Tag Archives: Women in Aviation

13 March 1928

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

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.

DESCRIPTION OF MISS VOLLICK’S FIRST FLIGHT

Eileen Vollick
Eileen Vollick

“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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8 March 1910

Elise Raymonde Deroche
Elise Raymonde Deroche

8 March 1910: The Aéro-Club de France issued Pilote-Aviateur license # 36 to Mme. de Laroche (née Elise Raymonde Deroche, but also known as Raymonde de Laroche, and Baroness de Laroche) making her the first woman to become licensed as a airplane pilot.

Pilot Certificate number 36 of the FAI was issued to Mme. de LAROCHE. (Musee de l'Air at l'Espace
Pilot Certificate number 36 of the Aéro-Club de France was issued to Mme. de Laroche. (Musee de l’Air at l’Espace)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 February 1994

First Lieutenant Jean Marie Flynn, USAF, call sign "Tally", with her McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant Jean Marie Flynn, United States Air Force, call sign “Tally,” with a McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle, Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. (U.S. Air Force)

10 February 1994: First Lieutenant Jean Marie (“Jeannie”) Flynn, United States Air Force, the first woman selected by the Air Force for training as a combat pilot, completed six months of training on the McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle with the 555th Fighter Wing (“Triple Nickel”) at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. Her call sign is “Tally.”

The following is her official U.S. Air Force biography:

Brigadier General Jeannie M. Leavitt, United States Air Force.

BRIGADIER GENERAL JEANNIE M. LEAVITT, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Brigadier General Jeannie M. Leavitt is the 57th Wing Commander, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. She is responsible for 34 squadrons at 13 installations constituting the Air Force’s most diverse flying wing. The wing flies and maintains more than 130 aircraft of the following types: A-10, F-15C/D, F-15E, F-16C/CG/CJ, F-22A, F-35A and HH-60G. The wing also utilizes E-3, RC-135, E-8, B-1, B-2, B-52, C-130, KC-135, C-17, AC-130U and MC-130P aircraft and MQ-1/9 remotely piloted aircraft at 13 stateside bases to support the U.S. Air Force Weapons School syllabus. General Leavitt is responsible for four groups: 57th Adversary Tactics Group, 57th Operations Group, 57th Maintenance Group and the U.S. Air Force Weapons School. In addition, she oversees the 561st Joint Tactics Squadron; U.S. Air Force Advanced Maintenance and Munitions Operations School; U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds; and the RED FLAG and GREEN FLAG exercises.

Brigadier General Jeannie M. Leavitt is the 57th Wing Commander, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. She is responsible for 34 squadrons at 13 installations constituting the Air Force’s most diverse flying wing. The wing flies and maintains more than 130 aircraft of the following types: A-10, F-15C/D, F-15E, F-16C/CG/CJ, F-22A, F-35A and HH-60G. The wing also utilizes E-3, RC-135, E-8, B-1, B-2, B-52, C-130, KC-135, C-17, AC-130U and MC-130P aircraft and MQ-1/9 remotely piloted aircraft at 13 stateside bases to support the U.S. Air Force Weapons School syllabus. General Leavitt is responsible for four groups: 57th Adversary Tactics Group, 57th Operations Group, 57th Maintenance Group and the U.S. Air Force Weapons School. In addition, she oversees the 561st Joint Tactics Squadron; U.S. Air Force Advanced Maintenance and Munitions Operations School; U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds; and the RED FLAG and GREEN FLAG exercises.

Second Lieutenant Jean Marie Flynn, U.S. Air Force, with a Northrop T-38A Talon, at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, 1992. (U.S. Air Force)

General Leavitt entered the Air Force in 1992 after earning her bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas and her master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University. She earned her commission as a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program. General Leavitt has served in a variety of flying, staff and command assignments and has commanded at the flight, squadron and wing level. She is a graduate and former instructor of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School and is a command pilot with more than 3,000 hours. Her operational experiences include Operations SOUTHERN WATCH, NORTHERN WATCH, IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM. Prior to her current assignment she served as the Principal Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, Washington D.C.

ASSIGNMENTS:

1. January 1992 – March 1993, student, Undergraduate Pilot Training, Laughlin AFB, Texas

2. March 1993 – July 1993, T-38 instructor pilot upgrade trainee, Vance AFB, Oklahoma

1st Lieutenant Jean Marie Flynn, USAF, listens to Lieutenant Colonel John R. Sheekley, 555th Fighter Squadron, during pre-flight inspection of a McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle. (U.S. Air Force)

3. July 1993 – April 1994, student, F-15E Formal Training Course, 555th Fighter Squadron, Luke AFB, Arizona

First Lieutenant Jeannie Flynn (Staff Sergeant Brad Fallen USAF/National Archives)
Captain Jeannie Flynn, U.S. Air Force, 336th Fighter Squadron, 1997. (The Alcalde)

4. April 1994 – January 1998, instructor pilot, training officer, later Assistant Chief of Weapons, then Assistant Chief of Standardization and Evaluation, 336th Fighter Squadron, Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina

5. January 1998 – July 1998, student, USAF Weapons Instructor Course, F-15E Division, Nellis AFB, Nevada

6. July 1998 – June 2001, F-15E instructor pilot, Assistant Chief then Chief of Weapons and Tactics, later, Flight Commander then Assistant Operations Officer, 391st Fighter Squadron, Mountain Home AFB, Idaho

7. June 2001 – August 2003, F-15E instructor pilot, Wing Standardization and Evaluation Examiner, 57th Operations Group, later Academics Flight Commander then Assistant Operations Officer for Academics, 17th Weapons Squadron, USAF Weapons School, Nellis AFB, Nevada

8. August 2003 – July 2004, student, Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell AFB, Alabama

9. July 2004 – September 2005, Chief of Special Technical Operations, United States Forces Korea, Yongsan Army Garrison, Seoul, South Korea

10. September 2005 – April 2007, Chief of Master Air Attack Plans, 609th Combat Plans Squadron, 9th Air Force and United States Central Command Air Forces, Shaw AFB, South Carolina

11. April 2007 – July 2009, Assistant Director of Operations, 334th Fighter Squadron, later Commander, 333d Fighter Squadron, then Special Assistant to the 4th Operations Group Commander, Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina

12. July 2009 – June 2010, student, National War College, National Defense University, Fort McNair, Washington, D.C.

13. July 2010 – May 2012, CSAF Fellow, Central Intelligence Agency, Washington, D.C.

Colonel Jeannie M. Leavitt, United States Air Force, Wing Commander, 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force)

14. June 2012 – June 2014, Commander, 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina

15. June 2014 – April 2016, Principal Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Pentagon, Washington D.C.

16. April 2016 – June 2018, Commander, 57th Wing, Nellis AFB, Nevada

17. June 2018 – present, Commander, Air Force Recruiting Service, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas

SUMMARY OF JOINT ASSIGNMENTS

1. July 2004 – September 2005, Chief of Special Technical Operations, United States Forces Korea, Yongsan Army Garrison, Seoul, South Korea, as a major

2. July 2010 – May 2012, CSAF Fellow, Central Intelligence Agency, Washington, D.C., as a colonel

3. June 2014 – April 2016, Principal Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Pentagon, Washington D.C., as a colonel

FLIGHT INFORMATION:

Rating: Command pilot

Flight hours: More than 3,000, including over 300 combat hours

Aircraft flown: F-15E, T-38A, AT-38B, T-37

 MAJOR AWARDS AND DECORATIONS:

Defense Superior Service Medal

Legion of Merit

Bronze Star Medal

Defense Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters

Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters

Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters

Aerial Achievement Medal

Joint Service Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster

Air Force Commendation Medal

Air Force Achievement Medal

OTHER ACHIEVEMENTS:

1997 Outstanding Young Texas Exes, University of Texas at Austin

2009 Katherine and Marjorie Stinson Award, National Aeronautic Association

EFFECTIVE DATES OF PROMOTION:

Second Lieutenant July 1, 1991

First Lieutenant July 1, 1993

Captain July 1, 1995

Major May 1, 2002

Lieutenant Colonel March 1, 2006

Colonel October 1, 2009

Brigadier General July 3, 2016

 (Current as of July 2018)

Brigadier General Jeannie Leavitt, 57th Wing commander, at Nellis AFB, 15 July 2016. (United States Air Force 160715-F-YM181-001)
A McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle over Iraq during Operation Northern Watch, 1999. (U.S. Air Force)
A McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle over Iraq during Operation Northern Watch, 1999. (U.S. Air Force)

The Strike Eagle was begun as a private venture by McDonnell Douglas. Designed to be operated by a pilot and a weapons system officer (WSO), the airplane can carry bombs, missiles and guns for a ground attack role, while maintaining its capability as an air superiority fighter. It’s airframe was a strengthened and its service life doubled to 16,000 flight hours. The Strike Eagle became an Air Force project in March 1981, and  went into production as the F-15E. The first production model, 86-0183, made its first flight 11 December 1986.

The McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle is a two-place twin-engine multi-role fighter. It is 63 feet, 9 inches (19.431 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 9¾ inches (13.049 meters) and height of 18 feet, 5½ inches (5.626 meters). It weighs 31,700 pounds (14,379 kilograms) empty and has a maximum takeoff weight of 81,000 pounds (36,741 kilograms).

McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle 89-0502 over Afghanistan, 26 November 2006. (Ron Downey, Aviation Archives)

The F-15E is powered by two Pratt and Whitney F100-PW-229 turbofan engines which produce 17,800 pounds of thrust (79.178 kilonewtons) each, or 29,100 pounds (129.443 kilonewtons) with afterburner.

The Strike Eagle has a maximum speed of Mach 2.54 (1,676 miles per hour, (2,697 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) and is capable of sustained speed at Mach 2.3 (1,520 miles per hour, 2,446 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling is 60,000 feet (18,288 meters). The fighter-bomber has a combat radius of 790 miles (1,271 kilometers) and a maximum ferry range of 2,765 miles (4,450 kilometers).

