Originally Published: March 14, 2010 10:18 p.m.
A small party at the Golden Corral marked Irene Leverton's 83rd birthday. In 1961, Irene was accepted into a private program for potential women astronauts who ultimately became known as the Mercury 13.
Dr. William Randolph Lovelace was curious to know how women would do taking the male astronauts' tests. The training and testing was identical to that given to the male Mercury astronauts. Irene was 34 and single when she was accepted into the program. The women came through with flying colors.
Irene always wanted to be an aviator. She tried to join the Women Army Service Program when she was 17 by using a fake logbook and birth certificate. It didn't work, but it did not stop her from pursuing her aviation dream and by 1961, when recruited by Dr. Lovelace, she held a Commercial Pilot's license, with airplane single and multi-engine land ratings, instrument ratings, and airplane single engine sea ratings - and built up more than 9,000 hours which was far more than any Mercury 7 astronaut. Her logbooks now top 24,500 hours!
Irene has many awards include FAA Master Pilot, Charter Member of the Women's Airline Transport Pilot's Association (1969), Women with Wings Award by the International Air and Space Museum in Ohio (1986), and inducted into the Women in Aviation Pioneer Hall of fame (1996).
Irene has performed crop dusting, glider pilot, corporate pilot, ferry pilot, phase check pilot, consultant, FAA pilot examiner, U.S. Forest Service contract pilot, commuter airline pilot, air ambulance pilot, and flight instructor, where until recently, she was providing training for tail wheel transition and endorsement.