Tag Archives: Women in Aviation

7 December 1941

Cornelia Clark Fort, with a Fairchild PT-19A Cornell trainer. (U.S. Air Force)
Cornelia Clark Fort, with a Fairchild PT-19A Cornell trainer. (U.S. Air Force)

7 December 1941: Cornelia Clark Fort was an instructor in the Civilian Pilot Training Program at John Rodgers Airport, near Honolulu on the island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii. Early on this Sunday morning, she and a student, a Mr. Suomala, were practicing touch-and-goes at John Rodgers Airport in an Interstate Cadet, NC37345, a two-place light airplane owned by the local flying club.¹

Shortly before 8:00 a.m., Miss Fort saw a silver military-type airplane approaching her Cadet at high speed. She took over the flight controls from Mr. Suomala and put the trainer into a steep climb. The other airplane flew directly under, close enough that she felt the vibrations of its engine. She saw that its wings carried the “rising sun” insignia of the Empire of Japan.

Fort landed the Cadet at John Rogers Airport, which was being attacked by Japanese airplanes. Another trainer on the ground was destroyed by machine gunfire and its instructor killed.

A page from Cornelia Fort’s pilot logbook with her remarks for December 7, 1941. (Texas Women’s University)
A page from Cornelia Fort’s pilot logbook with her remarks for December 7, 1941. (Texas Women’s University)

Fort’s logbook entry for 7 December 1941 reads: “Cadet, 37345, Cont. 65—Flight interrupted by Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. An enemy airplane shot at my airplane and missed and proceeded to strafe John Rodgers, a civilian airport. Another airplane machine-gunned the ground in front of me as I taxied back to the hangar.” The logbook shows her total accumulated flight time at the end of this flight as 893 hours, 25 minutes.

Cornelia Clark Fort. (Tennessee State Library and Archives)
Cornelia Clark Fort. (Tennessee State Library and Archives)

Cornelia Clark Fort was born into an affluent family in Nashville, Tennessee, 5 February 1919, the fourth of five children of Dr. Rufus Elijah Fort and Louise Clark Fort. Her father was a prominent surgeon who co-founded the National Life and Accident Insurance Company. The family lived at Fortland, an estate east of Nashville.

Cornelia Clark Fort. (1936 Milestones)

Cornelia attended the Ward-Belmont School in Nashville, then studied at the Ogontz School in Philadelphia. (Amelia Earhart had also attended Ogontz.) In 1937, Miss Fort transferred to Sarah Lawrence College, Yonkers, New York, where she studied Literature. She graduated 10 June 1939.

After taking a flight with a friend, Jack Caldwell, in January 1940, she pursued an interest in aviation, starting flight lessons the following day. She had earned her pilot certificate and flight instructor certificate by June 1940, which made her the first woman to become an instructor at Nashville. With the Civilian Pilot Training Program, she first went to Fort Collins, Colorado, where she taught for about three months, then went on to Honolulu.

Pilots of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron at Long Beach Army Airfield, 1943. Left to right, Barbara Towne, Cornelia Clark Fort, Evelyn Sharp, Barbara Erickson and bernice Batten. The airplane is a Vultee BT-13 Valiant. (Texas Women's University)
Pilots of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron at Long Beach Army Airfield, 7 March 1943. Left to right, Barbara Towne, Cornelia Clark Fort, Evelyn Sharp, Barbara Erickson and Bernice Batten. The airplane is a Vultee BT-13 Valiant. (Texas Women’s University)

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, all civilian aircraft were grounded. Cornelia Fort was able to return to the mainland United States in early 1942. In September she was one of the first 25 women accepted into the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Service. She was assigned to the 6th Ferrying Group based at Long Beach, California.

Cornelia Clark Fort’s military identification card. (Nashville Public Library)

On 21 March 1943, while ferrying a new Vultee BT-13A Valiant basic trainer, serial number 42-42432, from the factory at Downey, California, to an airfield in Texas, her left wing was struck from behind by another airplane. With its wing damaged, the BT-13 rolled over and entered an inverted dive. It crashed approximately 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of Merkel, Texas, and Cornelia Fort was killed.

Cornelia Clark Fort was the first female pilot killed while on active military duty. She was 24 years old.

