16 September 1910: Bessica Faith Curtis Medlar Raiche, M.D., having had no training, made a solo flight in an airplane that she and her husband, François C. Raiche, had built at their home in Mineola, New York.
Two weeks earlier, 2 September 1910, Blanche Stuart Scott had also made a solo flight in an airplane while under instruction of Glenn Hammond Curtiss at his school at Hammondsport, New York. Scott was practicing taxiing to familiarize herself with the airplane and its controls. Curtiss had rigged the throttle to prevent it advancing far enough for the airplane to takeoff. However, possibly because of a wind gust, the airplane did become airborne and Blanche Scott is considered to have been the first American woman to fly solo in an airplane.
The Aeronautical Society of America credits Bessica Raiche with the first intentional solo flight, however. The society awarded her a gold medal, studded with diamonds, and inscribed The First Woman Aviator in America.
Bessica Medlar was a many-talented woman. She received a Doctor of Medicine degree (M.D.) from Tufts University in 1903. She was a practicing dentist, a linguist and an artist. She had traveled to France to study painting, and while there, had seen Orville Wright demonstrate his Wright Flyer.
Later, back at home, she and her husband built an airplane based on the Wrights’ design. Using lighter-weight materials, though—bamboo, silk and piano wire—they assembled the components in their home before taking them outside to put together. The biplane had a length of 28 feet, 6 inches (8.687 meters) and a wingspan of 33 feet (10.058 meters). It was powered by an engine built by C.M. Crout which produced approximately 30 horsepower.
Because Dr. Raiche was lighter, it was decided that she would attempt the first flights. The airplane was transported from their home to Hempstead Plains for the attempt. During the day she made five flights. The last one covered approximately one mile (1.6 kilometers). The airplane nosed over in a depression and Dr. Raiche was thrown out. She was uninjured and the airplane was only slightly damaged.
Forming the French-American Aeroplane Company, Mr. and Mrs. Raiche built several more airplanes.
Bessica Faith Curtis Medlar was born in Wisconsin, 23 April 1875, the first of two daughters of James Burch Medlar, a photographer, and Elizabeth Ann Curtis Medlar. She graduated from Rockford High School, Rockford, Illinois, in 1894. She spent the next four years studying art in France. One her return in 1900, she entered Tufts Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. She graduated in 1903. Dr. Medlar worked at the Staten Island Children’s Hospital, New York, before opening her own medical practice.
Dr. Medlar married François C. Raiche, Esq., an attorney, in 1904. They had one child, Catherine Elizabeth.
Moving to the West Coast of the United States, Dr. Raiche opened her medical practice near Newport Beach, California, in 1912. She was a well-respected physician who specialized in obstetrics and gynecology. She served as chairperson of the Orange County Medical Association.
The Raiches divorced in 1925.
Dr. Raiche died at her home on Balboa Island, 9 April 1932, at the age of 56 years. She was buried at Fairhaven Memorial Park, Santa Ana, California.
2 September 1910:¹ After receiving flight instruction from Glenn Hammond Curtiss, Miss Blanche Stuart Scott became the first woman in the United States to fly an airplane when she made a solo flight in a Curtiss biplane at Lake Keuka Field, Hammondsport, New York.
She later wrote:
It was customary in those days to have the student “cut grass” for many days, to become thoroughly familiar with the controls. As the plane was a one seater, no instructor would go along to teach the student. There was a governor on the engine to hold the power down and keep the plane on the ground. My fourth trip down the field “grass cutting” caught a side wind and the plane soared about ten feet in the air. It felt like a hundred feet. Curtiss was alarmed, because at that stage in aviation an injured or killed woman would have been the worst publicity. However, and perhaps because I didn’t know enough to be afraid, I landed safely. Two days later, I asked Curtiss to take the governor off the engine, and he finally agreed. I stepped into the little old 35 hp ship, waved a flippant good-bye and took right off, flew around the field and made a good landing. I have never found that any woman antedated that flight.
She became a professional exhibition pilot and worked for Curtiss as a test pilot—the first woman in that occupation. She is said to have earned as much as $5,000 per week with Curtiss, nearly $133,000 in 2018 U.S. dollars.
On 6 September 1948, Blanche Scott was the first woman to fly in a jet-powered aircraft when she rode with Major Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Air Force, in a two-place Lockheed TF-80C Shooting Star (later redesignated T-33A).
