Tag Archives: Women in Aviation

11 December 1917

Katherine Stinson with her Curtiss-Stinson Special. (Library of Congress)

11 December 1917: Katherine Stinson flew her custom-built Curtiss-Stinson Special from Rockwell Field, North Island, San Diego to the Presidio of San Francisco, a distance of 606 miles (975 kilometers)¹ in 9 hours, 10 minutes. This was a new American duration distance record.

Of her flight, she later said “It was easy to tell where I was all the time . . . towns, cities, farms, hills and mountains passed rapidly. . . . I never had any fear. The main thing was speed.”

A contemporary magazine article described her flight:

MISS STINSON FLIES OVER TEHACHAPI MOUNTAINS

Under the auspices of the Pacific Aero Club, Katherine Stinson, on December 11, flew from North Island, San Diego, to the Presidio at San Francisco via inland route, crossing the Tehachapi mountains at 8,000 feet [2,438 meters]. The official distance covered is 460.18 miles [740.59 kilometers]. Time, nine hours, ten minutes; non-stop flight. Left North Island at 7.31 a.m., flew over Tehachapi mountains at 8,000 feet, arrived at San Francisco at 4:41 p.m.

The flight was observed and timed at San Diego by Captain Henry Abbey and Captain Dean Smith, United States Army aviators, and was accompanied as far as Ocean Side by Theodore McCauley, Army Instructor, who piloted a Curtiss reconnaissance machine; the finish was observed and timed by Rear Admiral Chas. F. Pond, U.S.N., President of the Pacific Aero Club; Lowell E. Hardy, Secretary; J.C. Irvine, official observer, Aero Club of America; Robert G. Fowler, Chas F. Craig, and F.C. Porter of the Contest Committee  Pacific Aero Club. She was given a very a very hearty reception by thousands of soldiers at the Presidio upon her arrival.

The aeroplane used was built by Curtiss from two lower wings of Curtiss J.N. 4 with triplane fuselage, Curtiss OX2 90–100 H.P. engine.

Miss Stinson is now the only living aviator to fly over the Tehachapi mountains. Silas Christofferson, deceased, was the only other aviator to perform the feat. The performance does not break the American record for distance held by Miss Ruth Law, but establishes a new record for duration cross country flight and is a most remarkable performance.

Flying, Vol. VI, No. 12, January, 1918, at Page 1063

Katherine Stinson. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Katherine Stinson was born 14 February 1891 at Fort Payne, Alabama. She was the first of four children of Edward Anderson Stinson, an electrical engineer, and Emma Beavers Stinson.  Deciding to learn to fly, she sold the family’s piano to pay for flying lessons. In 1912 she became the fourth woman in the United States to become a licensed pilot. Later, her younger sister, Marjorie, also learned to fly. In 1913, Katherine and her mother formed the Stinson Aviation Company at Hot Springs, Arkansas.

After the family moved to San Antonio, Texas, the sisters taught at the Stinson School of Flying at Stinson Field (now, Stinson Municipal Airport, FAA location identifier SSF).

Katherine Stinson

During World War I, Katherine Stinson flew exhibitions on the behalf of the American Red Cross, raising more than $2,000,000. She attempted to join the Army as a pilot, but instead was sent to Europe as an ambulance driver.

While “over there,” she contracted influenza, and later, tuberculosis. Although she survived and lived a long life, her illness prevented her from continuing to fly. She moved to Santa Fe, new mexico, for its high, dry climate. Although she lacked a professional education, she he became a successful architect in Santa Fe, New Mexico, designing residences in the Spanish Pueblo Style.

in 1928, Stinson married Judge Miguel Antonio Otero, Jr., son of the former governor of New Mexico. They would adopt her deceased brother Edward’s four children.

Katherine Stinson Otero died at her home in Santa Fe, 8 July 1977, at the age of 86 years. She is buried at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.

“Fear, as I understand it, is simply due to lack of confidence or lack of knowledge—which is the same thing. You are afraid of what you don’t understand, of things you cannot account for.”