Though optimized as a fighter-bomber, the F-15E Strike Eagle retains an air-to-air combat capability. The F-15E is armed with one 20mm M61A1 Vulcan 6-barrel rotary cannon with 512 rounds of ammunition, and can carry four AIM-9M Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles and four AIM-7M Sparrow radar-guided missiles, or a combination of Sidewinders, Sparrows and AIM-120 AMRAAM long range missiles. It can carry a maximum load of 24,500 pounds (11,113 kilograms) of bombs and missiles for ground attack.

Colonel Jeannie M. Leavitt climbs into the cockpit of her McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle at Seymour Johnson AFB. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 January 1931

Amy Johnson at the Stag Lane Aerodrome, 1 January 1931. (Unattributed)
Amy Johnson, CBE, 1930. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

MISS AMY JOHNSON.

FLIGHT TO PEKING.

Departure From London.

LONDON, Jan. 1.

     Miss Amy Johnson, who flew alone to Australia several months ago, arrived at the Stag Lane aerodrome this morning in readiness for a flight to Peking by way of Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow, and Omsk. From Omsk she will follow the Trans-Siberian railway.

     Owing to fog she was unable to start on her journey immediately. But she left at 20 minutes to 11 o’clock.

     Miss Johnson wore a green leather flying suit and parachute, strapped to her back. As she entered the cockpit of the Gipsy Moth aeroplane, with which she was presented after her trip to Australia, she carried a parcel of biscuits, chocolate, and tea. Only two dozen persons saw her start. She does not intend to hurry.

The Argus, Melbourne, Friday, January 2, 1931. No. 26,329. Page 5, Column 5.

Amy Mollison’s de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth G-ABDV, “Jason III,” in Poland, January 1931. (National Digital Archives 1-S-1215-3)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 December 1949

Jackie Cochran with her Cobalt Blue North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N, Thunderbird, circa December 1949. (FAI)

29 December 1949: Jackie Cochran (Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force Reserve) flew her North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, Thunderbird, CAA registration N5528N, to two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) Class C-1 world speed records of 703.38 kilometers per hour (437.06 miles per hour)¹ and a U.S. National record of 703.275 kilometers per hour (436.995 miles per hour) over the 500 kilometer (310.7 mile) Desert Center–Mt. Wilson course in the Colorado Desert of southern California.

Left profile drawing of Thunderbird, Jackie Cochran’s unlimited class North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N. (Image courtesy of Tim Bradley, © 2014)
National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)
National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Jackie Cochran’s North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N. (FAI)

Thunderbird was Jackie Cochran’s third P-51 Mustang. She had purchased it from Academy Award-winning actor and World War II B-24 wing commander James M. Stewart just ten days earlier, 19 December 1949.

According to Civil Aviation Administration records, the airplane had been “assembled from components of other aircraft of the same type.” It has no U.S. Army Air Corps serial number or North American Aviation manufacturer’s serial number. The C.A.A. designated it as a P-51C and assigned 2925 as its serial number. It was certificated in the Experimental category and registered N5528N.

Thunderbird had won the 1949 Bendix Trophy Race with pilot Joe De Bona, after he had dropped out of the 1948 race. Its engine had been upgraded from a Packard V-1650-3 Merlin to a V-1650-7 for the 1949 race.

Cobalt Blue North American Aviation P-51C Mustang N5528N with Joe De Bona’s race number, 90. (Unattributed).

Jackie Cochran set three world speed records with Thunderbird. In 1953, she sold it back to Jimmy Stewart. After changing ownership twice more, the P-51 crashed near Scott’s Bluff, Nebraska, 22 June 1955.

The P-51B and P-51C Mustangs are virtually identical. The P-51Bs were built by North American Aviation, Inc., at Inglewood, California, while P-51Cs were built at North American’s Dallas, Texas, plant. They were 32 feet, 2.97 inches (9.829 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0.31-inch (11.282 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.167 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 6,985 pounds (3,168 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 11,800 pounds (5,352 kilograms).

P-51Bs and Cs were powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m and 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning at 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). These were license-built versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic constant speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters).

The P-51B/C had a cruise speed of 362 miles per hour (583 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel, the combat range was 755 miles (1,215 kilometers).

In military service, armament consisted of four Browning AN/M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted two in each wing, with 350 rounds per gun for the inboard guns and 280 rounds per gun for the outboard.

1,988 P-51B Mustangs were built at North American’s Inglewood, California plant and another 1,750 P-51Cs were produced at Dallas, Texas. This was nearly 23% of the total P-51 production.

According to the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, “At the time of her death in 1980, Jacqueline Cochran held more speed, altitude, and distance records than any other male or female pilot in aviation history.”

Identical to the Inglewood, California-built North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, this is a Dallas, Texas-built P-51C-1-NT, 42-103023. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 4476 and 12323

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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