Thursday, March 22, 2012

Early Fly Girls

Breaking into aviation was no easy chore for females at the turn of the century. They were turned away from flight training and even banned as passengers. The attitude was that they did not belong in the sky.

The resistance to lady pilots was profound. Arguments arose regarding a woman's physical ability to control a plane, considering their "naturally weaker physique" and the thinner air in the upper atmosphere. But the most widely believed criticism of female pilots was the perceived notion that women were prone to panic and thus were temperamentally unfit to fly.

Women had extreme difficulty getting flight training or flight-based professions and were forced to take chances, risking their lives to further their cause. Early women aviators got involved in record-breaking and long-distance flying, and dangerous stunts to attract attention and raise funds because of their exclusion from being test pilots or operating transport aircraft.

The path for lady pilots was not an easy one. But with courage and perserverance these women paved the way and helped to carve out a permanent place for themselves in aviation history. As they are found, I'll be adding biographies, links and videos.

Mary Bailey ~ England
Florence Barnes ~ U.S.
Jean Batten "Garbo of the Skies" ~ England (Video Link)

When Mrs. Hart O. Berg watched Wilbur Wright demonstrate
the Wright Flyer at Le Mans, France she was so thrilled by the
performance that she asked Wilbur for a ride. Thus, in
September 1908, she became the first American woman to fly
as a passenger in an airplane, soaring for two minutes seven seconds.
Adrienne Bollant ~ France
Willa Beatice Brown ~ U.S. (Video Link)

Maude Bonney, Millicent Bryant, Peggy McKillop, Emma Shultz,
Florence Taylor & Nancy Bird-Walton ~ Australia

"Flying does not rely so much on strength,
as on physical and mental coordination" ~Raymonde "Elise" de Laroche

Marvel Crosson ~ U.S.
Helene Dutrieu ~ Belgium
Ruth Elder ~ U.S.
Claire Fahy ~ U.S.
Edith Foltz ~ U.S.
Ruth Gardner ~ U.S.
Sabiha Goekcen ~ Turkey
Mary Haizlip ~ U.S.

"Women will never be as successful in aviation as men. The reason I feel that women can never compete with men as aviator is because they have not the right kind of nerve, the nerve that unites full knowledge of every danger, and judgement in handling difficulties, with cool daring." 
~Maurice Hewlet, first English lady to solo an aeroplane

Marie-Louise Hilsz ~ France
Tadashi Hyodo ~ Japan
Laura Ingalls ~ U.S.

"Had I been a man I might have explored the Poles or climbed Mount Everest, but as it was my spirt found outlet in the air." ~Amy Johnson

Osa Johnson ~ U.S.
Opal Kunz ~ U.S.
Mary Light ~ U.S.
Ruth Nichols ~ U.S.

On July 8, 1908 Therese Peltier became
the first woman to fly as a passenger in a
heavier-than-air craft when she made a flight of
656 feet with Leon Delagrance in Milan, Italy.

Blanche Stuart Scott was the first woman to drive an automobile
coast to coast in 1910. Upon reaching California, her auto trip drew the
attention of the Glenn Curtiss exhibition team and she became the first and
only woman to receive flight instruction from him.
"When I began to talk about flying, she already had confidence in me. My mother never warned me not to do this or that for fear of being hurt. Of course I got hurt, but I was never afraid."
~Katherine Stinson (see also Marjorie Stinson)

"To a psychoanalyst, a woman pilot, particularly a married one with children, must prove an interesting as well as an inexhaustible subject. Torn between two loves, emotionally confused, the desire to fly an incurable disease eating out your life in the slow torture of frustration--she cannot be a simple, natural personality."

~Louise Thaden, co-founder of the Ninety-Nines

E. Lillian Todd ~ U.S.
Ruthy Tu ~ China
 Kristiaan Versluys ~ Netherlands (Video Link)
Marga von Etzdorf ~ Germany
Mary von Mach ~ U.S.
Vera Dawn Walker ~ U.S.
"Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail their failure must be but a challenge to others." ~Amelia Earhart
Perhaps one of the most famous legendary aviators of all time, male or female, is Amelia Mary Earhart. Born in July of 1898, Amelia was ten years old when she saw her first airplane at the Iowa State Fair. Contrary to what many would believe, it was not love at first sight. In fact, it would be more than a decade before Amelia's interest in aviation would awaken.

After visiting her sister, Muriel, at a college preparatory school in Canada, Amelia decided to stay in Toronto to train as a nurse. She served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse in a military hospital until the armistice of World War I was signed. In the fall of 1919, Amelia pursued her interest in helping the sick when she enrolled as a pre-med student at Columbia University. Several months later, however, she visited an aerial meet in California and her role in life began to change from nursing to flying. After taking a brief, ten minute ride in a biplane, her heart was lost: “As soon as we left the ground, I knew I had to fly!” Soon after this experience, Amelia began taking lessons from pioneer aviatrix Anita “Neta” Snook.