Air & Space/Smithsonian quoted from a letter written by Fort in a January 2012 article:

“I dearly loved the airports, little and big. I loved the sky and the airplanes, and yet, best of all I loved the flying. . . I was happiest in the sky at dawn when the quietness of the air was like a caress, when the noon sun beat down, and at dusk when the sky was drenched with the fading light.”

—Cornelia Clark Fort, 1942.

Interstate Cadet S-1A NC34939, s/n 34, the same type airplane flown by Cornelia Fort on 7 December 1941.

The trainer flown by Cornelia Fort and her student on the morning of 7 December 1941 was a Cadet S-1A, serial number 188, built by the Interstate Aircraft and Engineering Company, El Segundo, California. It was a high-wing monoplane with a tandem cockpit. The fuselage of the Cadet was built of a welded tubular steel framework. The wings had two spruce spars with Alclad metal ribs. The leading edges were covered in Dural sheet and the complete wing then covered in doped fabric. The wing support struts were made of tubular steel. The S-1A was 24 feet, 0 inches (7.315 meters) long with a wingspan of 35 feet, 6 inches (10.820 meters) and height of 7 feet, 3 inches (2.210 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 720 pounds (327 kilograms) and maximum weight of 1,200 pounds (544 kilograms).

The Interstate Cadet S-1A was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 171.002-cubic-inch-displacement (2.802 liter) Continental A65-8 horizontally-opposed four cylinder direct-drive engine, with a compression ratio of 6.3:1. It was rated at 65 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level, using 73-octane gasoline. The engine turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller with a diameter of 6 feet, 4 inches (1.930 meters).

The Cadet S-1A had a maximum speed of 103 miles per hour (166 kilometers per hour) in level flight, and 139 miles per hour (224 kilometers per hour) in a dive. The service ceiling was 14,500 feet (4,420 meters). The S-1A’s fuel capacity was 15 gallons (57 liters). Its maximum range was approximately 350 miles (563 kilometers).

Approximately 320 Cadets were built by Interstate in 1941–1942. They were sold for $2,095. With the onset of World War II, Interstate switched production to the L-6 Grasshopper.

The fuselage frame, c/n 188, is owned by a retired airline pilot, Kent Pietsch, who owns and has restored four other Cadets.

Interstate Cadet S-1A
Interstate Cadet S-1A NC37266, flown by Greg Anders. (Wikipedia)

¹ Greg Anders, Director of The Heritage Flight Museum, Burlington, Washington, owns an Interstate Cadet that he believes was the one flown by Cornelia Fort on 7 December 1941. It carried the registration number NC37266. In an article in Air & Space Magazine, November 2016, he stated that he believes that Fort’s logbook is actually a copy, and that Fort incorrectly listed NC37345.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 November 1916

Ruth Bancroft Law at the controls of a Curtiss Pusher, ca. 1915. (U.S. Air Force)
Ruth Bancroft Law at the controls of a Curtiss Pusher, ca. 1915. (Lt. H.M. Benner/U.S. Air Force)

19 November 1916: Ruth Bancroft Law (Mrs. Charles Augustus Oliver) flew a Curtiss Pusher non-stop from Chicago, Illinois to Hornell, New York, a distance of 590 miles (949.5 kilometers). This exceeded the previous long distance flight record of 452 miles (727.4 kilometers) and set a new Aero Club of America record for distance.

Ruth Law departed Chicago at 8:25 a.m., in very windy conditions. After a very difficult flight, she landed at Hornell at 2:10 p.m., gliding the last two miles to a landing after the engine stopped from fuel starvation.

With her airplane refueled, Law took off from Hornell at 3:24 p.m. and flew on to Binghampton, New York, landing there at 4:20 p.m.

One the morning of 20 November, Law departed Binghampton at 7:23 a.m., finally arriving at Governor’s Island, New York City at 9:37:35 a.m. The total flight time for the 884-mile (1,422.66 kilometers) Chicago–New York City journey was 8 hours, 55 minutes, 35 seconds.

For a more detailed article about Ruth Law’s flight, please see:

http://www.ninety-nines.org/index.cfm/Ruth_Law.htm

Ruth Bancroft Law arrives at New York.
Ruth Bancroft Law arrives at New York City, 1916. (George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

Ruth Bancroft Law was born at Lynn, Massachussetts, 21 March 1887. She was the third of four children of Frederick Henry Law and Sarah Bancroft Breed Law. She married Charles Augustus Oliver in 1907. He would act as her business manager during her aviation career.

