Tag Archives: Stewardess

27 July 1934

Nelly Hedwig Diener, Swissair flight attendant, with the airline’s blue and orange Curtiss-Wright AT-32C Condor II. Miss Diener’s uniform is azure blue. (ETH-Bibliothek, Zürich)

27 July 1934: While Ellen Evalyn Church is recorded as the first airline flight attendant, or “stewardess,” Fräulein Nelly Hedwig Diener was Europe’s first airline hostess. At the age of 22 years, she began flying for Swissair Schweizerische Luftverkehr-AG on 1 May 1934. She was known as the Engel der Lüfte (“Angel of the Skies”).

Her 79th flight departed Zürich-Dübendorf Airport enroute Stuttgart-Echterdingen Airport and then on to Berlin. The pilot was Armin Mühlematter and radio operator/navigator was Hans Daschinger. There were nine passengers on board.

Frl. Nelly Hedwig Diener in the passenger cabin of Swissair’s AT-32C Condor II, at Dübendorf. Photographed by Walter Mittelholzer, a founder of Swissair. (ETH-Bibliothek Zürich)

The airliner was a Curtiss-Wright Airplane Division AT-32C Condor II, a one-of-a-kind variant of the AT-32 which was built specifically for Swissair. It carried identification number CH-170 on its wings and fuselage. The airliner was registered HB-LAP.

The Condor was flying in a thunderstorm at approximately 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) when the right wing structure failed and separated from the airplane. CH-170 crashed into a forest between Wurmlingen and Tuttlingen, Germany, and caught fire. All twelve persons aboard were killed.

Investigators found that a fracture had developed in the welded structure of the engine mount and wing. It was believed that it was caused by defective construction and welding techniques combined with vibration of the engine. A second fracture was caused by the violent weather.

This accident was the first for Swissair, the national airline of Switzerland.

Swissair Curtiss AT-32C Condor II, CH-170, in flight.
Swissair Curtiss AT-32C Condor II, CH-170, in flight.

CH-170 was one of 45 T-32 Condor II airplanes built by Curtiss-Wright for use as both a civil transport and a military transport or bomber. It was a twin-engine, two-bay biplane with retractable landing gear. CH-170 was purchased by Swissair 11 April 1934, and entered service 28 March 1934. The airliner was configured with 15 passenger seats.

The AT-32C was 49 feet, 1-1/8 inch (14.049 meters) long with an upper wingspan of 85 feet, 0 inches (25.908 meters) and lower wing span of 74 feet, 0 inches (22.555 meters), and height of 16 feet, 4 inches (4.953 meters). Both wings had a chord of 8 feet, 10.5 inches (2.705 meters). The total wing area was 1,331 square feet (123.65 square meters). The vertical gap between the upper and lower wings was 9 feet, 11 inches (3.023 meters). There was no stagger. Upper and lower wings had an angle of incidence of 1°. The center sections were straight, but outboard of the engines, they had 2¼° dihedral. ¹

Curtiss AT-32C CH-170 am Boden in Dübendorf. Photographed by Walter Mittelholzer, a founder of Swissair. (ETH-Bibliothek, Zürich)

CH-170 had an empty weight of 11,446 pounds (5,192 kilograms) and gross weight of 16,800 pounds (7,620 kilograms).

The AT-32C was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) Wright Cyclone SR-1820-F3 ² single-row nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.4:1. They were rated at 675 horsepower at 1950 r.p.m., each, and required 87-octane aviation gasoline. These were direct-drive engines, turning three-bladed variable-pitch propellers. The SR-1820-F3 was 3 feet, 7.375 inches (1.102 meters) long, 4 feet, 5.75 inches (1.365 meters) in diameter and weighed 937 pounds (425 kilograms). The engines were enclosed in NACA cowlings, rather than the Townend rings of earlier T-32-series airplanes.

The AT-32C had a cruising speed of 235 kilometers per hour (146 miles per hour) and maximum speed of 274 kilometers per hour (170 miles per hour). The service ceiling was 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) and its range was 800 kilometers (497 miles).

Curtiss AT-32C Condor II, CH-170, at the Swissair base at Dübendorf. (Swissair)
Curtiss AT-32C Condor II, CH-170, at the Swissair base at Dübendorf. (Swissair)

¹ Data from three-view drawings of Richard E. Byrd’s Curtiss-Wright T-32 Condor, c/n 41, drawn by Paul R. Matt, 1965.