By October 1922, Amelia began participating in record-breaking attempts and set a women's altitude record of 14,000 feet. Although Amelia later traded in her Kinner airplane for a Kissel car, she still continued to be recognized as a novelty. Cross-continental travel by automobile was uncommon and, as Amelia and her mother made their way from California to Boston, they were continually stopped by people. Upon reaching Boston, Amelia took full advantage of her circumstances to promote flying for women. On April 27, 1926, Captain H.H. Railey changed her life forever when he asked, “How would you like to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic?” Although she was merely a passenger aboard The Friendship, Amelia’s name was forever imprinted upon the world’s memory.
Amelia began organizing various events to further introduce women into the world of aviation. She was appointed Assistant to the General Traffic Manager at Transcontinental Air Transport with the responsibility of attracting women passengers. She organized the famous cross-country air race for women pilots, the Los Angeles to Cleveland Women’s Air Derby, in 1929. Amelia also co-founded and presided over the Ninety-Nines women’s pilot organization. In 1930, she broke several women’s speed records and accepted George Putnam’s proposal of marriage a year later.
On May 20, 1932, exactly five years after the Lindbergh flight, Amelia began her solo journey across the Atlantic ocean, carrying only tomato juice, a lucky bracelet, a few light tools, a bottle of smelling salts, her powder compact and her trademark scarf. Upon landing in Northern Ireland, Amelia broke many records: the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo and the only person to fly it twice, the longest nonstop distance flown by a woman and a record for crossing with the shortest time.
After a series of non-stop lecture tours, Amelia accepted an appointment at Purdue University to serve as a consultant in the department for the study of careers for women. Then, in 1935, she began planning for an around-the-world flight in a Lockheed Electra 10E plane. Although this first attempt was halted by equipment problems, Amelia tried again two years later. In July 1937, as she attempted the first round-the-world flight via the equator with navigator Frederick J. Noonan, Amelia’s plane mysteriously disappeared after takeoff from New Guinea. It was determined that the plane went down some 35-100 miles off the coast of Howland Island. President Roosevelt authorized a search that ultimately cost approximately $4 million, but Amelia and her navigator were never found. Their fate continues to be the subject of unending speculation.
Amelia regularly sent letters to her husband along her route. Her fate was eerily prophesized in one of these notes, as she wrote, “Please know that I am quite aware of the hazards...I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.” Amelia would be proud of the women aviators who recognize the hazards and continue to face the challenges.

"There is a world-old controversy that crops up whenever women attempt to enter a new field. Is a woman fit for that work? It would seem that a woman's success in any particular field would prove her fitness for that work, without regard to theories to the contrary." ~Ruth Law 

Ruth Law enjoyed one of the longest and most colorful careers of early female aviators. She was so successful that, in 1917, she earned as much as $9,000 a week for exhibition flights.

Law enrolled in the Burgess Flying School in June 1912, made her first flight on July 5 and soloed on August 12. She bought her first aircraft from Orville Wright in 1912 in which she became the first woman to fly at night. Later she purchased a Curtiss Pusher (shown in video below).

In 1916, Law set three records on a flight from Chicago to New York, and had the honor of carrying the first official air mail to the Philippine Islands in 1919. In 1917, she was the first woman authorized to wear a military uniform, but she was denied permission to fly in combat. Instead, she raised money for the Red Cross and Liberty Loan drives with exhibition flights.

After the war, she formed "Ruth Law's Flying Circus," a three-plane troupe that amazed spectators at state and county fairs by racing against cars, flying through fireworks and setting altitude and distance records. One morning in 1922, however, Law read the announcement of her retirement in the newspaper — her husband, Charles Oliver, could no longer bear his wife's hazardous occupation and simply put an end to her flying career.

"I decided blacks should not have to experience the difficulties I had faced, so I decided to open a flying school and teach other black women to fly." ~Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman was an American aviator and a star of early aviation exhibitions and air shows.

Discrimination thwarted Coleman's attempts to enter aviation schools in the United States. Undaunted, she learned French and, at age 27, was accepted at the Caudron Brothers School of Aviation in Le Crotoy, France. Black philanthropists Robert Abbott, founder of the Chicago Defender, and banker Jesse Binga, assisted with her tuition.

On June 15, 1921 Bessie became the first American woman to obtain an international pilot's license from the Fédération Aéronitique Internationale. In further training in France, she specialized in stunt flying and parachuting; her exploits were captured on newsreel films. She returned to the U.S., where racial and gender biases precluded her becoming a commercial pilot. Stunt flying or barnstorming was her only career option.

