Tag Archives: Aviatrix

4–7 May 1936

1st April 1936: English aviator Amy Mollison, nee Johnson (1903 - 1941) wearing a woollen suit from the collection of flight clothes designed by Madame Schiaparelli for her solo flight from London to Cape Town. (Photo by Sasha/Getty Images)
“1st April 1936: English aviator Amy Mollison, nee Johnson (1903 – 1941) wearing a woollen suit from the collection of flight clothes designed by Madame Schiaparelli for her solo flight from London to Cape Town. (Photo by Sasha/Getty Images)”

4–7 May 1936: British aviatrix Amy Johnson, C.B.E., departed Gravesend Aerodrome, Kent, England, at 8:02 a.m. GMT, 4 May 1936, in her Percival D.3 Gull Six, registration G-ADZO, enroute to Cape Town, South Africa. In July 1932, she had set a record for flying this route, solo, breaking the existing record which had been set by her husband, James Mollison. The current record, though, was held by Flight Lieutenant Tommy Rose. Her goal was to retake the record.

During the next three days, Johnson flew approximately 6,700 miles (10,782 kilometers). She made several stops to refuel her airplane, but she slept only about six hours.

She arrived at Wingfield Aerodrome, Cape Town, at 2:31 p.m. GMT, 7 May, for an elapsed time of 3 days, 6 hours, 29 minutes. Her average speed over the course was 122.65 kilometers per hour (76.21 miles per hour), setting a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Recognized Course.¹ She broke Tommy Rose’s time by 11 hours, 9 minutes. Her plan was to then make the return flight and beat Rose’s two-way record.

Amy Johnson’s record-breaking Percival D.3 Gull Six, G-ADZO, at Gravesend. (Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library)

Amy Johnson’s Percival D.3 Gull Six, c/n D63, was a single-engine, low-wing monoplane, with fixed landing gear, designed by Edgar Percival and built by Percival Aircraft Limited at Gravesend. It was built primarily of wood and covered by doped fabric. The Gull was flown by a single pilot and could carry two passengers.

The airplane was 24 feet, 9 inches (7.544 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 2 inches (11.024 meters) and height of 7 feet, 4½ inches (2.248 meters). The D.3 had an empty weight of 1,170 pounds (530.7 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,050 pounds (929.9 kilograms).

The Gull Six was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 9.186 liter (560.57-cubic-inch-displacement) air-cooled de Havilland Gypsy Six I, an inverted, inline six-cylinder engine which produced 184 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and  205 horsepower at 2,350 r.p.m. for takeoff. The engine turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller via direct drive. The engine weighed 432 pounds (196 kilograms).

The Gull Six was capable of reaching 178 miles per hour (286.5 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 16,000 feet (4,876.8 meters) and range was 700 miles (1,126.5 kilometers).

G-ADZO had been sold to Harold Leslie Brook, 12 December 1935. Amy Johnson had flown it in a previous attempt for the London-Cape Town record in April 1936, but G-ADZO was seriously damaged when she ground-looped the airplane at Colomb-Béchar, French Algeria.

The Gull was raced by R. Falk, flying for the Marquess of Londonderry, in the King’s Cup, 10–11 July 1936, carrying race number 12. G-ADZO finished in 7th place with a time of 2 hours, 10 minutes 48 seconds, and average speed of 163.44 miles per hour (263.03 kilometers per hour).

In 1937, H. L Brook flew G-ADZO to Capetopwn and back.

G-ADZO was scrapped 8 February 1938.

G-ADZO in the water at King’s Lynn.
Percival Aircraft Company advertisement in FLIGHT, 21 May 1936. (Aviation Ancestry Database of British Aviation Advertisements 1909–1980)

Amy Johnson had set many flight records, both individually and with her husband, James Mollison, whom she had married in 1932 (divorced, 1938). He proposed to her during an airplane flight, only eight hours after having met her. For her record-setting flight from England to Australia in May 1931, she was made Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) and won the Harmon Trophy.

During World War II, Amy Johnson flew for the Royal Air Force as a First Officer of the Air Transport Auxiliary (equivalent to the RAF rank of Flight Lieutenant). Tragically, on 5 January 1941, while flying over London, she was challenged by an RAF fighter. Twice she gave the incorrect recognition code and she was then shot down. Her airplane crashed into the Thames, where she was seen struggling in the water. Lieutenant Commander Walter Fletcher of HMS Haslemere dived into the river to rescue her, but both died. This incident was kept secret and it was publicly reported that she had run out of fuel.

¹ FAI Record File Number 13241

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 April 1969

Turi Widerøe with “Atle Viking,” a 1957 Convair 440-75 Metroliner, LN-KLA, operated by Scandinavian Airlines System. (SAS)
Turi Widerøe with “Atle Viking,” a 1957 Convair 440-75 Metropolitan, LN-KLA, operated by Scandinavian Airlines System. (SAS)
Harmon International Trophy (Aviatrix)
Harmon International Trophy (Aviatrix)

30 April 1969: Turi Widerøe made her first scheduled flight as the first officer of a Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) Convair 440 Metropolitan. She was the first woman to fly for a Western airline.

Captain Widerøe earned her commercial pilot certificate in 1965 and flew the Noorduyn Norseman and de Havilland Otter for Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S, a regional air service founded by her father, Viggo Widerøe. In 1968 she joined SAS and completed the company flight academy in 1969, qualified as a first officer. She later was promoted to captain, and flew the Caravelle and Douglas DC-9 jet airliners.

The New York Times, in keeping with the sexist attitudes of the era, referred to her as a “svelte blonde” and made sure to include her physical dimensions: “. . . who has the height (just under 6 feet), the cheekbones and the long, shapely legs of a fashion model. . . her shapely statistics only in centimeters (98–68–100, which translates out to about 38½–26½–39). . .” ¹

In 1969, Ms. Widerøe was awarded the Harmon International Trophy “for the outstanding international achievement in the arts and/or science of aeronautics for the preceding year.”

Turi Widerøe left SAS in the late 1970s following the birth of her second child. Her airline officer’s uniform is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Turi Widerøe was born 23 November 1937 at Oslo, Norway. She is the daughter of Viggo Widerøe and Solveig Agnes Schrøder. She studied at the Statens håndverks- og kunstindustriskole (the Norwegian National Academy of Arts and Craft Industry), graduating in 1958. She worked as a book designer and magazine editor, then as assistant manager of a mine in Troms.

Ms. Widerøe qualified for a private pilot license in 1962. After earning a commercial pilot license, she went to work for Flyveselskap A/S, though her father was initially opposed to her career change.

Turi Widerøe with a de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter float plane. (Unattributed)

After leaving SAS, Ms. Widerøe went to work for NRK, the national radio and television broadcast service of Norway, as a program director.

In 1972, Ms. Widerøe married Karl Erik Harr, an artist. They divorced in 1975.

She earned a master’s degree in history from the University of Oslo in 1998, and a second master’s from the University of Tromsø in 2006.

¹ “Svelte Blonde Is a Commercial Pilot,” by Judy Klemesrud, The New York Times, 16 February 1970, Page 40, Columns 1–4

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 April 1929

“Miss Elinor Smith, 17 years old, waving to the crowd of thousands, just after she landed here after establishing a new women’s flight endurance record, 26 hours, 21 minutes, 32 seconds, over four hours better than that of Mrs. McPhetridge of Los Angeles. The plucky girl flew a Ballanca cabin monoplane.” (George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
Elinor Smith with the Bellanca (CTIE/Monash University)

24 April 1929: At Roosevelt Field, Mineola, Long Island, New York, 17-year-old Elinor Smith set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Duration by staying aloft over Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, in a Bellanca CH Monoplane for 26 hours, 27 minutes. ¹ Miss Smith had very nearly doubled her own record, set just four months earlier. ²

During the flight the airplane’s elevator trim adjustment malfunctioned, forcing Smith to use both arms to hold the stick back to maintain level flight. She dropped a note in a weighted sack to advise those on the ground of the problem.

Elinor Smith with the Bellanca CH Monoplane. (Associated Press/The Los Angeles Times)

The Associated Press reported the event:

FLAPPER ‘ACE’ TOPS WOMEN’S AIR RECORDS

Elinor Smith Is Up Above 26 Hours; Victor Over Four. 

By Associated Press,

ROOSEVELT FIELD, N.Y., April 24.—Elinor Smith, 17-year-old flying flapper of Long Island, won a victory Wednesday in the four-sided battle being waged among two women from the eastern seaboard and two from the west for the women’s solo endurance record.

She brought her plane down at 2:2:16 p.m. after 26 hours 21 minutes and 32 seconds in the air, beating the record of 22 hours 3 minutes and 12 seconds established by Louise McPhetridge of California by  hours 18 minutes and 20 seconds.

Before Mrs. McPhetridge, Miss Bobbie Trout of California was the record holder. Miss Trout beat an earlier record of Miss Smith, who in turn on that earlier flight beat a record held by Viola Gentry, Long Island’s flying cashier.

Miss Smith’s record Wednesday was within 9 hours, 11 minutes and 49 seconds of the man’s solo endurance flight record of 35 hours, 33 minutes and 21 seconds, established at Roosevelt Field last month by Martin Jensen.

Beats Early Mark

Less than three minutes before, Miss Smith exceeded the first world endurance record ever established at this field. In 1921, Eddie Stinson of Detroit and Lloyd Bertaud, who was lost with the transatlantic plane Old Glory, established a record there of 26 hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds, which was 2 minutes and 57 seconds less than the record set single-handed Wednesday by Miss Smith.

About 8:30 a.m. a note was dropped from the plane in which the young flier was having trouble with the stabilizer and had both arms “wrapped around the stick.”

Sure of Victory

It was apparent, however, that she did not regard the trouble as serious for the note added: “Tough night but it won’t be long now.”

Miss Smith brought her plane, a cabin monoplane borrowed from G.M. Bellanca, airplane designer, down to a perfect landing.

“I think it’s wonderful that I broke the record. Now I want to get some sleep,” she said as she dodged the crowds and vanished homeward.

Miss Smith’s mother Wednesday night said plans had been made for Elinor to make a transatlantic flight this summer, probably to Rome. She said backers already had been obtained.

The Milwaukee Sentinel, April 25, 1929, Page 1, Column 4.

A Bellanca CH-200 (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
A Bellanca CH-200 (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

The Bellanca CH Monoplane (also referred to as the CH-200) was a single-engine high-wing monoplane, designed by Giuseppe Mario Bellanca and built by the Bellanca Aircraft Corporation of America, Newcastle, Delaware. It was operated by one pilot and could carry up to 5 passengers in an enclosed cabin.

The airplane was 27 feet, 9 inches (8.458 meters) long with a wingspan of 46 feet, 4 inches (14.122 meters) and height of 8 feet, 4 inches (2.540 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,275 pounds (1,032 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,072 pounds (1,847 kilograms).

The Bellanca CH Monoplane was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 787.26-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) Wright Whirlwind J-5 nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. It was rated at 200 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 225 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. This was a direct-drive engine which turned a two-bladed propeller. The Wright J-5C was 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) long and 3 feet, 9 inches (1.143 meters) in diameter. It weighed 508 pounds (230.4 kilograms).

The airplane’s maximum speed was 126 miles per hour (203 kilometers per hour) and its range was 800 miles (1,287 kilometers).

Elinor Regina Patricia Ward (Smith)

Elinor Regina Patricia Ward was born in New York City, 17 August 1911. She was the second of three children of Thomas Francis Ward, a vaudeville dancer and comedian, and Agnes A. Ward, a singer. In order to avoid being mistaken for another performer, Mr. Ward changed his name to Smith. Miss Ward also adopted the name and is better known as “Elinor Smith.”

Miss Smith took her first flight in an airplane at the age of six years. When she was ten she began flight training in her father’s Weaver Aircraft Co. Waco 9 biplane. Just before her seventeenth birthday she qualified for a pilot’s certificate. It was issued 14 August 1928 by the National Aeronautic Association of the U.S.A., on behalf of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Certificate No. 6906 was signed by Orville Wright, Chairman of the N.A.A.

