reprinted from San Bernadino Press Enterprise (online)


Evelyn Pinckert 'Pinky' Brier, an aviation pioneer who owned Tri-City Airport in San Bernardino for more than 40 years, died Sunday at Redlands Community Hospital. She was 98.

Mrs. Brier, of San Bernardino, took her first flying lesson with her brother, Victor Pinckert, at a small airfield that now is home to LA/Ontario International Airport, said her niece, Victoria Pinckert Rafa, of Newport Beach.

Their instructor was Eddie Martin, founder of the airport that became John Wayne International in Orange County.

When she took that lesson, Mrs. Brier was working for the Gas Co. and married to her first husband, Robert Kilgore. She learned of a fellow Gas Co. employee, Joe Brier, a flight instructor and owner of Tri-City Airport in San Bernardino.

She married Joe Brier in 1939 and the couple, along with Al DeRuiter, operated Tri-City Airport, which was near Interstate 10 and Tippecanoe Avenue, in what is now San Bernardino's thriving Hospitality Lane neighborhood.

"Joe did a lot of the original layout," Rafa said.

He installed the lighting and built the hangars, she said. Mrs. Brier, who became the first licensed female flight instructor in 1938, started a short hop charter service and handled the business aspect of the airport.

Mrs. Brier was the pilot for San Bernardino's first airmail flight that year. Her monoplane carried about 700 pieces of mail and landed on Redlands Boulevard while the CHP stopped traffic.

Bob Oliver, 82, of Rialto, was Mrs. Brier's student when he was 14. His father, Cliff Oliver, had taken flying lessons at Tri-City and got his son interested.

Oliver said the lessons lasted about 15 minutes. He took 10, with Mrs. Brier as the instructor for the first five or six, he said.

The airport temporarily closed in 1942 because of World War II, and DeRuiter sold his interest to the Briers.

During the three-year closure, the Briers helped train military pilots. Mrs. Brier ferried warplanes to U.S. air bases.

She was a member of the Women Air Force Service Pilots, or WASP, a pioneer organization of female civilian pilots who flew military aircraft.

Judy Scholl, widow of the late stunt pilot Art Scholl, said Mrs. Brier knew many celebrated aviators, including Gen. Jimmy Doolittle and female pilot Pancho Barnes.

Mrs. Brier was a pilot for Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren and author Erle Stanley Gardner, who mentioned a character named Pinky in several of his Perry Mason novels.

Mrs. Brier continued to run the airport after her husband's death in 1976. The couple had wanted the city to take over the airport and make it a community airport, but that did not happen.

In 1979, Mrs. Brier sold the airport to a developer, who later re-sold it for commercial projects including restaurants and stores.

"She was never able to find anyone that was a mechanic like Joe was," said Rafa, of Mrs. Brier's decision to sell.

Mrs. Brier lived in a house she had built on the property until her death.

Mrs. Brier holds the record for the fastest solo cross-country flight in the 1930s and for the most takeoffs and landings at Los Angeles International Airport, Rafa said.

She retired from flying in 1980.

In 2004, the aviation pioneer started the Brier Foundation, which provides scholarships to young women interested in careers in aviation and other forms of transportation.

Mrs. Brier died of pneumonia, according to officials at Montecito Memorial Park, which is handling her arrangements.

The Medford, Wis., native was one of 10 children. Her late sister was psychic Jeane Dixon.

Among Mrs. Brier's survivors are nieces Rafa, Julie Pinckert, of Los Angeles, Tony Pinckert Bancroft, of Capistrano Beach, and Sandy Pinckert, of Sequim, Wash.; nephews Erny Pinckert, Warren Pinckert, Rick Pinckert, of Los Angeles, and Byron Pinckert, of Long Beach; and a great-nephew, Dr. Victor Rafa, of Rancho Santa Margarita.

Services are scheduled for 1 p.m. today in the Valley View Chapel, Montecito Memorial Park, 3520 E. Washington St., Colton. Interment will be in Montecito Memorial Park.

Reach Julie Farren at 909-806-3066 or

reprinted from San Bernadino Press Enterprise (online)