—Katherine Stinson

Katherine Stinson in the cockpit of her Curtiss-Stinson Special. (World Aviation News)

The Curtiss-Stinson Special was built by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, specially for Katherine Stinson. It was a single-place, single-engine, two-bay biplane intended for exhibition flights. The Special used the fuselage of a Model 10 Speed Scout fighter, new wings, and the tail surfaces of the JN-4 “Jenny.” It was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 567.45-cubic-inch-displacement (9.299 liters) Curtiss OXX-6 single-overhead-camshaft (SOHC) 90° V-8 engine, rated at 100 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m. A replica of this one-of-a-kind airplane is in the Alberta Aviation Museum, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

¹ Some sources cite a distance for Stinson’s flight of 610 miles or 981.5 kilometers. The Google Maps Distance Calculator puts the straight line distance between North Island and the Presidio at 461.606 miles (742.883 kilometers).

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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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 Louis 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 attended the Ward-Belmont School in Nashville, and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, New York, in 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.

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.

The trainer flown by Cornelia Ford 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 tubular steel framework with a wooden structure for the wings, covered in doped fabric. The airplane was 23 feet, 5 inches (7.137 meters) long with a wingspan of 35 feet, 6 inches (10.820 meters) and height of 7 feet (2.134 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 1,103 pounds (500.3 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 1,650 pounds (748.4 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 Cadet S-1A had a cruise speed of 105 miles per hour (169 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 114 miles per hour (184 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 16,500 feet (5,029 meters) and range was 540 miles (869 kilometers).

Approximately 320 Cadets were built by Interstate in 1941–1942.

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.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 November 1934

Hélène Boucher, Chevalier de la légion d’honneur. (Chevalier de la légion d’honneur. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)
Hélène Antoinette Eugénie Boucher, Chevalier de la légion d’honneur. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

30 November 1934: While flying her new Caudron C.430 Rafale near Guayancourt, France, Hélène Boucher crashed into a forested area at Voison-le-Bretonneaux. Apparently, the airplane stalled while on landing approach, rolled, and then hit the trees. The airplane was destroyed and Mlle Boucher was critically injured. She died while enroute to a hospital at Versailles. She was 26 years old.

Hélène Boucher’s funeral was held at Chapelle des Invalides, the first time that a woman had been so honored. Posthumously, the government of France awarded her the Croix de Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. She is buried at the cemetery in Yermenonville.

Hélène Boucher with her Caudron C.430 Rafale, 1934.

Hélène Antoinette Eugénie Boucher was born at Paris, 28 May 1908, the daughter of Leo Boucher, an architect, and Helen Elizabeth Dureau Boucher. Following World War I, she attended high school at the Lycée Montaigne and then the Collège Sévigné, both in Paris.

Boucher learned to fly at the Aero Club of Landes, Mont-de-Marsan, making her first flight on 4 July 1930. She quickly earned a tourist pilot license, then in 1932, a public transport license. The Aero-Club de France awarded her its pilot certificate number 182.

Mlle Bouchere was awarded Certificate Number 182 by the Aero-Club de France
Mlle Bouchere was awarded Certificate Number 182 by the Aero-Club de France. (Escadrille Féminine Méditerranéenne)

She participated in a number of international and long distance air races, such as the Raid Paris-Saigon in 1933. She specialized in aerobatics and her performances made her a popular figure at air shows.

During July and August 1934, Mlle Boucher set 11 Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world records for speed and altitude flying a Caudron C.450, C.530, and a Mauboussin-Peyret Zodiac M.120.¹

F-AMVB was the second of two specially-built Société Anonyme des Avions Caudron C.430 Rafale racing airplanes, c/n 02/6886. (Rafael means gust: “a brief, strong, rush of wind.”) It was registered 18 October 1934 (Certificate of Registry 3947).

Hélène Boucher’s Caudron C.430 Rafale, F-AMVB.
Hélène Boucher’s Caudron C.430 Rafale, F-AMVB.

The C.430 was a two-place, single-engine monoplane with fixed landing gear. The airplane was constructed of wood, with the fuselage, wings and tail surfaces covered with plywood. Fuel was carried in two tanks in the fuselage, one forward of the cockpit and another placed between the pilot and passenger positions. The wings had no dihedral and were equipped with split flaps.

The Caudron C.430 was 7.100 meters (23 feet, 3.53 inches) long with a wingspan of 7.700 meters (25 feet, 3.15 inches)and height of 1.88 meters (6 feet, 2.02 inches). Its empty weight was 480 kilograms (1,058 pounds) and gross weight, 820 kilograms (1,808 pounds).

