Born and raised in Arroyo Grande, Grace married Leoy McChesney in 1935 and helped him run a dairy in San Luis for 37 years. Her husband used to come in at lunch after working out in the fields with his team of horses, and he would say, ” I watched those buzzards up there, and I know I’m going to join them some day”. In the late 1940s Grace inherited a little money. She decided that she wasn’t going to spend it on bills. She was going to buy something special. Grace bought her husband a membership in a flying club. He started taking lessons, soloed in eight hours, and soon had his private pilot license. They did a lot of cross-country flying, mostly in California, as members of the Flying Farmers, but when their daughter married and moved to Minnesota, they started doing longer trips. It was after a long cross-country that Grace decided she needed to have her license. She felt that they needed two pilots for those long trips, so she started flying lessons at the San Luis Airport. “I wasn’t easy for me, but I kept plugging.” She earned her private pilot license in July 1964. She remembers that there were quite a few women flying at that time.
Initially she and her husband joined the San Luis Obispo Pilots’ Association. Then she joined to San Joaquin Valley Ninety-Nines. They were an active group doing fly-outs every month. There was usually someone from San Luis to fly to the meetings with, and soon there were enough women to start a local chapter. As a charter member of our chapter, she has been an active member since. She has served in every office and position there was. She flew the Powder Puff Derby with Marci Barnet. She was copilot, and she and Marci made matching dresses and rented a plane for the flight. They left Van Nuys flew on through the Southern route through El Paso and then on to the east coast. They had an unplanned over-night stop with several other Ninety-Nines’ planes in a small town Mississippi because of weather. There were no hotel rooms available, so they were all taken into homes. All in all it was quite an adventure. She also did the Palms to Pines a couple of times.
In the 1960’s the McChesney’s came across a great opportunity to purchase a Cessna 182. It was a 1956 model, the first model of the 182 Grace told her husband that if he didn’t but that plane, she didn’t want to hear the word “flight” again. They flew their 182 (N6324A) for the next 26 years and put many hours on it. It was about that time that then Governor Reagan appointed her husband to the California Aeronautics Board. They were flying all over the state and to Sacramento twice a month. The main focus of their energies was to save airports from urban encroachment. Grace always went along and took some knitting to keep busy. “I must have knitted a thousand socks!” About that time a son moved to Alabama, so now they were also flying a triangle to Alabama and Minnesota once or twice a year.
After her husband’s death in 1986, Grace didn’t do much flying since one of the main reasons she flew was to be with her husband.
Grace McChesney, a charter member of the San Luis Obispo Chapter of The Ninety-Nines, died peacefully in her sleep December 24, 2011 at the age of 95. She had been attending chapter meetings until just a couple of years before her death. In her own words, “I’ll be a Ninety-Nine as long as I live. I enjoy the way Ninety-nine women think. Women pilots are different than the women I meet in other groups.”