Law (Mrs. Oliver) was taught to fly by Harry Nelson Atwood, chief instructor of the General Aviation Corporation, Saugus, Massachussetts, and Archibald A. Freeman, assistant instructor. She received her pilot’s certificate in November 1912.

Ruth Bancroft Law with her Wright Model B at Daytona Beach, Florida, 1916. (National Archives and Records Administration)
Ruth Bancroft Law with her Wright Model B at Daytona Beach, Florida, 1916. (National Archives and Records Administration)

Ruth Law enlisted in the Army 30 June 1917, after the United States entered World War I. Although it was her intention to serve as a pilot, she was not permitted to fly, but was assigned to the U.S. Army Accessions Command, to assist with recruiting and instruction. Law trained with the 38th Infantry Division at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. She served in Europe and held the non-commissioned officer rank of Sergeant.

Ruth Bancroft Law at Camp Shelby, Missippi, 1917. At the far right is Major General William H. Sage, with Mrs. Sage. Rutkh Law is fourth from right without a hat. (SunHerald)
Ruth Bancroft Law at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, 1917. At the far right is Major General William Hampden Sage, commanding officer, 38th Division, with his wife, Elizabeth Sage. Ruth Law is fourth from right, not wearing a hat. (Sun Herald)

Following the War, Law set several aviation records, did stunt flying and operated Ruth Law’s Flying Circus. Several sources say the she earned as much as $9,000 per week, approximately equivalent to $112,590 U.S. dollars in 2016. She retired from aviation in March 1922, saying that her husband was worried about her, and that she wanted to raise a family.

Mr. and Mrs. Oliver moved to Beverly Hills, California, living at 613, N. Roxbury Drive. Later, Mr. and Mrs. Oliver resided at 34 Rosewood Drive, San Francisco, California. Mr. Oliver died in 1947.

Ruth Bancroft Law Oliver died at Notre Dame Hospital, San Francisco, California, at 1:30 a.m., 1 December 1970, of a cerebro-vascular accident, at the age of 83 years. She was buried at Pine Grove Cemetery, Lynn, Massachussetts.

Ruth Law races Gaston Chevrolet, 1918. (Library of Congress via The Old Motor)
Ruth Law with her Curtiss Pusher races Gaston Chevrolet at the Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, Ontario, Saturday, 29 June 1918. The race was to cover 5 laps. Chevrolet was given a 1-lap head start, and won the race by ½ a lap. (Library of Congress)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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24–25 September 1938

World Record Aviators with Antonov ANT 37 Rodina
From left to right, Polina Osipenko, Valentine Grizodubova and Marina Raskova, with the record-setting Tupolev ANT-37, Rodina
Valentina Stepanovna Grizodubova (Валентина Степановна Гризодубова), 1938

24–25 September 1938: Valentina Stepanovna Grizodubova (Валентина Степановна Гризодубова), Polina Denisovna Osipenko (Полина Денисовна Осипенко) and Marina Mikailovna Raskova (Марина Mихайловна Раскова) set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance in a Straight Line Without Landing when they flew a twin-engine Tupolev ANT-37 named Rodina from Tchelcovo, an airport near Moscow, Russia, to the River Amgun, Khabarovsk Krai, in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The distance was 5,908.61 kilometers (3,671.44 miles).¹ The duration of the flight was 26 hours, 29 minutes.

The planned flight was from Moscow to Komsomolsk-on-Amur. In adverse weather conditions, they missed the airfield at Komsomolsk, and out of fuel, crash landed in a forest near the Sea of Okhotsk. Raskova was ordered to bail out of the airplane to avoid being injured, and she wandered for ten days before she located the crashed ANT-37. The other two remained with the ANT-37 and survived the landing. They waited by the wreck for Raskova to arrive. All three were made Heroes of the Soviet Union.

Polina Denisovna Osipenko, hero of the Soviet Union.

The three women were all highly experienced aviators and each held multiple world records. (Grizodubova held one FAI altitude record, two distance and three speed; Osipenko held three distance and three altitude records; and Raskova was a navigator on two distance record flights.)

Polina Osipenko was killed in an airplane accident in 1939. Marina Raskova died when her bomber crashed in 1943. She received the first state funeral of the war. Valentina Grizodubova survived World War II and then served on a commission investigating Nazi war crimes.  She died at Moscow in 1993.