The airplane was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 6.333 liter (386.463 cubic inch) Renault Bengali 4Pdi inverted four-cylinder overhead-valve (OHV) engine, rated at 120 cheval-vapeur (horsepower) at 2,300 r.p.m., and 150 horsepower for takeoff. This was a direct-drive engine, turning a two-bladed Hélices Ratier adjustable-pitch propeller. The 4Pdi was 1.28 meters (4 feet, 2.4 inches) long, 0.93 meters (3 feet, 0.6 inches) high and 0.52 meters (1 foot, 8.5 inches) wide. It weighed 135 kilograms (298 pounds).

This gave the C.430 a cruise speed of 270 kilometers per hour (168 miles per hour) and maximum speed of 305 kilometers per hour (190 miles per hour). The service ceiling was 5,750 meters (18,865 feet) and range was 1,000 kilometers (621 miles).

The remaining Caudron C.430 Rafael, c/n 01, F-PJHB, is in at Musée Régional de l’Air, Angers Loire Aéroport, Marcé, Pays de la Loire, France, painted as Mlle Boucher’s blue and red racer with her registration markings, F-AMVB.

Tombe de l’aviatrice Hélène Boucher. (Bibliothèque de France)
Tombe de l’aviatrice Hélène Boucher. (Bibliothèque de France)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 4483, 4494, 4496, 12005, 12032, 12033, 12034, 12110, 12111, 12112, and 14860.

© 2016, 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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11 November 1935

Jean Gardner Batten, CBE OSC, 16 October 1936, photographed by Leo White. (Whites Aviation Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library)
Jean Gardner Batten, CBE, 16 October 1936, photographed by Leo Lemuel White. (Whites Aviation Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library)

11 November 1935: During a record-setting flight from England to Brazil, Jean Gardner Batten became the first woman to fly solo across the South Atlantic Ocean, flying her Percival D.3 Gull Six, G-ADPR, from Dakar to Natal. Her elapsed time of 13¼ hours was the fastest for the Atlantic crossing up to that time.

On 7 May 1935, Jean Batten was honored with the distinction of Chevalier de la légion d’honneur at Paris, France. At Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 21 November 1935, Getúlio Dornelles Varga, the President of the Republic of Brazil, conferred upon her its Ordem Nacional do Cruzeiro do Sul (Order of the Southern Cross). The following year, Jean Gardner Batten of the Dominion of New Zealand was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in the King’s Birthday Honours List, 19 June 1936, for general services to aviation. Twice Batten was awarded the Britannia Trophy of the Royal Aero Club, and three times she won the Harmon Trophy of the International League of Aviators. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) awarded her its Gold Medal.

“This young woman, gifted with the finest of qualities, has made a great contribution, both through her daring and her patience, to the progress of aviation in the world. This year, she is worthy of receiving the Gold Medal, very few holders of which are still alive,” said George Valentin, Prince Bibescu, president and one of the founders of the FAI, when awarding Jean Batten the medal.

Jean Batten in the cockpit of her Percival Gull. (Unattributed)
Jean Batten in the cockpit of her Percival Gull. (National Library of new Zealand)

Batten’s Percival D.3 Gull Six, c/n D55, was a single-engine, low-wing monoplane, with fixed landing gear, built primarily of wood and covered by doped fabric. It was flown by a single pilot and could carry two passengers. On 29 August 1935, the airplane was assigned Great Britain civil registration G-ADPR (Certificate of Registration 6242).

The airplane was 25 feet, 0 inches (7.62 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 0 inches (10.973 meters) and height of 7 feet, 3 inches (2.210 meters). The D.3 had an empty weight of 1,632 pounds (740.26 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,450 pounds (1,111.30 kilograms).

The Gull Six 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 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 metal 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).

On 17 July 1940, Batten’s Percival Gull was impressed into military service and assigned a military identification of AX866. The airplane was returned to the civil register in 1946. It is now on display at the Jean Batten International Terminal, Auckland Airport, New Zealand.

Jean Batten's Percival D.3 Gull Six, G-ADPR, photographed 19 June 1954. (RuthAS)
Jean Batten’s Percival D.3 Gull Six, G-ADPR, photographed 19 June 1954. (RuthAS)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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