The National Aeronautic Association issued Aviator Pilot Certificate No. 6906 to Elinor Smith on 14 August 1928, just before her 17th birthday. The document was signed by Orville Wright.
Elinor Smith flying under the Manhattan Bridge, 21 October 1928.

Elinor Smith first came to the attention of the general public when, on 21 October 1928, she flew under four bridges on New York City’s East River.

In November 1928 Miss Smith was employed by the Irvin Air Chute Company as a pilot. She toured the United States, flying a Bellanca Pacemaker.

On 10 March 1930, Smith set an FAI world altitude for women of 8,357 meters (27,418 feet). ³ She flew a Bellanca Skyrocket, NC752W.

In May 1930, the Aeronautics Branch, U.S. Department of Commerce issued a Transport License to Miss Smith. She was the youngest pilot to receive that license up to that time.

A 1930 poll of licensed pilots in the United States selected Smith as the Best Woman Pilot in America. Her male counterpart was the legendary Jimmy Doolittle.

Elinor Smith set several U.S. national records for speed, altitude and duration. From 1930 to 1935, she was an expert commentator on aviation for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) radio network.

On 22 July 1933, Patrick H. Sullivan II, an attorney and member of the New York State Assembly for the 11th District of New York County, married Elinor Smith in New York City. They would have four children. Following the birth of their first child, Patrick H. Sullivan III, Mrs. Sullivan gave up flying.

Elinor Smith was featured on the box of Wheaties breakfast cereal in 1934. (General Mills)

In 1934, Mrs. Sullivan became the first woman to be featured on the box of General Mills’ Wheaties breakfast cereal, “The Breakfast of Champions.” This has always been a high honor for sporting men and women.

After her husband died in 1956, Elinor Smith Sullivan resumed flying, and continued until she was 89 years old.

Mrs. Elinor Smith Sullivan died 19 March 2010 at Lytton Gardens Health Care Center, Palo Alto, California. She was aged 98 years, 7 months and 3 days.

¹ FAI Record File Number 12217. Duration: 26 hours, 27 minutes. 24 April 1929.

² FAI Record File Number 12216. Duration: 13 hours, 17 minutes, 45 seconds. 31 January 1929.

³ FAI Record File Number 12226. Altitude, Female: 8,357 meters (27,418 feet), 10 March 1930.

Elinor Smith and a National Aeronautic Association official check a barograph following an altitude record attempt, 10 March 1930. (Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 April 1912

Harriet Quimby, September 1910. (Edmunds Bond/The Boston Globe)

16 April 1912: American aviatrix Harriet Quimby flew across the English Channel in a Blériot XI monoplane. She departed Dover at 5:30 a.m. and crossed a fog-shrouded channel to land at Hardelot-Plage, Pas-de-Calais, 1 hour, 9 minutes later. Her only instruments were a hand-held compass and a watch.

FLIGHT reported:

MISS QUIMBY FLIES THE CHANNEL.

ALTHOUGH Miss Harriet Quimby has made an enviable reputation for herself as a capable pilot in America, her native country, she has not been very well-known on this side of the Atlantic, and no doubt few of our readers who read the announcement in FLIGHT a week or so back that she was coming to Europe, looked for her so soon to make her mark by crossing the Channel. Contrary to what one would expect, the feat was carried through without any fuss or elaborate preparations, and only a few friends, including Mr. Norbet Chereau and his wife and Mrs Griffith, an American friend, knew the attempt was being made and were present at the start. Miss Quimby had ordered a 50-h.p. Gnome-Blériot, which arrived from France on Saturday, and was tested on Sunday by Mr. Hamel. On Tuesday morning, as previously arranged, after Mr. Hamel had taken the machine for a preliminary trial flight, Miss Quimby, who had been staying at Dover under the name of Miss Craig, took her place in the pilot’s seat, and at 5.38 left Deal, rising by a wide circle and steering a course, by the aid of the compass, for Cape Grisnez. Dover Castle was passed at a height of 1,500 feet, and by the time the machine was over the sea, it was at an altitude of about 2,000 feet. Guided solely by compass, Miss Quimby arrived above the Grisnez Lighthouse a little under an hour later, and making her way towards Boulogne she came down at Equihen by a spiral vol plané not far from the Blériot sheds.

     To Miss Quimby, therefore belongs the honour of being the first of the fair sex to make the journey, unaccompanied, across the Channel on an aeroplane; and, appropriately enough, as the first crossing of an aeroplane by a “mere man” was on a Blériot machine, her mount was of that type. Miss Trehawke Davies, it will be remembered, was the first lady to cross the Channel in an aeroplane, but she was a passenger with Mr. Hamel on his Blériot monoplane.

FLIGHT, No. 173. (No. 16, Vol. IV.), 20 April 1912 at Page 345

Quimby was the first woman to fly across the channel, but that was not her only “first”: On 11 August 1911, after 33 flight lessons over a four-month period at the Moisant Aviation School at Hempstead, Long Island, New York, she had become the first American woman to receive a pilot’s license, Number 37, from the Aero Club of America. She was called as “America’s First Lady of the Air.” Miss Quimby was widely known for her “plum-colored” satin flying suit.

Miss Harriet Qumby, 1911, (Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library)

Harriet Quimby was born 11 May 1875 at Arcadia, Michigan. She was the fourth child of William F. Quimby, a farmer, and Ursula M. Cook Quimby. The family moved to California in 1887, initially settling in Arroyo Grande, and then San Francisco. There, she worked as an actress, and then a writer for the San Francisco Call newspaper, and Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly. Quimby also wrote a number of screenplays for early Hollywood movies which were directed by D.W. Griffiths.

Harriet Quimby was killed at Quincy, Massachusetts, 1 July 1912, when her Blériot XI, circling the airfield at 1,500 feet (457 meters) suddenly pitched down and she and her passenger were thrown out. Miss Quimby was buried at the Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York.

Miss Harriet Quimby with her Blériot monoplane.

The Blériot XI was a single-seat, single-engine monoplane, designed by Raymond Saulnier and built by Louis Charles Joseph Blériot. It was 26.24 feet (7.998 meters) long with a wingspan of 25.35 feet (7.727 meters) and overall height of 8 feet (2.438 meters). The wings had a chord of 6 feet (1.829 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 507 pounds (229.9 kilograms).

In its original configuration, the airplane was powered by an air-cooled, 3.774 liter (230.273 cubic inches) R.E.P.  two-row, seven-cylinder fan engine (or “semi-radial”) which produced 30 horsepower at 1,500 r.p.m., driving a four-bladed paddle-type propeller. The R.E.P. engine weighed 54 kilograms (119 pounds). This engine was unreliable and was soon replaced by an air-cooled 3.534 liter (215.676 cubic inch) Alessandro Anzani & Co., 60° (some sources state 55°) three-cylinder “fan”-type radial engine (or W-3) and a highly-efficient Hélice Intégrale Chauvière two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller, which had a diameter of 6 feet, 8 inches (2.032 meters). The Anzani W-3 was a direct-drive, right-hand tractor engine which produced 25 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m. It was 1.130 meters (3 feet 8.49 inches) long, 1.500 meters (4 feet, 11.01 inches) high, and 0.720 meters (2 feet, 4.35 inches) wide. The engine weighed 66 kilograms (145.5 pounds).

Blériot Type XI, front view.
Blériot Type XI, side view.
Blériot Type XI, top view.

Miss Quimby’s airplane, though, was powered by a normally-aspirated, air-cooled, 7.983 liter (487.140-cubic-inch-displacement) Société des Moteurs Gnome Omega 7-cylinder rotary engine which produced 50 horsepower at 1,200 r.p.m. The direct-drive engine turned a two-bladed wooden propeller in a left-hand, pusher configuration. The Omega 7 is 79.2 centimeters (2 feet, 7.2 inches) long, 83.8 centimeters (2 feet, 9.0 inches) in diameter, and weighs 75.6 kilograms (166.7 pounds). The prototype of this engine is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air & Space Museum.

The Anzani-powered Blériot XI had a maximum speed of 76 kilometers per hour (47 miles per hour) and its service ceiling was 1,000 meters (3,281 feet).

Harriet Quimby, wearing her purple satin flying suit, pulls the Chauvière Intégrale propeller of the Blériot XI to start the air-cooled Anzani 72° W3 ("fan" or "semi-radial") 3-cylinder engine.
Harriet Quimby, wearing her purple satin flying suit, pulls the Chauvière Intégrale propeller of the Blériot XI to start the air-cooled Anzani W3 (“fan” or “semi-radial”) three-cylinder engine.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 March 1928

Eileen Vollick

13 March 1928: At Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, Miss Eileen M. Vollick passed her flight test in a Curtiss JN-4 Canuck, and was issued license number 77. She was the first woman licensed as a pilot in Canada.

The following is an article written by Eileen Vollick, prior to her death in 1968 (photographs are from various other sources):

Owen Sound Sun Times

How I became Canada’s first licensed woman pilot
EILEEN M. VOLLICK
Wednesday, August 6, 2008 10:38:00 EDT AM

“Opportunity” was calling in a thousand forms, in a new and thrilling and expanding industry- viz-commercial aviation, and I felt the urge to fly, to become a pioneer and blaze the trail for the women of my country.

Early in March, 1927, Jack V. Elliot, pioneer of commercial aviation in Canada, opened his school and clubhouse at a place called Ghent’s Crossing, overlooking Hamilton Bay. The story of that flying school and clubhouse, the first of its kind in the Dominion, will be handed down to posterity, not only on account of its pioneer proprietor, but for the reason that in the pages of Canadian Aeronautical history will be found the names of young men and incidentally one woman, whose vocations were founded on faith and the future destiny of aviation in our country’s commercial life.

A Curtiss JN-4 Canuck at the Elliott Air Service hangar, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. (National Aviation Museum)
A Curtiss JN-4 Canuck at the Elliott Air Service hangar, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. (National Aviation Museum)

My home at that time was on the Beach, and from my bedroom window I could see the activities going at the aerodrome, the cutting down of trees, the dumping of load after load of cinders, to make the track or runway, the building of the hangars, and finally the installing of the planes. Each day as I drove my car past the aerodrome a small still voice whispered “Go ahead, brave the lion in his den and make known your proposition to him.”

I proposed to learn to fly, and fearful of being turned down or laughed at (women had not then entered into this man’s game in Canada.) I hesitated, wondering how much courage or talent was required to fly an airplane. I have never been afraid to go after anything I wanted and to stay until I got it, so, as “the whispering voices”ne day I ventured into the proprietor’s den, and asked him: — “Can a girl learn to fly.” He simply smiled, thinking doubtless I was looking for a thrill, but I soon convinced him I was in earnest, and later I met the Controller of Civil Aviation, Flt. Lieut. A. T. Cowley of Ottawa, who advised me to write the Government for permission to learn to fly commercially, no woman in Canada had previously made such application, and Mr. Elliot was doubtful of my success. However, on June 14th, 1927, I was advised from Ottawa that the matter had been fully considered and in future certificates would be granted to women providing they passed the necessary tests and had reached the age of 19 years, and though it was through my efforts women were admitted into the flying game at Ottawa, had I not been first, some other enterprising girl would have paved the way to put Canadian women on a par with other countries.

I was only 18 years old at that time and could not qualify but with the official benediction over my head I made arrangements with Mr. Elliot and became an ardent disciple of his school.

Eileen M. Vollick with W. Fleming in a Jack Elliott Air Service airplane at Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, ca. 1927–28. (Canada Aviation Museum)

The instruction planes at the Elliot Air Service have a dual control and by means of specially constructed earphones on the helmet the pilot gives his instructions to the student flyer.

My first flight in the air was an epoch of my life never to be forgotten, no matter what I may achieve in the future the exhilaration of that flight will linger when all others are merely an event.

The pilot who took me aloft thought he would either frighten me or find out how much courage I possessed, for though it is against the rules to “stunt” with a passenger, it is of great value for a student and a necessary adjunctive. By “stunts” I mean “spins,” “loops,” “zooms,” all very thrilling and decidedly the acid test for a new flyer, and I got mine for half an hour, satisfying my instructor as to my flying ability.

Eileen Vollick (Canada Aviation and Space Museum)

DESCRIPTION OF MISS VOLLICK’S FIRST FLIGHT

“As I sat in the cockpit I felt quite at home, fear never entered my head and when I saw the earth recede as the winged monster roared and soared skyward, and the familiar scenes below became a vast panorama of checker- boarded fields, neatly arranged toy houses, and silvery threads of streams, the pure joy of it, gave me a thrill which is known only to the air-man who wings his way among the fleecy clouds. Perhaps the most trying sensation of a flight comes at the close, when the plane glides rapidly earthward and one feels that familiar “elevator” feeling but even that sensitiveness passes away after a few flights. A spin or a loop, though significantly spectacular from below, is a simple stunt to the aeronaut and easy to accomplish. In flying the most important factors are “taking off” and “landing.” Anyone can fly straight and keep towards the horizon, but rising from the ground and returning, is a different matter. These two factors are important tests when the government inspector examines a pilot for his or her license.”

Aviation always had a fascination for me even before I realized what a great thing had been accomplished when a motor driven vehicle could be propelled at great speed through the air, and when I actually became an active member in the field my enthusiasm knew no bounds.

I would like to write here, that, when I entered the school of aeronauts I mixed exclusively with men, no other girl or woman attended the lectures, entered the hangars or worked around the planes but myself, and from the first day when I became a student with the cadets, to the time I received my pilot’s license on March 13, 1928, there was not a man amongst them who failed to remember my sex, nor one who spoke a disrespectful word to me, yet at the same time I was one of them, joined in their discussions, donned overalls and often looked more grimy and greasy than the rest. Truly the air-men are gentlemen. Their ambitions were my ambitions, their success was my success, and each one was as eager as the other to help me in any difficulty, I had confidence in them which was never misplaced, and in the years to come when aeronautics are intelligently understood and acknowledged by the world at large, and I am only one amongst thousands of my sex who are trained flyers, my thoughts will revert to the days when I was a student flyer, and I can say then, with all my heart, “happy days, loyal friends.”

I must mention my first instructor Pilot Earl Jellison, under whose guidance I stored away knowledge which later proved invaluable. Writing from Vancouver where he was stationed Pilot Jellison sent congratulations on my success and wrote as follows: “I was very pleased with your ability last summer, and I think you know something of the confidence I had in you when you walked out on the wing to do your famous ‘parachute jump’ into Hamilton Bay.” This incident happened soon after I started to fly, and it takes a great deal of confidence to walk the wing of an airplane and jump into space, especially when the controls are in the hands of a strange pilot, but I felt no fear and evidently he felt none. A flyer must never make acquaintance with “fear” if he or she wants to become a successful pilot. I have never felt afraid, flying high or low, over land or water, and though I began my flying lessons in summer it was off the ice on Hamilton Bay that I took my solo flight, and passed the government tests. As a proof that my sense of “fear” is small, when I took the parachute jump from the wing of the plane into the waters of Hamilton Bay, from an altitude of 2,800 feet, it was a record, being the first Canadian girl to leap from a plane into water. Parachute work, however, was not my ambition. I wanted to fly.

The first Curtiss JN-4 Canuck built by Canadian Aeroplanes Limited, 1917. (Canada Aviation Museum)
The first Curtiss JN-4 Canuck built by Canadian Aeroplanes Limited, 1917. (Canada Aviation Museum)

The summer months passed too quickly. October came, and flying days were drawing to a close at the airport. Soon, the family of cadets would move from the Beach to the city . . . The first week of the New Year saw me down at the winter quarters, situated at the extreme end of Hamilton Bay, in the north section of the city. And I began the most strenuous hard work I have done during the nineteen years of my life.

The oracle of “early morning flying” is an open sesame if the student-flyer wants to become a real success, and after several flights off the ice on Hamilton Bay, I made arrangements with my instructor Pilot Richard Turner, to fly as early as possible.

This necessitated some of the mechanical crew being down at the airport long before the sun rose in the horizon to fuel the plane and warm up the motor ready for flight. It is said that an aviator or aviatrix must be ready at all times day or night whenever a call comes, and this creed is thoroughly instilled into the minds of each student. So up in the morning early, long before the streets were warmed I left my cosy cot, drove my faithful old Ford down to the airport, donned a flying-suit and with the tang of ice and frost upon pilot, plane and student, we rose from the hardened ground, and winged our way over the icy Bay, across the cold waters of Lake Ontario, back to the city, then after “landing” and “rising” several times, we flew back to port, full of early morning pep, which the sluggard abed can never fully comprehend. Once more aboard my car and back home to breakfast. Eight a. m. found me on my way to the Hamilton Cotton Co., where I was textile analyst and an assistant designer.

Flying is, and always will be, my uppermost thought, yet I never neglected my duties at the office, and when Alan V. Young, President of the Cotton Co. gave me leave of absence to try my examination tests, the time off had been well earned.

Flying in the air is not the only qualification for a pilot, he or she must have a theoretical as well as a mechanical knowledge of aircraft. Lectures for students are given three times weekly at night and students must attend regularly or lose some important part of their training. I never missed a lecture, in fact when the Aero-Club of Hamilton started their lectures at the Technical School, I made a point to attend both. I was out for knowledge on aircraft. Performance is the supreme test, and the time was drawing close when I had to prove my worth or fall down in my tracks. I was ready for a cross-country flight, which is one of the government requirements. Tuesday, February 28th, was a bright, clear, cold day, ideal flying weather, and I was bound on a glorious adventure, my cross-country test flight. Accompanied by Pilot R. Turner, we left Hamilton early in the morning, arrived at St. Thomas; landed safely at McManus Field, refuelled the plane and took off for Hamilton, completing the round trip in 2 hours and 25 minutes. After more landings, a lesson or two on the use of skiis . . . and the eventful day finished.

The government inspector had arrived and the cadets waited anxiously. Before a license can be issued, the pilot must make four landings, from a height of 1,500 feet, within 150 feet of a spot designated on the ground, one landing from 5,000 feet with the motor shut off, five figure 8 (eight) turns between two designated marks, and a 175-miles cross-country flight. The day previous to the tests I had the extreme pleasure of taking Captain G. B. Holmes, Government Inspector, for a flight, and he gave me great credit for the able manner in which I handled the plane. On March 13, 1928, (lucky day for me) along with ten other cadets of the Elliot Flying School, I successfully passed the Government Civil Aviation examination, making three three-point landings on the ice with skiis, in place of wheels, to the utmost satisfaction of Captain Holmes, and the hearty congratulations of my instructors, and fellow students.

They give credit, these loyal air-men, for having an iron nerve, and skill of an old war time pilot, “nerve” is a natural gift from God. “Skill,” I owe to my instructors, I have had three of whom I cannot speak too highly, Pilots Earl Jellison, Lennard Tripp, and Richard Turner whose invaluable assiduous instruction and help, enabled me to earn the proud title of “Canada’s First Licensed Woman Pilot” and made my dreams come true.

http://www.owensoundsuntimes.com/2008/08/06/how-i-became-canadas-first-licensed-woman-pilot

An original 1917 Curtiss JN-4C Canuck
An original 1917 Curtiss JN-4C Canuck. (Unattributed)

Mary Eileen Vane Riley ¹ was born 2 August 1908 at Wiarton, Ontario, Dominion of Canada. She was the daughter of James Henry Riley, a laborer, and Marie Baynes Riley. Mr. Riley was killed in an accident in 1911. Mrs. Riley then married George Vollick. Miss Riley was known by her stepfather’s family name. She would have three step-siblings.

Eileen Vollick attended St. Patrick’s High School in Hamilton, Ontario, then worked as a materials analyst for the Hamilton Cotton Company.

Miss Vollick was 5 feet, 0 inches (1.52 meters) tall with brown hair and eyes, and a medium complexion.

On 28 September 1929, Miss Vollick married James Hopkin, a steamfitter who had been born in Scotland. The Hopkins moved to Elmhurst, Long Island, New York. They would have two daughters, Eileen and Audrey.

Eileen Vollick, as she is best known, died in 1968. She was buried at the Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York.

¹ Also known as Reilly. She used that version of the surname on an immigration document as she entered the United States the day following her marriage. She also stated that she was unaccompanied; marked “S.”, indicating that she was single (unmarried); and listed her new husband as a “friend” whom she planned to visit in Elmhurst, Long Island, New York.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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