Bessie staged the first public U.S. flight by an African American woman on Labor Day, September 3, 1922. She became a popular flier at aerial shows, though she refused to perform before segregated audiences in the South. Speaking at schools and churches, she encouraged blacks' interest in aviation and raised money to found a school to train black aviators. Before she could found her school, however, during a rehearsal for an aerial show on April 30, 1962, her plane spun out of control, catapulting her 2,000 feet to her death.

"It is remarkable how the ground seems to turn upward at the edges, so that the spot over which one is flying lies at the bottom of a huge hollow whose sides gradually approach the sky." ~Matilde Moisant

Matilde Moisant was the second woman in the U.S. to receive a pilot's license. She learned to fly at her brother Albert's Moisant Aviation School on Long Island, along with aviator Harriet Quimby, and earned her license on August 13, 1911. Together the two pioneer female aviators and friends joined the Moisant International Aviators.

Matilde made her exhibition debut at the Nassau Boulevard Aviation Meet in September, where she won the Rodman-Wanamaker altitude trophy by flying her 50 hp Moisant monoplane to an incredible 1,200 feet. She beat both Quimby and French pilot Helene Dutrieu. Matilde flew in meets throughout the country and Mexico until the early spring of 1912, often flying at higher altitudes than most male pilots.

Then bowing to the wishes of her family, still recovering from the fatal crash of her brother John in 1910, she scheduled her last flight for April 14, 1912, in Wichita Falls, TX. It was almost her last performance of any kind as her aircraft burst into flames upon landing, due to a leak in the fuel tank. She was pulled from the wreckage with her clothes afire but fortunately her heavy wool flying costume saved her from serious injury.

During World War I, she performed fundraising duties (on the ground) for the Red Cross.

"If a woman wants to fly, first of all she must, of course, abandon skirts and don a knickerbocker uniform." ~Harriet Quimby

Considered the most celebrated of America’s pioneer women fliers, Harriet Quimby entranced the public worldwide with her skill as a pilot and strength as a woman. Having always longed to be a journalist, Harriet's dreams quickly changed when she visited the Belmont Park aviation meet in October 1910. As she watched flier John Moisant race around the Statue of Liberty, Harriet decided to embark upon a new dream of flying.
"The airplane should open a fruitful occupation for women. I see no reason they cannot realize handsome incomes by carrying passengers between adjacent towns, from parcel delivery, taking photographs or conducting schools of flying," Harriet announced.
Less than five million American women worked outside the home in 1911, and Harriet saw a vision in aviation for all women. She encouraged women to push their personal potential and set the example by driving an automobile, becoming a photographer, screenwriter and pilot.
Her ultimate display of courage was in 1911 when she became the first woman in the U.S. and the second woman in the world to earn a pilot's license. Her instruction from the Moisant Aviation School covered 33 lessons with a little over four and a half hours in the air. In her professional debut with the Moisant International Aviators, Harriet's trademark became her plum colored wool-backed satin flying suit with a hood and high-laced boots.
Nicknamed the “Dresden China Aviatrix” by the press, Harriet became one of the most well-known women aviators in the world. Not long after she received her license she set her first record. On September 4, 1911, in front of a crowd of 15,000 at the Richmond County Fair, she became the first woman to make a night flight. She shared the experiences of her flying with readers nationwide by writing numerous articles for Leslie¹s Weekly, Good Housekeeping and other magazines.
Harriet’s next first came on a cold, foggy April morning in 1912 when she decided to cross the English Channel. Having never flown the 50-horsepower Bleriot monoplane, which she had borrowed from Louis Bleriot, nor ever used a compass, Harriet was given no opportunity for a preliminary test run due to the winds and rain. This attempt was advised against by all of Harriet¹s friends ... one male friend even offered to dress in her purple flying suit and make the trip for her! "I was annoyed from the start by the attitude of doubt by the spectators that I would never really make the flight. This attitude made me more determined than ever to succeed."
Harriet¹s determination guided her through thick walls of fog onto the sandy beaches of Hardelot, 25 miles south of Calais, and she became the first woman and the third pilot to make the 22 mile crossing across the English Channel.
Three months later, at the Harvard-Boston Air Meet, the "Dresden China Aviatrix" made her last flight. With the manager as a passenger, Harriet tried to break the over-water speed record of 58 mph. As a horrified crowd watched, the two bodies fell from the plane when the plane turned over sharply at an altitude of 5,000 feet. The bodies tumbled through the air and plunged into the harbor waters, dying upon impact. Although at that time, many took her death as an example of why women should not fly airplanes, time has vindicated Harriet Quimby. Over 80 years later, there is no doubt that if she could see the thousands of women in command of airliners, military combat airplanes, space vehicles and executive aviation positions, her comment would simply be, “See, I told you so!”