² Aviation History of Switzerland

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

15 May 1930

Miss Ellen Evalyn Church, R.N.

15 May 1930: Ellen Church became the first airline stewardess, now more commonly titled Flight Attendant, on a Boeing Air Transport flight from Oakland, California, to Chicago, Illinois.

A registered nurse and licensed airplane pilot, Miss Church had approached Steve Simpson at Boeing Air Transport (later, United Air Lines) to inquire about being hired as a pilot. Simpson turned her down.

When her request was denied, she suggested that the airline put registered nurses aboard BAT’s airplanes to care for the passengers. She was hired to recruit and train seven additional women as stewardesses. Because of the cabin size and weight-carrying limitations of those early airliners, they were limited to a height of 5 feet, 4 inches (1.63 meters) and maximum weight of 115 pounds (52.2 kilograms). They were required to be registered nurses, but could not to be more than 25 years old. Their salary was $125.00 per month (approximately $2,271 in 2023 dollars).

Miss Ellen E. Church, R.N., welcomes a passenger to Boeing Air Transport’s Model 80, a three-engine biplane capable of carrying up to 12 passengers. (Getty Images)
Miss Ellen Evalyn Church, R.N.

Miss Church worked for BAT for about 18 months until she was injured in a car accident. After recovering, she then returned to her career in nursing.

Ellen Evalyn Church was born at Cresco, Iowa, 22 September 1904. She was the second of two children of Gaius Windsor Church, a farmer, and Isabella Johnstone Church, an immigrant from Scotland. After graduating from Cresco High School in 1921, Miss Church studied nursing at the University of Wisconsin. She also took flying lessons and became a licensed airplane pilot.

After qualifying as a Registered Nurse (R.N.), Miss Church went to San Francisco, California, where she was employed by The French Hospital. It was while there that she first met Mr. Simpson.

Following her accident in 1932, Ellen Church returned to the University of Wisconsin and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. By 1936, she had become the Supervisor of Pediatrics at the Milwaukee County Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. By 1940, she was the hospital’s Nursing Supervisor.

In May 1940, Miss Church was featured in a series of photographs comparing her 1930 stewardess’s Boeing Air Transport uniform to that of a “modern” United Air Lines stewardess. The photos included a new Douglas DC-3 airliner.

Ellen Church, at right, with a United Air Lines stewardess, poses in front of a Douglas DC-3 Mainliner at Chicago, 14 May 1940. (AP)
Captain Ellen E. Church, Nurse Corps, United States Army Air Forces.

Ellen E. Church enlisted in the United States Army, 5 December 1942, entering service at Louisville, Kentucky, the location of the U.S. Army Air Force School of Air Evacuations. She trained as a Flight Nurse and was commissioned as a Lieutenant, Nurse Corps, United States Army Air Forces. She also was responsible for training nurses.

Lieutenant Church was deployed to North Africa on 8 February 1943, caring for soldiers evacuated by air from North Africa and the Mediterranean areas. She served in the combat zones of Tunisia, Sicily, Italy, the invasion of Normandy and the Rhineland. She was promoted to the rank of Captain.

Captain Church returned to the United States, arriving by air aboard a military transport at La Guardia Airport, New York City, New York, 10 September 1944. She was released from military service 18 June 1946.

For her military service, Captain Church was awarded the Air Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with seven campaign stars, and the World War II Victory Medal.

Returning to her civilian career, Miss Church became the Hospital Administrator at Union Hospital, Terra Haute, Indiana.

Miss Church was married to Leonard Briggs Marshall, a bank president, at Indianapolis, Indiana, 11 September 1964.

While riding a horse on 27 August 1965, Ellen Church Marshall fell and suffered a severe head injury. She was taken to Union Hospital, where she died about six hours later. Her remains were buried at Highland Lawn Cemetery, Terre Haute, Indiana.

Ellen Church Field (FAA Location identifier CJJ), an uncontrolled airport 1 mile southwest of her hometown of Cresco, Iowa, was named in her honor.

The first eight airline stewardesses. Miss Ellen Church is at the center. (National Air and Space Museum)
The first eight airline stewardesses, from left to right, Jessie Carter, Cornelia Peterman, Ellen Church, Inez Keller, Alva Johnson, Margaret Arnott, Ellis Crawford and Harriet Fry. The airliner is a Boeing Model 80A. (National Air and Space Museum)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes