'Amelia' brings nostalgia for another early-day pilot in Kansas

Oct. 29, 2009


Oct. 29--MURDOCK -- Sonia Lineback recalls her 1950s quest to become a pilot. "A project of my youth," she calls it.

As "Amelia," the Hollywood film about Kansas aviatrix Amelia Earhart, plays in theaters, Lineback reminisces about her early flying days.

Lineback, 75, of rural Murdock, said she was one of just a handful of female pilots in her native Chile at the time she earned her wings.

"Today, things have changed in Chile," she said. "When I was there, we could not even dream of having a police officer that was a lady."

Lineback credited female pilot Margot Uvalde, who bravely flew as a mail carrier in World War II, as her country's "Amelia."

Lineback's interest in aviation was sparked by a college roommate even before she learned the story of the world-famous Earhart, who was lost in 1937 in a failed effort to circumnavigate the globe.

After high school, Lineback accepted a scholarship from a junior college boarding school in Montevideo, Uruguay. She lived with three other young women, one whose grandparents were in England, another from Uruguay and a third from Brazil.

The English girl traveled home for a summer and came back, "Oh, so high in the air."

"Her dad had bought a little airplane and took her up flying," Lineback said. "She said she was going to learn to fly."

Their friend's enthusiasm and the potential for them to become early day female pilots led to a pact: After graduation, when they returned to their homes, they would all learn to fly.

"I remember so well the first demonstration flight I took," Lineback said.

She went to the airport wearing flip-flops, in those days a Chinese shoe worn with socks.

"It was so exciting when I was flying, the instructor was doing aerobics out over the water," she said. "He turned the airplane over and I was sitting in the back seat without a cover on the cockpit and I thought, 'Oh, my shoes are going to fall off and how will I go home barefoot?' "

She fell in love with the idea of learning to fly and joined an air club that provided support in the advancement of aviation for women. Flight lessons were "very, very" expensive. Their club had access to two Aeronca planes, wooden frames covered with canvas. Inevitably, one was always broken and they were forced to swap parts back and forth to keep the second one in the air.

Lineback smiled as she remembered the smell of the waterproofed canvas and how afraid she was on her first solo flight. The take-off and landing pointed to a huge rock that stood out of the water on the coastline.

After earning her wings, Lineback was teaching school in Chile when a Maize, Kan., owner of a flying service that ferried planes to South America stopped in their town and bought fuel from the flying club. Because she was bilingual and a pilot, he asked her to come to work for his company. She took the job and moved to Kansas in 1959.

That led to an invitation to join the Ninety-Nines, an organization founded by Earhart in 1929 with 99 female pilots. Earhart served as the group's first president.

"I didn't own a plane but I wanted to learn more about her," Lineback said. "We would go to different meetings and they would talk about her."

Flying and her faith in God opened the door for her to come to this country and live, she said. She married her husband, Donald, and many of her extended family has since joined her in the United States.

"These are good memories for me," Lineback said. "So long ago, Chile did not have women pilots; some other ladies and I were such a little part of it."


"Amelia" is showing at 12:40, 3:40, 6:40, 9:40 today and Friday at the 13th Avenue Warren in Wichita and 1:15, 4:05, 7, 9:50 p.m. Friday and Saturday at 21st Street North Warren in Wichita.