"Don't let rain, sleet or snow deter you because you are a girl." ~Elinor Smith

Elinor Smith made history by being the youngest pilot on record. She knew she was born to fly at the age of 6 when she took her first airplane ride. She started taking lessons at the age of 8. She was fortunate at that time to have parents who supported her in what she wanted to do. Her mother didn't want to deny her daughter opportunities just because of her gender and her father had always had a passion for planes. These things helped her in her quest to fly.
Elinor set many aviation records mostly due to her age. She was youngest woman to fly solo at the age of 15 and, at the age of 16, became the youngest person to earn a pilot's license by the Federation Aeronautique International, signed by Orville Wright himself. After that she set an altitude record of nearly 12,000 feet in her father's Waco. To gain acceptance she concealed the fact that she was a female by stuffing her hair under her cap and wearing no makeup.

On October 21, 1928 at the age of 17, Elinor flew under four East River Bridges in New York City. The bridges she flew under were the Queensboro, the Williamsburg, the Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridges. This event resulted in a summons because flying under a bridge was illegal. All she received was an official reprimand with a request for her autograph! 
Her first world record was the endurance record she set on January 31, 1929 of 13 hours, 16 minutes and 45 seconds. It also was the first time she had ever landed at night. In April of 1929, Elinor again broke the endurance record making it now 26 hours, 23 minutes and 16 seconds.
Later that year, she teamed up with Bobbi Trout and set a joint record endurance flight of over 42 hours and became the first women to refuel a plane in midair. She also became the first person, male or female, to receive a transport pilot's license at the age of 18. While she was still 18, Elinor Smith became the first woman to pilot a military aircraft.
More "firsts" followed: In 1929, she became the first female executive pilot of the Irving Chute Co., for a nationwide tour to demonstrate parachute drops; in 1930, she became the first woman to test pilot for Long Island's Fairchild Aviation Corp; and in 1931, she became the first woman to fly over 30,000 feet. But she wanted to beat that record and, a week later, went up again to set a new women's altitude record of 34,500 feet.
Her proudest moment though was in 1930 when all the licensed fliers of the U.S. were asked to name the best female and male pilots in the United States. Elinor won. She said, "It was such an honor to know that my peers considered me the best." Elinor married a year or two later and had two children. While she was pregnant with her third child, she thought maybe she shouldn't be flying; that she should be home taking care of the children. So, she quit flying. Almost 25 years past before she piloted a plane again.

In her 1981 autobiography, Aviatrix, she wrote: "I had been brought up to think that anyone could do anything he or she put his or her mind to, so I was shocked to learn that the world had stereotypes it didn't want tampered with. In an age when girls were supposed to be seen and not heard, look beautiful and occasionally faint, I didn't seem to fit anywhere." Her mother also told her, "If flying airplanes is what you want to do, forget your sex and get on with it."

