Tag Archives: Women in Aviation

16 April 1912

Harriet Quimby and her Blériot XI. (Library of Congress)

16 April 1912: American aviatrix Harriet Quimby flew across the English Channel in a Blériot XI monoplane. She departed Dover at 5:30 a.m. and crossed a fog-shrouded channel to land at Hardelot-Plage, Pas-de-Calais, 1 hour, 9 minutes later. Her only instruments were a hand-held compass and a watch.

Harriet Quimby (Theodore C. Marceau)

Quimby was the first woman to fly across the channel, but that was not her only “first”: On 11 August 1911, she had become the first American woman to be licensed as a pilot. She was known for her purple satin flying suit.

Harriet Quimby was killed at Quincy, Massachusetts, 1 July 1912, when her Blériot XI, circling the airfield at 1,500 feet (457 meters) suddenly pitched down and she and her passenger were thrown out.

The Blériot XI was a single-seat, single-engine monoplane, designed by Raymond Saulnier and built by Louis Charles Joseph Blériot. It was 24 feet, 11 inches (7.595 meters) long with a wingspan of 27 feet, 11 inches (8.509 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 10 inches (2.692 meters). The wings had a chord of 6 feet (1.829 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 507 pounds (229.9 kilograms).

In its original configuration, the airplane was powered by an air-cooled, 3.774 liter (230.273 cubic inches) R.E.P.  two-row, seven-cylinder fan engine (or “semi-radial”) which produced 30 horsepower at 1,500 r.p.m., driving a four-bladed paddle-type propeller. The R.E.P. engine weighed 54 kilograms (119 pounds). This engine was unreliable and was soon replaced by an air-cooled 3.534 liter (215.676 cubic inch) Alessandro Anzani & Co., 60° (some sources state 55°) three-cylinder “fan”-type radial engine (or W-3) and a highly-efficient Hélice Intégrale Chauvière two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller, which had a diameter of 6 feet, 8 inches (2.032 meters). The Anzani W-3 was a direct-drive, right-hand tractor engine which produced 25 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m. It was 1.130 meters (3 feet 8.49 inches) long, 1.500 meters (4 feet, 11.01 inches) high, and 0.720 meters (2 feet, 4.35 inches) wide. The engine weighed 66 kilograms (145.5 pounds).

The Blériot XI had a maximum speed of 47 miles per hour (76 kilometers per hour) and the service ceiling was (3,280 feet) 1,000 meters.

Harriet Quimby, wearing her purple satin flying suit, pulls the Chauvière Intégrale propeller of the Blériot XI to start the air-cooled Anzani 72° W3 ("fan" or "semi-radial") 3-cylinder engine.
Harriet Quimby, wearing her purple satin flying suit, pulls the Chauvière Intégrale propeller of the Blériot XI to start the air-cooled Anzani W3 (“fan” or “semi-radial”) three-cylinder engine.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 April 1968

Barbara Jane Harrison, GC
Barbara Jane Harrison GC
This photograph shows Speedbird 712 over Thorpe, Surrey. The Number two Engine is circled at the lower right.

8 April 1968: British Overseas Airways Corporation Flight 712, call sign Speedbird 712, a Boeing 707-465 Intercontinental, registered G-ARWE, departed London Heathrow for Sydney, Australia, with 116 passengers and 11 crew. Approximately 20 seconds after takeoff, there was a loud bang and severe shudder as the Number Two jet engine failed catastrophically. The flight crew started through emergency procedures while calling MAYDAY and turning back toward the airport. The failed engine fell off the left wing which then caught fire as fuel continued to flow. Three minutes, thirty-two seconds after takeoff, Speedbird 712 touched down on Runway 05 and rapidly came to a stop. Fuel continued to burn, and the airliner’s cabin crew began evacuating passengers.

Stewardess Barbara Jane Harrison was among the crew members who helped passengers escape from the burning Boeing 707. The exit slide had not deployed correctly and Miss Harrison was encouraging passengers to jump to the runway surface, and in some cases, even pushed them out. She was seen standing in a doorway as the flames and smoke spread, and people below, including the airplane’s captain, shouted at her to jump. Instead, she turned away and went back inside, presumably to help a disabled passenger in a wheelchair. She gave her life to help others. Later, the bodies of Miss Harrison and the disabled passenger were found together in the burned out wreck. Four other passengers also died.

For her gallantry in saving the lives of others at the cost of her own, Queen Elizabeth II awarded the George Cross, for “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.”

Barbara Jane Harrison was 22 years old.

CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD

ST. JAMES’S PALACE, LONDON S.W.1

8th August 1969.

The QUEEN has been graciously pleased to make the undermentioned award.

GEORGE CROSS

Miss Barbara Jane HARRISON (deceased), Stewardess, British Overseas Airways Corporation.