Марина Mихайловна Раскова, 1938

The Antonov ANT-37, given the military designation DB-2, was a prototype long range medium bomber designed and built at Tupolev OKB. The design team was led by Pavel Sukhoi.

Rodina, the airplane flown by Grizodubova, Osipenko and Raskova, was the first prototype ANT-37. It had crashed during testing 20 July 1935, but was rebuilt as the ANT-37 bis, or DB-2B. The nose section was modified and the engines and propellers upgraded, all military armament was removed and larger fuel tanks installed. It was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 2,359.97-cubic-inch-displacement (38.67 liter) Tumansky M-86 two-row, 14-cylinder radial engines. They were rated 950 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m. for takeoff and drove three-bladed, variable pitch propellers. (These engines were license-built versions of the Gnome et Rhône 14K Mistral Major.) The main landing gear was retracted by electric motors.

The airplane was operated by a crew of three. It was 15.00 meters (49 feet, 2.6 inches) long with a wingspan of 31.00 meters (101 feet, 8.5 inches). Its empty weight was 5,855 kilograms (12,908 pounds) and gross weight was 12,500 kilograms (27,558 pounds). The maximum speed was 300 kilometers per hour at 0 meters (186 miles per hour at Sea Level) and 342 kilometers per hour (212.5 miles per hour) at high altitude. The service ceiling was 8,000 meters (26, 247 feet).

Tupolev ANT-37 Rodina.
Tupolev ANT-37 Rodina.

Rodina was repaired and operated by Aeroflot, then, until 1943, by the People’s Commissariat of Aircraft Industry.

¹ FAI Record File Number 10444

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 September 1961

Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, at Edwards Air Force Base, 1961. (U.S. Air Force)
Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1961. (U.S. Air Force)

18 September 1961: Jackie Cochran, acting as a test pilot and consultant for Northrop Corporation, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance when she flew the Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, from Palmdale, California, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, a distance of 2,401.780 kilometers (1,492.397 miles).¹

Jacqueline Cochran's Diplôme de Record in teh San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)

Jackie’s friend, famed Air Force test pilot Colonel Chuck Yeager, kept notes during the series of record attempts:

September 18: Jackie took off from Palmdale at 10:00 am for attempt to set records from points to points. I took off from Edwards with 275-gallon [1,041 liter] drop tanks. During climb Jackie reported rough engine and poor performance. Also the fuel flow was inoperative. Jackie returned to the field where I finally found her takeoff flaps were still down. Also her navigation lights and beacon were on. I was rather disappointed. She’s a little cocky in the airplane. She landed back there at Palmdale with 1500 pounds [680 kilograms] of fuel in each side and made a good heavy-weight landing. The aircraft refueled and another takeoff was made at 12:30 pm. Everything went smooth this flight. We ran into clouds at the edge of Utah which lasted until Cheyenne, Wyo. Clear the rest of the way. Jackie landed with 250 pounds of fuel in each side. Made a beautiful landing and turned off after a 4000 foot [1,220 meters] ground roll. Bob White returned the F-100 to Edwards.

—  Brigadier General Charles Elwood (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Air Force, quoted in Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York, 1987, Pages 306.

Jackie Cochran and Chuck Yeager at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight in the record-setting Northrop T-38A Talon. (U.S. Air Force)
Jackie Cochran and Chuck Yeager at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight in the record-setting Northrop T-38A Talon. (U.S. Air Force) 

The Northrop T-38A Talon is a two-place, twin-engine jet trainer capable of supersonic speed. It is 46 feet, 4 inches (14.122 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 3 inches (7.696 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.912 meters). The trainer’s empty weight is 7,200 pounds (3,266 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 12,093 pounds (5,485 kilograms).

The T-38A is powered by two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. The J85 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with an 8-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J85-GE-5 is rated at 2,680 pounds of thrust (11.921 kilonewtons), and 3,850 pounds (17.126 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 108.1 inches (2.746 meters) long, 22.0 inches (0.559 meters) in diameter and weighs 584 pounds (265 kilograms).

Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

It has a maximum speed of Mach 1.08 (822 miles per hour, 1,323 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The Talon’s service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters) and it has a maximum range of 1,093 miles (1,759 kilometers).