Blanche Stuart Scott ² was born 8 April 1885 ³ at Rochester, New York. Her father was James C.S. Scott, owner of Scott’s Hoof Paste Co., Inc., of Rochester, and her mother was Belle J. Herendeen Scott. Mr. Scott died in 1904. Mrs. Scott continued to run the business.
Blanche Scott, also known as “Betty,” was educated at Vassar College, a highly-regarded residential school for women in Poughkeepsie, New York.
In April 1910, Blanche Scott was employed as an auto saleslady.
Miss Scott first gained public notice when she drove across the North American continent, departing New York City on 16 May 1910, and arriving at San Francisco, California, on 23 July. She had driven approximately 5,400 miles (8,690 kilometers) in 69 days.
Scott’s automobile was an Overland Model 38 “runabout,” named Miss Overland. It was a front-engine, rear-wheel drive car, with a water-cooled, normally-aspirated 198.804 cubic-inch-displacement Overland inline four-cylinder L-head engine with two valves per cylinder. It used a single Schebler carburetor. The engine produced 25 horsepower. The power was transmitted from a two-speed transmission by a drive shaft to the rear axle. Two wheels were equipped with manual brakes. Goodyear 32″× 3.5″ tires were used on all four wheels. The Model 38 was advertised for sale at $1,095. (Scott was the first woman to make the transcontinental journey from east to west. The previous year, Alice Ramsey, also a Vassar alumni, drove a Maxwell touring car from San Francisco to New York, west-to-east, in 59 days.
Blanche S. Scott married 32-year-old Harry Bronson Tuttle, superintendent of agencies for Willys-Overland Co., (until recently, the head of the service department of the Dayton Motor Car Company) at Detroit, Michigan, 24 October 1910.
On 1 July 1912, Mrs. Tuttle was flying for Glenn L. Martin’s exhibition team, the Martin Flying Circus, at Squantum, Massachussets, and witnessed the death of Harriet Quimby, America’s first licensed female pilot.
Her husband, Harry Tuttle, is reported to have told her, “she must choose at once and for all between him and aviation.”
There marriage soon ended.
Blanche Scott starred as “The Aviator” in “An Aviator’s Success,” and as “Bertha Monroe” in “The Aviator and the Autoist Race for a Bride.” Both silent films were produced by the Champion Film Company and released in 1912.
On Memorial Day, 26 May 1913, Blanche crashed her airplane during an exhibition at Madison, Wisconsin. There are many versions as to what occurred, and as many as to the extent of her injuries.
By 1915, Blanche Scott Tuttle was living with her mother, now running a hotel in Mentz, New York. She listed he occupation as “aviator.”
13 July 1917 Mrs. Tuttle married George K. Hennings, of Philadelphia, at Lake County, Indiana. They eventually separated and she headed west to Hollywood where she became a script writer for R.K.O. Pictures, Universal, and Warner Brothers. She was known for her witty dialogue. George Hennings died in 1941.
In 1921, Blanche Scott was the studio manager for the Hal Benedict Studios at Flushing, New York.
In 1929, the organization Early Birds of Aviation was founded. The membership was limited to pilots who had made their solo flights before 1916. Blanche Stuart was one of the original members.
1931, she joined radio station KFI in Los Angeles as a talk show host. In 1936 Scott returned to Rochester to care for her mother. She worked for several radio stations in the area.
From 1953 to 1958, Ms. Scott was employed as a consultant by the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. She searched for items that the museum could acquire to help tell the history of early aviation.
Blanche Stuart Scott died at Genesee Hospital in Rochester, 12 January 1970. Her remains were interred at the Riverside Cemetery, Rochester, New York.
¹ The actual date of her flight is uncertain. Some sources cite 6 September, while others give a range of from 2 to 12 September.
² Blanche Stuart Scott was also known as Betty Scott, Blanche S. Tuttle and Blanche S. Hennings.
³ Various sources give Ms. Scott’s date of birth as 1880, 1884, and 1889. Social Security Administration records state 1885, which coincides with her age as listed in Federal and New York state censuses from 1900, 1905 and 1915.
12 August 1908: Test flights begin for Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1 at Fort Myers, Virginia, with Thomas Scott Baldwin as pilot and Glenn Hammond Curtiss as flight engineer.
On 1 August 1907, Brigadier General James Allen, Chief Signal Officer, United States Army, issued a directive establishing the Aeronautical Division within the Signal Corps. Captain Charles Chandler was the officer in charge. Specifications were published in Signal Corps Bulletin No. 5, soliciting bids for both lighter- and heavier-than air vehicles. There were 41 responses. Plans were submitted and a board of officers selected plans for those that seemed most practical.