George Cross
George Cross

     On April 8th 1968, soon after take-off from Heathrow Airport, No. 2 engine of B.O.A.C. Boeing 707 G-ARWE caught fire and subsequently fell from the aircraft, leaving a fierce fire burning at No. 2 engine position. About two and a half minutes later the aircraft made an emergency landing at the airport and the fire on the port wing intensified. Miss Harrison was one of the stewardesses in this aircraft and the duties assigned to her in an emergency were to help the steward at the aft station to open the appropriate rear door and inflate the escape chute and then to assist the passengers at the rear of the aircraft to leave in an orderly manner. When the aircraft landed Miss Harrison and the steward concerned opened the rear galley door and inflated the chute, which unfortunately became twisted on the way down so that the steward had to climb down it to straighten it before it could be used. Once out of the aircraft he was unable to return; hence Miss Harrison was left alone to the task of shepherding passengers to the rear door and helping them out of the aircraft. She encouraged some passengers to jump from the machine and pushed out others. With flames and explosions all around her and escape from the tail of the machine impossible she directed her passengers to another exit while she remained at her post. She was finally overcome while trying to save an elderly cripple who was seated in one of the last rows and whose body was found close to that of the stewardess. Miss Harrison was a very brave young lady who gave her life in her utter devotion to duty.

—Supplement to The London Gazette of Thursday, 7th August 1969, Friday, 8th August 1969, No. 44913, at Page 8211, Column 1.

BOAC Flight 712, a Boeing 707-465, G-ARWE, burning on the runway at Heathrow, 8 April 1968.
BOAC Flight 712, a Boeing 707-465, G-ARWE, burning on the runway at Heathrow, 8 April 1968.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 April 1921

Adrienne Bolland, Femme Chevalier de la légion d'honneur. (1895–1975)
Adrienne Bolland, Femme Chevalier de la légion d’honneur. (1895–1975)

1 April 1921: Adrienne Bolland (née Boland), a pilot employed by René Caudron to demonstrate his airplanes in South America, flew a Caudron G.3 from Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile, across the Andes Mountain Range. The flight took 4 hours, 17 minutes.

Adrienne Bolland is greeted on her arrival at Santaigo, Chile, 1 April 1921.
Adrienne Bolland is greeted on her arrival at Santaigo, Chile, 1 April 1921. 

Bolland was awarded a gold medal by the Argentine League of Patriots at Buenos Aires.

FLIGHT reported:

Mdlle. Bolland Crosses the Andes

From a Daily Mail report Mdlle. Bolland, the French aviatress, on April 1, left Mendoza, Argentina, at 7.30, and flew over the Andes Mountains, arriving at Santiago in Chile, just three hours later.

This the second time Mdlle. Bolland has flown over the Andes.

The distance Mdlle. Bolland covered was about 112 miles. There are heights of more than 20,000 ft. in the neighborhood of the point at which she crossed the range.

We are just wondering whether the journey was anon-stop” one, with strong headwinds, or whether a halt was made en route, and if the latter, where.

FLIGHT The Aircraft Engineer and Airships, No. 641 (No. 14, Vol. XIII.), 7 April 1921, at Page 250, Column 2

Adrienne Boland was born at Arcueil, a suburb of Paris, France, 25 November 1895. She was the youngest of six children of writer Henri Boland. At the age of 24, she decided to learn to fly and enrolled in flight training at Société des Avions Caudron (the Caudron Airplane Company), Le Crotoy.  After two months, she had earned her flying license. An error on the certificate spelled her surname with two “l”s, and she retained the name “Bolland” for the rest of her life.

Chilean dignataries congratulate Adrienne Bolland at Santiago, Chile, 1 April 1921.
Chilean dignataries congratulate Adrienne Bolland at Santiago, Chile, 1 April 1921.

Mlle Bolland was employed by René Caudron to transport airplanes to and from the factory. She told Caudron that she wanted her own airplane. He told her that if she could perform a loop in a Caudron G.3, a pre-World War I scout plane, that she could fly it for the company. She did, and was then asked to fly it across the English Channel, which she did, 25 August 1920.

Adrienne Bolland flew this Caudron G-3 from Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile, 1 April 1921.
Adrienne Bolland flew this Caudron G.3, F-ABEW, c/n 4902, from Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile, 1 April 1921.

Caudron sent her to Argentina to demonstrate his airplanes. Once there, she planned to fly across the Cordillera de los Andes (the Andes Mountain Range) to Chile on the western coast of South America. The mountains were higher than the airplane was capable of flying, so she had to fly through valleys to find a way across. Departing Mendoza, Argentina at 6:00 a.m, she headed across the 400-kilometer (250 miles) wide mountain range. Most of the flight was at an altitude of 4,500 meters (14,764 feet) and it was extremely cold. Without maps, she succeeded: “Suddenly I saw a break in the mountains. . . and in the distance, the plain of Chile. I was saved.”

Adrienne Bolland with her Caudron G.3, 19 May 1921. (Air France)
Adrienne Bolland with a Caudron G.3, 19 May 1921. (Air France)

The airplane was sold in Santiago and Bolland returned to Buenos Aires by train.

In 1924, France named Adrienne Bolland Chevalier de la légion d’honneur for her accomplishment.

Adrienne Bolland crossed the Andes in a Caudron G.3, c/n 4902, registered F-ABEW. The Caudron G.3 was a World War I reconnaissance airplane and flight trainer manufactured by Société des Avions Caudron. It is called a sesquiplane because the lower wing is significantly shorter than the upper. It was a single-engine aircraft that was built in single- and two-place variants. The engine and cockpit are contained in a very short fuselage, supporting the wings and landing gear. Tail control surfaces are mounted on an open framework tail boom.

The Caudron G.3 was 6.40 meters (21 feet) long with an upper wingspan of 13.40 meters (44 feet). The height of the aircraft was 2.50 meters (11 feet, 2 inches). The airplane had an empty weight of 420 kilograms (926 pounds) and maximum weight of 710 kilograms (1,565 pounds).

The G.3 was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 10.910 liter (665.791 cubic inches) Société des Moteurs Le Rhône 9C nine cylinder rotary engine with a compression ratio of 5:1. It was rated at 70 cheval vapeur (1 ch = 0.99 horsepower) at 1,100 r.p.m., and 80 cheval vapeur  at 1,200 r.p.m., but able to produce a maximum 92 cheval vapeur (90.77 horsepower) at 1,300 r.p.m. It drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The 9C was 0.810 meters (2 feet, 7.9 inches) long, 0.930 meters (3 feet, 6.1 inches) in diameter and weighed 119 kilograms (262 pounds).

The Caudron G.3 had a maximum speed of 106 kilometers per hour (66 miles per hour) and service ceiling of 4,300 meters (14,108 feet).

On 1 April 1921 in Santiago, French pilot Adrienne BOLLAND on board her Caudron G-3 after she succeeded in crossing the Andes. It is a signed photo: the pilot's signature is at the centre. (Getty Images/Keystone France)
“On 1 April 1921 in Santiago, French pilot Adrienne BOLLAND on board her Caudron G-3 after she succeeded in crossing the Andes. It is a signed photo: the pilot’s signature is at the centre.” (Getty Images/Keystone-France)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 March 1939

Jackie Cochran with her Beechcraft D17W, NR18562. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran with her Beechcraft D17W, NR18562. (FAI)

24 March 1939: During a 2 hour, 26 minute flight over southern California, Jacqueline Cochran established a U.S. National Altitude Record for Women of 9,160 meters (30,052 feet), flying a Beechcraft D17W “Staggerwing,” serial number 164, registered NR18562. A National Aeronautic Association official, Larry Therkelson, took the recording barograph from the airplane and sent it to the N.A.A. headquarters in Washington, D.C. for certification. The record had previously been held by Ruth Rowland Nichols.¹

“Were I to make the simple statement that I climbed to an altitude of thirty-three thousand feet, that statement in and of itself would mean nothing because I have often gone higher than that. But when I add that I did this in 1937 in a fabric-covered biplane without heating, without pressurization and without an oxygen mask, the elements of an accomplishment are added. I nearly froze; the pipestem between my teeth through which I tried to get an oxygen supply from a tank and connecting tube was inadequate for the purpose, and I became so disoriented through lack of oxygen that it took over an hour to get my bearings and make a landing. The difference between the pressure my body was accustomed to on the ground and the atmospheric pressure at 33,000 feet was such that a blood vessel in my sinus ruptured. All this was a part of the cumulative evidence that led up to cabin pressurization and and mandatory use of the oxygen mask above certain altitudes.”

The Stars at Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter IV at Pages 61–62.

According to the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, Jackie Cochran “. . . set more speed and altitude records than any other pilot.”

Beechcraft D17W Staggerwing NR18562, c/n 164, which Jackie Cochran used to set an altitude record, 24 March 1939. (Unattributed)
Beechcraft D17W Staggerwing NR18562, c/n 164, which Jackie Cochran used to set an altitude record, 24 March 1939, at the Beechcraft factory, Wichita, Kansas, 1937. (Beech Aircraft Corporation)

The Beechcraft D17W was a special version of the D17 production model. Only two were built. Jackie Cochran purchased it from Beech for $20,145, and it had been delivered to her by famed aviator Frank Hawks.

The “Staggerwing” was a single-engine, four-place biplane with an enclosed cabin and retractable landing gear, flown by a single pilot. The basic structure was a tubular steel framework, with wood formers and stringers. The wings and tail surfaces were built of wood spars and ribs. The airplane was covered with doped fabric, except the cabin and engine, which were covered in sheet metal.