In production from 1961 to 1972, Northrop has produced nearly 1,200 T-38s. As of January 2014, the U.S. Air Force had 546 T-38A Talons in the active inventory. It also remains in service with the U.S. Navy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Jackie Cochran’s record-setting T-38 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum.

Northrop T-38A Talon 60-0551, now twenty-one years old, sits on the ramp at the Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, California, 1981. (Photograph by Gary Chambers, used with permission)
Northrop T-38A Talon 60-0551, now twenty-one years old, sits on the ramp at the Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, California, 1981. (Photograph by Gary Chambers, used with permission)

¹ FAI Record File Number 12383

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4–5 September 1936

beryl Markham stands at The entrance to the cockpit of the Percival Vega Gull, probably late August 1936.
Beryl Markham steps out of the cockpit of the Percival Vega Gull, probably late August 1936. (Library of Congress)

4–5 September 1936: At 6:50 p.m., British Summer Time, Beryl Markham departed RAF Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England, aboard a turquoise blue and silver Percival P.10 Vega Gull, registration VP-KCC. Her intended destination was New York City, across the Atlantic Ocean in America.

The airplane flown by Mrs. Markham, serial number K.34, was brand-new, built for John Evans Carberry (formerly, 10th Baron Carbery) for his entry in The Schlesinger air race from London, England, to Johannesburg, South Africa. He loaned the airplane to her for the transatlantic flight on condition that she would return it to England by mid-September, in time for the start of the race.

Beryl Markham with the Percival P.10 Gull, VP-KCC. (HistoryNet)

Designed by Edgar Percival and built by Percival Aircraft Limited at Gravesend, the P.10 Vega Gull was a four-place, single engine monoplane with fixed landing gear. Known as the K-series, it was a development of the previous D-series Gull Six. The airplane was 25 feet, 6 inches (7.772 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 6 inches (12.040 meters) and height of 7 feet, 4 inches (2.235 meters). The standard airplane had an empty weight of 1,740 pounds (789.25 kilograms) and loaded weight of 3,250 pounds (1,474.2 kilograms). K.34, the airplane flown by Markham, carried two auxiliary fuel tanks in the passenger compartment, for a total capacity of 255 gallons (965.3 liters).

The Vega Gull was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 9.186 liter (560.573-cubic-inch-displacement) de Havilland Gypsy Six I, an inverted inline six-cylinder overhead valve (OHV) engine. The engine had a compression ratio of 5.25:1. It was rated at 184 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and  205 horsepower at 2,350 r.p.m. for takeoff. The direct-drive engine turned a two-bladed Ratier variable-pitch propeller. The Gypsy Six I weighed 432 pounds (196 kilograms).

The Vega Gull had a cruising speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 174 miles per hour (280 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 17,000 feet (5,181.6 meters). Estimated range with the auxiliary fuel tank was 3,800 miles (6,115.5 kilometers).

John E. Carberry's brand-new Percival P.10 Vega Gull, VP-KCC, Messenger, is rolled out of the Percival Aircraft Limited hangar at Gravesend.
John E. Carberry’s brand-new Percival P.10 Vega Gull, VP-KCC, The Messenger, is rolled out of the Percival Aircraft Limited hangar at Gravesend. (Unattributed)

John Carberry was a resident of Colony and Protectorate of Kenya so the new airplane received the civil registration marking, VP-KCC. It was named The Messenger.

Beryl Markham was an experienced airplane pilot who had most recently been employed as Chief Pilot, Air Cruisers Limited, owned by a French financier, François Dupré. She was certified both as a pilot and an aircraft mechanic, and had recently had her pilot’s license endorsed for “All Types.”

Percival P.10 Vega Gull K.34 VP-KCC, The Messenger. (NPR)

Mrs. Markham and the airplane were ready for the solo transoceanic flight by 1 September, but were delayed by bad weather, with worse forecast. Captain Percival had recommended that she start from RAF Abingdon because its 1 mile runway (1.6 kilometers) would give the overweight airplane a longer takeoff run.

By the 4th, however, she was impatient with waiting and decided to takeoff regardless of the weather. She arrived at the airfield at about 5:00 p.m. Her takeoff was delayed while the runway was cleared of a wrecked bomber that had been overturned by the high winds.

Because of the high winds, the Vega Gull was airborne in just 600 yards (550 meters).