She got her nickname “Bobbi”
when she copied the hairstyle
of 1928 actress Irene Castle
which was a short “Bob” haircut.
"Tomboy Stays in Air 17 Hours to Avoid Washing Dishes." ~Local Newspaper Headline
Evelyn "Bobbi" Trout's interest in the field of aviation began one afternoon in 1918 when she heard an aeroplane fly overhead.
In 1920 her family moved from Illinois to California where they purchased a service station. While waiting on a customer, Evelyn told of her dream of flying. The customer was W.E. Thomas who owned a Curtis JN-4. Thomas asked if she wanted a ride on the aircraft, which she took on December 27, 1922. Evelyn later saved about $2,500, which she used to enter the Burdett Airlines School of Aviation on January 1, 1928.
In one of her flight lessons, she was instructed by a young pilot to three-quarter turn at a low altitude, which resulted in the plan spinning out of control. The plane was completely wrecked, but the accident didn't deter her from flying.
She received her solo certificate on April 30, 1928 and her mother bought her an International K-6 biplane that spring. On September 1, 1928, "Bobbi" received her pilot's identification card from the U.S. Department of Commerce. After getting her license, she flew a Golden Eagle at the Metropolitan Airport in Los Angeles at an official dedication on December 14, 1928.
In 1929 she broke the non-refueling endurance record for women when she flew from the same airport for 12 hours and 11 minutes. The record was previously held by Viola Gentry and was the first where Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) rules of the endurance record were revised stating that endurance records had to be broken by a full hour. But Bobbi's record was short-lived as aviator Elinor Smith broke the record once again on January 30, 1929 ... Smith flew 13-1/2 hours straight from Mitchel Field using an open cockpit Bruner Winkle biplane.
Determined to take back the record, Bobbi flew from Mines Field on February 10, 1929, returning this time after more than 17 hours. This flight also broke the record for the first all-night flight by a woman as well as and the new women's solo endurance record.
In the same year, on June 16, she flew a 90 horse power Golden Eagle Chief to an altitude of 15,200 feet breaking the light class aircraft altitude record. Modifying the same aircraft to use a 100 horse power engine, she flew from Clover Field in Santa Monica, CA to the first Women's Transcontinental Air Derby together with other women aviators. During the 8-day course, they experienced many difficulties.
1929 Women's Air Derby
(L-R) Louise Thaden, Bobbi Trout, Patti Willis, Marvel Crosson,
Blanch Noyes, Vera Walker, Amelia Earhart, Marjorie Crawford,
Ruth Elder & Florence Barnes
Marvel Cronon did a nose dive into the ground during the second leg. Her body was found entangled in her parachute. Clair Fahy's plane was forced down in thick mesquite because of a wing brace failure and Thea Rashe was forced down due to sand in her fuel tank. Sabotage was suspected in these three incidents and the press was in a frenzy. Many people were demanding that the derby be stopped, but the derby organizers and the flyers were not among the objectors. The derby continued with many forced landings, which was not unusual for these times.
Ruth Elder landed in a field of cattle and upon exiting her airplane, she exclaimed, "I certainly hope these are all cows." Margaret Perry took ill during the derby and was hospitalized in Texas with typhoid fever. Blanche Noyes looked back to see her plane on fire, landed in a field, threw sand on the fire to put it out and took off again to finish her day.
The press was critical saying, "Women have proven conclusively that they cannot fly!" However, a higher percentage of the women finished this derby course in less time than any men's race to date. Louise Thadden took first place in her Travel Air, with Gladys O' Donnell a close second in her clipped wing Waco and Amelia Earhart taking third place with her Lockheed Vega. 
The experience these women shared led to the development of the Ninety-Nines: International Organization of Women Pilots. In order to get more sponsorship, Elinor persuaded starlet Edna May Cooper to go with her to attempt another endurance run. They attempted the flight on January 1, 1931 but due to technical problems, had to abort the flight. At their next attempt, they were successful in flying straight for 122 hours and 50 minutes, only to end the run due to the spitting off fuel. This was another record broken by Elinor and was later recognized by King Carol II of Romania where a representative gave her the Royal Decree and the aviation cross for pilots who made record flights. A distinction which was only given to 2 other pilots, the other being Earhart and Charles Lindbergh.  

Balloons & Dirigibles

The reception given these pioneer women fliers was curiously mixed. On the one hand, they were acclaimed as a novelty. On the other, they were distrusted as interlopers in an adventure that was thought to belong rightly to men. ~Valerie Moolman, author, Women Aloft

On June 4, 1784, Madame Elisabeth Thible of Lyons, France became the first woman to make a "free flight", riding aloft in a Montgolfier balloon with Pilot Monsieur Fleurant. Madame Thible wore a lace-trimmed dress and a feathered hat. Fleurant was an artist with a passion for ballooning. As far as is known, she did not make another ascent, but she nevertheless deserves pride of place as the first woman to go aloft.

By 1798 women had somehow fought their way to the controls of balloons. France's Jeanne LaBrosse made a solo balloon flight that year and, in 1805, Madeliene-Sophie Blanchard also soloed.

Sophie makes her ascent in
Milan on 16 Aug 1811 to mark
Napoleon's 42nd birthday.
Madeleine-Sophie Blanchard was a French aeronaut and the wife of ballooning pioneer Jean-Pierre Blanchard. She was the first woman to work as a professional balloonist and, after her husband's death, continued ballooning making more than 60 ascents.

Known throughout Europe for her ballooning exploits, Sophie entertained Napoleon bonaparte, who promoted her to the role of Aeronaut of the Official Festivals in 1805. On the restoration of the monarchy in 1814, she performed for Louis XVIII, who named her "Official Aeronaut of the Restoration".

Ballooning was a risky business for the pioneers. She lost consciousness on a few occasions, endured freezing temperatures and almost drowned when her balloon crashed in a marsh. In 1819 she became the first woman to be killed in an aviation accident when, during an exhibition in the Tivoli Gardens in Paris, she launched fireworks that ignited the gas in her baloon. Her craft crashed on the roof of a house and she fell to her death.

By 1834, 22 women in Europe had earned the distinction of piloting their own balloons. In 1886 American Mary H. Myers, took her balloon to over 20,000 feet over Pennsylvania without the benefit of oxygen. That was a feat, even by today's standards. Known as "Carlotta, the Lady Aeronaut", she was confident her equipment wouldn't fail. As the wife of New York balloon inventor, Carl Myers, she made ascensions at special events for 30 years. The Myers tested new balloon designs on their "Balloon Farm" in New York.

In 1886, she took her balloon to over 20,000 feet over Pennsylvania without the benefit of oxygen. That was a feat, even by today's standards.