The airplane was 26 feet, 10 inches (8.179 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 0 inches (9.754 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,540 pounds (1,152.1 kilograms) and loaded weight of 4,250 pounds (1,927.8 kilograms).

The standard Beechcraft D17S was equipped with an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liters) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. A, a nine-cylinder radial engine producing 300 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m at Sea Level. It had a maximum speed of 212 miles per hour (341 kilometers per hour), 670 mile (1,078 kilometer) range and service ceiling of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters).

Beech D17W NR18562. (Beechcraft)
Beechcraft D17W NR18562, c/n 164, carrying race number “13.” (Beech Aircraft Corporation)

The 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp SC-G engine installed in Jackie Cochran’s D17W was an experimental version of the Wasp C with 5:4 propeller reduction gearing. It produced 600 horsepower at 2,850 r.p.m. for takeoff, and 525 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., up to 9,500 feet (2,896 meters). The SC-G never entered production.

During World War II, Beechcraft D17W, c/n 164, was impressed into military service at Tarrant Field, Texas, 12 March 1943. Assigned to the United States Army Air Corps, it was given the designation UC-43K Traveler and Air Corps serial number 42-107277. It was turned over to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, 22 November 1944. The airplane was now powered by a 971.930-cubic-inch displacement (15.927 liter) Wright R-975-5 Whirlwind nine-cylinder radial and was redesignated Beechcraft D17R. It was sold to the Carver Pump Company, Muscatine, Iowa, and registered NC50958. The record-setting Beechcraft Staggerwing crashed at Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, 15 December 1945.

Jackie Cochran's beechcraft D17W, NV18562, c/n 164, carrying the race number "33" circa 1937. (Unattributed)
Jackie Cochran’s Beechcraft D17W, NX18562, c/n 164, carrying the race number “33” circa 1937. (Unattributed)

¹ FAI Record File Number 12228: 8,761 meters (28,743 feet), 6 March 1931.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 March 1943

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)

21 March 1943: Cornelia Clark Fort, a pilot in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (the WAFS), was ferrying a new Vultee BT-13A Valiant basic trainer, serial number 42-42432, from the airplane factory at Downey, California, to an airfield in Texas. She was leading a flight of five BT-13s with the others being flown by inexperienced military pilots.

The left wing of Fort’s airplane was struck from behind by another airplane, BT-13A 42-42450, flown by Flight Officer Frank E. Stamme, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps. Frank Stamme had approximately 250 flight hours. Apparently trying to impress Miss Fort, Stamme attempted to perform a barrel roll around her airplane, but struck her wing.

Fort’s BT-13 crashed approximately 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of Merkel, Texas, and Cornelia Fort was killed. Her body was found in the wreckage of the airplane. The canopy latches were still fastened.

Cornelia Clark Fort was the first female pilot killed while on active military duty. She was 24 years old. Miss Fort was buried at the Mount Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennesee.

Frank Edward Stamme, Jr., was born in Illinois, 3 January 1920. He was the first of four children of Frank Edward Stamme, a machinist, and Bertha Catherine Peters Stamme. He enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps at San Francisco, California, 5 November 1941. Stamme was released from military service 16 January 1947. He died 19 February 1987.

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 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, 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)
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 Squadron. Miss Fort was assigned to the 6th Ferrying Group based at Long Beach, California.

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.

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

The Vultee BT-13A Valiant was an all-metal, two-place, single engine, low-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. The airplane was 28 feet, 10 inches (8.788 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet (12.802 meters) and height of 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters). It had an empty weight of 3,375 pounds (1,531 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,496 pounds (2,039 kilograms).

The BT-13A was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-985-21, R-985-25, or R-985-27, nine-cylinder radial engine. These engines had a compression ratio of 6:1, with Normal Power ratings from 420 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. at Sea Level to 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., and 440 horsepower to 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. for Takeoff. They were direct-drive engines which turned a two-bladed variable-pitch propeller. The –21, –25 and –27 engines were 3 feet, 6.38 inches (1.076 meters) long, 3 feet, 9.75 inches (1.162 meters) in diameter and weighed from 648 to 685 pounds (294–311 kilograms).

The BT-13A had a maximum speed of 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 21,650 feet (6,599 meters) and range was 725 miles (1,167 kilometers).

Vultee built 9,525 BT-13 and BT-15 Valiant basic trainers between 1940 and 1945. Of these, 7,037 were the BT-13A and SNV-1 variant. By the end of World War II, the Vultee Valiant was considered obsolete and was replaced in U.S. service by the North American AT-6 Texan.

Vultee BT-13A Valiant 42-43130, the same type aircraft flown by Cornelia Fort and Frank Stamme, 21 March 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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