Percival P.10 Vega Gull K.34, registration VP-KCC, in flight over England, sometime between 15 August–4 September 1936. (Unattributed)
Beryl Markham and the Percival P.10 Vega Gull K.34, with Kenyan civil registration VP-KCC, westbound over England, 4 September 1936. (Henry How, Daily Mirror)

From the start, Markham encountered heavy rain, low clouds, fog, and gale force winds. Almost immediately, her carefully-prepared chart was blown out of a cockpit window. She flew most of the distance at an altitude of about 2,000 feet (610 meters). If she climbed higher, the rain turned to ice. If she flew lower she was in danger of the winds forcing her into the sea below. She had hoped to have the light of a nearly full moon as she crossed the Atlantic at night but the weather was so bad that she flew by reference to her instruments for the entire crossing.

During the transatlantic flight the Percival Vega Gull was sighted by several ships which reported her position. Although the airplane had a cruising speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour), because of the headwinds, Markham estimated her rate of advance at just 90 miles per hour (145 kilometers per hour). With the airplane running on fuel from the final tank, which should have lasted 11 hours, the gauge indicated that it was being consumed at a higher rate. She estimated her position as nearing Newfoundland but with rain, clouds and fog, she was only able to see brief views of the ocean below.

The dawn broke through the clouds. The wind changed and I stopped being so silly. I wouldn’t have imagined that there was an expanse of desolation so big in the whole world as the waste of sky and water I saw go past me since I left Abingdon. . . It was fog, rain, sleet for hours on end. If I climbed it was sleet, if I dropped it was rain. If I skimmed the sea it was fog. I couldn’t see anything beyond my wingtips. . .

That tank, on which I was banking my all, didn’t last eleven hours. It lasted nine hours and five minutes. . . I watched that tank getting emptier and emptier and still saw nothing but sea and clouds and mist. . . I could see nothing to save me. Good old Messenger was going to stop any moment and I said to myself, “If I’m going to go, now is the time to get ready for it.” The only thing anywhere around was fog, great hefty banks of it. And then I saw the coast. The beautiful coast. I’ve never seen land so beautiful. . . But then the engine began to go “put, put, put.”

. . . I knew then that I had to come down and made for the beach. I couldn’t land there; there was nothing but great big rocks and Messenger and I would have been dashed to pieces. I went inland.

My engine was missing badly now. It was sheer agony to watch my petrol gauge . . . I peered around for a field to land on. I was still peering when the engine stopped.

 Beryl Markham, quoted in Straight on Till Morningby Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1987, Chapter 9 at Pages 177–178.

Beryl Markham's solo transatlantic flight ended in this peat bog at Beliene, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, 5 September 1936. (© Bettmann/CORBIS)
Beryl Markham’s solo transatlantic flight ended in this peat bog at Baliene Cove, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, 5 September 1936. (© Bettmann/CORBIS)

The field turned out to be a peat bog at Baliene Cove on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. The airplane nosed over in the soft surface. Beryl Markham struck her head and was briefly knocked unconscious. She soon climbed out of the damaged Vega Gull and was taken to a nearby farm where help soon arrived.

Beryl Markham did not reach her intended destination of New York City. But what she did accomplish was the first East-to-West solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by a woman. Although Amelia Earhart had flown solo across the Atlantic in her Lockheed Vega four years earlier, her crossing was West-to-East. Because of the prevailing weather patterns, the westerly crossing is considered much more difficult.

Beryl and The Messenger returned to England aboard the passenger liner RMS Queen Mary. Although the damage was repaired, it was not in time to compete in The Schlesinger. John Carberry sold VP-KCC to Dar-es-Salaam Airways. It was written off in Tanganyika in August 1937, and de-registered in March 1938.

Beryl Markham was a remarkable woman whose exploits are too great to touch on here. She wrote West with the Night, which was considered by author Ernest Hemingway to be “a bloody wonderful book.” She died at her home in Nairobi, Kenya, 3 August 1986, at the age of 83.

Beryl Markham, with her forehead bandaged, after her historic solo transatlantic flight, 5 September 1936. (Boston Public Library_
Beryl Markham, with her forehead bandaged, after her historic solo transatlantic flight, 5 September 1936. (Unattributed)
Beryl Markham, with her forehead bandaged, after her historic solo transatlantic flight, 5 September 1936. (Unattributed)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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