Mademoiselle, vous êtes la première aero-chauffeuse du monde!  ~Santos-Dumont

On June 27, 1903 in Paris, at the age of 19, Cuban-born Aida de Acosta charmed Brazilian pioneer aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont into showing her how to operate his personal dirigible, “No. 9” and edged out the Wright brothers for flying a powered machine.

Santos-Dumont was the toast of Paris at the time, flying his dirigible downtown to his favorite restaurant and parking it on the street while he had dinner. Aida flew Santos-Dumont’s aircraft solo from Paris to Château de Bagatelle while Santos-Dumont rode his bicycle along below, waving his arms and shouting advice.

Aida later recalled that upon her first landing, Santos-Dumont asked her how she had fared. "It is very nice, M. Santos-Dumont," she replied. "Mademoiselle," he cried, "vous êtes la première aero-chauffeuse du monde!" ("Miss, you are the first woman aero-driver in the world!"). She was in fact the first woman to pilot any kind of motorized aircraft, nearly six months before the Wright brothers first flew in a heavier-than-air powered aircraft.

The first flight ended in the polo field at Bagatelle at the northern end of the Bois de Boulogne, during a match between the American team and the British team. Spectators assisted her from the basket. After watching some polo with Santos-Dumont, Acosta climbed back into the basket and flew the machine back to Neuilly St. James, the entire trip lasting one and a half hours.

Aida flying to a polo match in 1903.
Hearing about the flight, her parents were appalled. They were certain that no man would marry a woman who had done such a thing, so they managed to hush it all up until many years later when in the 1930s she recounted the story to her husband and a young naval officer named Lieutenant George Calnan over dinner.

Biographers of Santos-Dumont have speculated about a romantic relationship with Aida. She is the only person, other than himself, that Santos-Dumont ever permitted to fly any of his many aircraft. A life long bachelor with no known romantic ties, he kept a photograph of Aida on his desk, next to a vase of fresh flowers, for the rest of his life. Nonetheless, there is no indication that they stayed in touch after her flight. Upon Santos-Dumont's death Acosta was reported as saying that she hardly knew the man.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Video ~ Gladys Ingle Changes Planes in Mid-Air

In most barnstorming shows, men piloted the planes. When women participated, they usually performed stunts such as wing walking. Gladys Ingle, a plane transfer specialist,  was famous for shooting arrows at a target while standing on the top wing of a Curtiss Jenny and for changing planes in mid air. This film was obviously shot during a staged event, but is great nonetheless.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ladies First

A Timeline of Women in Aviation

1784 ~ Elisabeth Thible of Lyons France, was the first woman to travel aloft ... she floated one mile above the ground in a Montgolfier balloon with Monsieur Fleurant.

1798 ~ Jeanne Labrosse made the first woman's solo balloon flight.

1805 ~ Madeleine Sophie Blanchard, a famous French balloonist, was appointed Aeronaut of the Official Festivals by Napoleon. She toured Europe and attracted huge crowds, but tragically plunged to her death in 1819 during a dangerous aerial fireworks display.

1886 ~ Mary H. Myers of Frankford, NY, was one of the first women balloonists in America to make a solo flight. Known as "Carlotta, the Lady Aeronaut", she became famous for performing aerial exhibitions. She also set an astonishing world altitude record by soaring four miles above Franklin, PA without oxygen equipment.

1890 ~ Blanche Stuart Scott of Rochester, NY stuffed three petticoats into her bloomers and convinced Glen Curtiss of the Curtiss aircraft company to give her flying lessons. Billed as the Tomboy of the air, she performed many stunts including a "death dive" from 4,000-200 feet before pulling out.

1903 ~ Aida de Acosta made one of the world's first powered flights in a dirigible over France and became known as the "Girl Hawk".

1910 ~ Baronness Raymonde de Laroche of France obtained from the Aero Club of France the first license issued to a woman anywhere in the world. Harriet Quimby became the first licensed woman in the U.S. and her friend, Matilde Moisant, became the second.

1911 ~ Hilde Hewlett was the first English woman to earn her flying license. "I shan't be happy till I can fly." That same year, when Melli Beese took the test for her flying license, male pilots tampered with her airplane and partially emptied the gas tank. One stated that for a woman to fly would take the glory away from the men.

1912 ~ Harriet Quimby successfully crossed the English Channel by flying from Dover to Hardolot, France. An American sweetheart with a large following, she helped launch much interest in flying and sparked the but in many women to pursue careers in aviation. Ruth Law became a pilot in 1912. Her career was aimed at becoming a stunt pilot or breaking altitude or long-distance records. She later abandoned flying because she was tired of the risks and because it was apparent there was little space in commercial aviation for women.

1913 ~ Katherine Stinson became the first woman to fly the mail.