The lighter-than-air craft was required to be a self-propelled dirigible (a “directable” balloon) able carry two persons and to be able to travel at 20 miles per hour (32.2 kilometers per hour). Thomas Scott Baldwin’s proposal was selected. (The Wright brothers’ Military Flyer was selected as the heavier-than-air winner on 2 August 1909, and designated Signal Corps Airplane No. 1.)
On 3 August 1908, Baldwin No. 8 was presented to the Army for trials. Although the the Baldwin No. 8 reached an average speed of just 19.61 miles per hour (31.56 kilometers per hour). It demonstrated the required endurance of two hours, averaging 14 miles per hour (22.5 kilometers per hour). Although the airship’s speed was short of the requirement, on 5 August, the Army purchased it from Baldwin for $5,737.59. The airship was designated Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1.
Contemporary sources give the airship’s dimensions as being 96 feet (29.26 meters) long with a maximum diameter of 19 feet, 6 inches (5.94 meters). The envelope was made of two layers of silk fabric separated by a layer of vulcanized rubber, and supported by 30 wooden frames. Buoyancy was provided by hydrogen gas. The envelope’s volume was approximately 20,000 cubic feet (566 cubic meters).
An open girder beam gondola (or “car”) built of spruce was suspended beneath the balloon. The gondola was 66 feet (20.12 meters) long with a 2½ feet × 2½ feet (0.76 × 0.76 meters) cross section. A water-cooled Curtiss-built inline four-cylinder gasoline engine was mounted at the front end of the gondola. The engine produced 20 horsepower and drove the tractor propeller through a steel drive shaft at 450 r.p.m. The two-bladed spruce propeller had a diameter of 10 feet, 8 inches (3.25 meters) and pitch of 11 feet (3.35 meters).
A two-plane “box-kite” canard elevator unit behind the engine provided control for pitch. The pilot was located behind the control surfaces. Another crew member was at the rear of the gondola, followed by a fixed cruciform stabilizer unit.
The dirigible had a lifting capacity of 1,350 pounds (612.4 kilograms). The payload was 500 pounds (226.8 kilograms).
The U.S. Army’s first aviators, Lieutenants Benjamin D. Fulois, Thomas Etholen Selfridge and Frank P. Lahm were taught to fly the airship. Lahm and Fulois made the first flight of an all-Army crew on 26 August.
Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1 was assigned to the Signal Corps Post at Fort Omaha, Nebraska, where the Army had a balloon factory. It was operated there until 1912. The airships envelope needed to be replaced, and unwilling to spend money for that, the airship was sold.
8 June 1911: The Aero Club of America, as representative of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, issued Aviator Certificate Number 1 to Glenn Hammond Curtiss. The document was signed by Allan A. Ryan, president of the club, and G. F. Campbell-Wood, secretary.
27 April 1911: At Fort Sam Houston, Texas, the Aeronautical Division of the Signal Corps, United States Army, accepted its second airplane, a Curtiss Model D Type IV. The airplane was built by Glenn H. Curtiss’ Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company at Hammondsport, New York. It was known as a “Curtiss Pusher,” as it was propelled by a propeller behind the engine. The aircraft was a canard configuration with elevators mounted in front. It had tricycle landing gear.
The airframe was primarily spruce and ash, with flying surfaces covered with doped fabric. It was easily disassembled for transport on Army wagons.
The Wrights had patented their “wing-warping” system of flight controls and refused to allow Curtiss to use it. The Model D used ailerons instead, which was a superior system.
The Model D Type IV had a length of 29 feet, 3 inches (8.915 meters) with a wingspan of 38 feet, 3 inches (11.659 meters) and height of 7 feet, 10 inches (2.388 meters). Its empty weight was 700 pounds (317.5 kilograms) and loaded weight was 1,300 pounds (589.7 kilograms).
The engine was a “Curtiss Vee,” an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 268.336-cubic-inch displacement (4.397 liter) Curtiss Model B-8 90° V-8 engine, producing 40 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The Model B-8 was 29½ inches (0.75 meters) long, 19 inches (0.48 meters) high and 17 inches (0.43 meters) wide. It weighed approximately 150 pounds (68 kilograms). The engine drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller in pusher configuration.
The airplane’s top speed was 60 miles per hour (96.6 kilometers per hour). Endurance was 2½ hours.
The Signal Corps assigned serial number S.C. No. 2 to the Curtiss. Intended as a trainer, it was in service until 1914, when it was scrapped.
A reproduction of S.C. No. 2 is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.