mines to Arizona, flew bodies for a mortuary, piloted an air taxi, flew passengers inside along the length of the Grand Canyon, rounded up wild horses with a helicopter and “fixed-wing” airplane, “flew the fences” on large ranches looking for downed cattle and downed fences, and delivered mail from the air in rural Nevada. Shannon also used to fly research scientists over Ground Zero in Nevada when the government was doing underground bomb testing.
Were you into technological stuff as a kid?
No. I grew up in the martial arts. I’m a third-degree black belt in Jiu-Jitsu. I taught [Jiu-Jitsu] classes during … high school till I left for college.
What did you study in college?
Photography. I wanted to be a commercial photographer. But then I married my childhood sweetheart, who was in Army aviation, flying helicopters. I would hear stories in the Officer’s Club about flying helicopters and fixed-wings, and I liked the excitement and wanted to be able to tell stories like that. So I decided to become a pilot.
What was delivering mail from the air like?
I delivered mail to ranches with many thousands upon thousands of acres. These were people that only came to town once or twice a year, and that’s how they got their mail. I would take a mailbag, open the window of the plane, a “tail-dragger,” and throw the bag out. You’ve got to make sure you don’t throw it down a chimney or on the roof.
Did you ever throw it down the chimney or on the roof?
No, I never did. … Do you want to hear about my feminine hobbies, too?
I have a large floor loom; I do weaving. I’ve done a lot of sewing, and different kinds of artwork, like making pottery. I raise birds, horses, cats, dogs. I have an indoor aviary. It’s really cool. Actually a quarter of my living room is an indoor aviary.
What kind of birds do you have?
I buy them for their song—like canaries—for their chatter, their color. The aviary is big enough so they can fly. It’s a really cool spot.