1916 ~ Ruth Law of the U.S. set two new records: the American nonstop cross-country record for both men and women and the world nonstop cross-country record for women when she flew from Chicago to New York.

1921 ~ Frenchwoman Adrienne Bolland, successfully completed a harrowing flight from Argentina to Chile and became the first woman to fly over the Andes in a Caudron biplane. Bess Coleman returned to America after earning her pilot's license. The first licensed black woman pilot in the world, she had been rejected by American flight schools because of her race and forced to go to France to obtain her license.

1922 ~ Anesia Pinkeiro Machado, Brazil's first woman pilot, soloed at the age of 17. The first woman flier in Japan, Tadashi Hyodo, worked two years to get her license in the male-dominated Japanese society.

1923 ~ Amelia Earhart earned her pilot's license.

1926 ~ Millicent Bryant, Australia's first licensed woman pilot, coped with extremely rough air om her first flight.

1927 ~ Marga von Etzdorf was the first German woman to pass licensing examinations for commercial, glider, sports and stunt flying. She became a copilot with Luft Hansa and made several attempts at long-distance record-breaking flying.

1928 ~ Lady Mary Bailey was the first woman to fly solo from England to South Africa in a deHavilland Moth. At the same time, Sophie Eliot-Lynn made the first solo flight from Cape of Good Hope to Cairo in an Avro Avian monoplane. Lady Heath ... equipped with a bible, shotgun, tennis rackets, six tea gowns and a fur coat ... made the first solo flight from the Cape of Good Hope to Cairo. Amelia Earhart became the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air. Although she had her license, Lou Gordon and Wilmer Stultz were mostly in charge of the cockpit of the Friendship.

1929 ~ The grueling Women's Air Derby competition was first held in Santa Monica, CA: Louise Thaden came in first; Gladys O'Donnell came in second; and Amelia Earhart came in third.

1930 ~ Amy Johnson became the first woman to make a solo flight from England to Australia, leading the way for British women aviators. Marie-Louise Hilsz, a French woman, was the first female ever to make a round trip from Paris to Saigon and back. In November 1930, 26 women formed an association of female fliers called the "Ninety Nines" with Amelia Earhart as president. That month, Bobbi Trout and Elinor Smith worked together as a team to become the first women aviators to refuel a plan in mid-air as they set a new women's endurance record of 42 hours.

1931 ~ Ruth Nichols' attempt to cross the Atlantic on a solo flight was unsuccessfull. She did, however, break the world distance record by flying 1,977 miles from California to Kentucky. Marie-Louise "Maryse" Bastie became famous when she flew from France to Gorki, Russia. She flew 1, 849 miles ... further in a nonstop straight run than any other woman and further nonstop in a light plane than anyone else in the world.

Britain's female aviators staged their first All Women's Flying Meeting in 1931 and their daring aerobatics were reported as so intimidating to the male pilots watching the event that they retreated to the aerodrome's bar to restore their courage.

1932 ~ Ruthy Tu became the first woman pilot in China's army. Amelia Earhart made her famous solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 15 hours 18 minutes ... the fastest crossing on record.

1934 ~ British aviator, Jean Batten, beat Amy Johnson's time by more than 4 days on her solo flight from England to Australia. Batten went on to complete the first England-Australia round trip by a woman. Hanna Reitsch, the only woman on a German research expedition to study thermal conditions in South America, was the first female to be awarded the Silver Soaring Medal when she made a long distance flight over Argentina. Reitsch's expertise earned her the honorary title of Flugkapitaen (flight captain) from Hitler in 1937.

1935 ~ Amelia Earhart made the first solo flight ever from Hawaii to the continental U.S. despite hazardous weather conditions.

In 1936, at Eleanor Roosevelt's suggestion, the United States Bureau of Air Commerce hired women fliers to scout sites to paint air markers ... directional indicators on the roof of buildings throughout the country.

1936 ~ Beryl Markham became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in an east to west direction ... a difficult feat against prevailing headwinds.

1937 ~ Amelia Earhart disappeared somewhere over the Pacific Ocean in the last leg of her journey to circumnavigate the globe at the Equator. Petite Turkish orphan, Sabiha Goekcen, known at the "Amazon of the Air" when she became her nations first woman flier, its first female Army pilot and the worst woman anywhere to fly combat missions.

1938 ~ Germany's Hanna Reitsch flew the first vertical machine ... a Focke-Achgelis helicopter.

1939 ~ Jackie Cochran set a new women's altitude record, became the first woman to make a blind landing and set a new international women's speed record.


General H.H. "Hap" Arnold twice turned down proposals to use women for ferrying aircraft claiming he didn't know if "a slip of a young girl could fight the controls of a B-17." Canada denied flight responsibilities to the Women's Auxiliary Air Force and restricted them to ground jobs. Italy, Australia and Japan refused to use women as pilots. But across the 'pond' Germany and Russia used women as pilots from the beginning even qualifying them for combat missions. Britain eventually came around because the daughter of a Member of Parliament used her influence to change the mind of the Air Ministry.

1940 ~ Pauline Gower was authorized by the Air Ministry of Great Britain to form a women's section of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) to ferry planes to the battlelines. They fought the rigors of winter flying in Tiger Moth trainers, made 20% less than the male pilots, had to pay for their own lodging and were unpopular with their male counterparts who often told the press that they were doubtful of the women's competence.

1941 ~ The pilot shortage for ferry pilots in the U.S. became an opportunity for Jackie Cochran who, through much effort and persistence convinced General Arnold that an aviatrix contingent could provide a much needed service to their country. Arnold, who had resisted using women finally consented and sent a telegram to many women pilots. His telegram produced more than 25,000 applications from women around the country:


1942 ~ The Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), the aircraft-ferrying unit of the Army Air Forces' Air Transport Command under director Nancy Harkness Love. The program required women to have 500 hours, limiting the numbers that could enter the WAFS. Since Congress had no provision for flight pay for women, they considered the WAFS Civil Service emloyees. Trainees had to report for duty at their own expense, were issued no uniforms and were expected to make their own arrangements for housing. 

Jackie Cochran organized a Women's Flying Training Detachment to train women pilots for eventual service in the WAFS. Cochran and the women of WAFS soon moved to an Army base for military training.

1943 ~ Cochran's trainees and Love's WAFS merged into one organization known as the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), with Jackie Cochran as the Director of Women Pilots. These women were preferred as ferry pilots to their male counterparts because they delivered the airplanes quicker. But they were restricted from ferrying overseas and going into combat. They flew aircraft to simulate target practice, simulated gas attacks, day and night missions training radar and searchlight trackers and engineering test flights.

Although still volunteers, not official members of the military, the women took on more assignments than just ferrying aircraft. The WASPs delivered 12,650 planes of 77 different types. They flew a total of 60 million miles. Of the 1,830 women admitted to the volunteer WASP program, 1,074 graduated and only 38 lost their lives.
The WASP program ended December 1944 as male Army Air Force pilots returned from overseas.

1945 ~ Melitta Schiller of Germany received the Iron Cross and the diamond-studded Military Flight Badge for conducting an unprecedented 1,500 test dives of German dive bombers.

1947 ~ Ann Shaw Carter, former WASP, became the first woman in the U.S. to earn a helicopter rating and began working for New York's Metropolitan Aviation Corporation flying sightseeing trips around Manhattan.

1954 ~ Jean Ross Howard got her helicopter rating and wondered how many other women helicopter pilots there were. She discovered 12 and, through their common enthusiasm, they formed a club that became the Whirly Girls, The International Women Helicopter Pilots.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Video ~ Hanna Reitsch's Last Interview

In the News

September 1910
Woman Aviator Flies Channel
The Evening Post ~ April 16, 1912

Woman Aviator Seeks Mail Job
The Stars & Stripes ~ January 10, 1919

The Lady and the ‘Plane
Vanity Fair ~ September 1919

The American Super-Girl And Her Critics
The Literary Digest ~ October 29, 1927

The Women’s Air Derby
The Literary Digest ~ September 7, 1929

Amelia Earhart’s Record Flight
The Literary Digest ~ January 19, 1935

Women Airforces Service Pilots
Think Magazine ~ 1946

Unseen Pictures of Aviator Amelia Earhart As She
Makes Final Preparations for Her Doomed Flight
Mail Online ~ August 30, 2011

Friday, March 9, 2012


Goggles worn by Amelia Earhart. Crack on the right lens happened
during a minor crash when she was learning to fly.

Amelia Earhart's License

Original charter for the local chapter of the Ninety-Nines, the organization
for female pilots whose first president was Amelia Earhart. On this certificate is
Jacqueline Cochran's signature as a founder of the chapter.

In 1943, thanks to Jacqueline Cochran, the first classes of WASP graduates were awarded wings, ending another controversary of 'should these women pilots be given Army Air Corps Wings?'  The wings worn by the first classes to graduate from the Army Air Corps training program were paid for Jacqueline Cochran, who knew how important winning their wings was to these young women. From 43 W-8 to 44 W-10, two official versions of these wings were used. The difference was in the cut of the feathers, but the main lozenge in the center was the same for both designs.

Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) wings for the first classes were the same as the aviation cadets, with the shield in the middle 'sanded down' and the class number added. They remained the same design  with slight variations from 43 W-1 to 43 W-7.

Women pilots originally flying for the Ferry Command wore these regulation ACT Civillian Pilot Wings.  These WAFS were later incorporated into the WASP.