Tag Archives: Women in Aviation

15 May 1930

Miss Ellen Evalyn Church, R.N.

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

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

When her request was denied, she suggested that the airline put registered nurses aboard BAT’s airplanes to care for the passengers. She was hired to recruit and train seven additional women as stewardesses. Because of the cabin size and weight-carrying limitations of those early airliners, they were limited to a height of 5 feet, 4 inches (1.63 meters) and maximum weight of 115 pounds (52.2 kilograms). They were required to be registered nurses, but could not to be more than 25 years old. Their salary was $125.00 per month (approximately $1,755 in 2017 dollars).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

11 May 1964

Jackie Cochran and Lockheed F-104G Starfighter 62-12222 at Edwards AFB, 1964. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran and Lockheed F-104G Starfighter 62-12222 at Edwards AFB, 1964. (FAI)

11 May 1964: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Jacqueline Cochran flew a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, 62-12222, to 2,300.23 kilometers per hour (1,429.30 miles per hour)—Mach 2.16—over a straight 15 to 25 kilometer course. She was the first woman to fly faster than Mach 2 and she set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record. ¹

Jackie Cochran taxiing Lockheed F-104G Starfighter 62-12222 at Edwards AFB, 1964. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran taxiing Lockheed F-104G Starfighter 62-12222 at Edwards AFB, 1964. (FAI)

Jackie Cochran wrote about flying the 15/25 kilometer straight course in her autobiography:

Picture in your mind a rectangular tunnel, 300 feet high, a quarter of a mile wide, and extending 20 miles long through the air at an altitude of 35,000 feet. I had to fly through that tunnel at top speed without touching a side. There were no walls to see but radar and ground instruments let me know my mistakes immediately. Up there at 35,000 feet the temperature would be about 45 degrees below zero. Not pleasant but perfect for what I was doing. Inside the plane you are hot because of the friction of speeding through the air like that. The cockpit was air-conditioned, but when you descend, things happen so fast the plane’s air-cooling system can’t keep up with it. I was always hot and perspiring back on the ground.

Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York 1987, Page 314.

Cochran set three speed records with this F-104G in May and June 1964. Under the Military Assistance Program, the U.S. Air Force transferred it to the Republic of China Air Force, where it was assigned number 4322. It crashed 17 July 1981.

The record-setting Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, USAF serial number 62-12222, in service with the Republic of China Air Force as 4322.
The record-setting Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, USAF serial number 62-12222, in service with the Republic of China Air Force as 4322.

The F-104G was the final production version of the Lockheed Starfighter. Rather than an interceptor, the G-model was a fighter bomber, with a strengthened fuselage and wings, and hardpoints for carrying bombs and additional fuel tanks. Built by Lockheed, they were also licensed for production by Canadair, Dornier, Fiat, Fokker, Messerschmitt and SABCA.

The F-104G was a single-seat, single engine fighter bomber, 54 feet 8 inches (16.662 meters) long with a wingspan of just 21 feet, 9 inches (6.629 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.115 meters). The empty weight is 14,000 pounds (6,350.3 kilograms) and loaded weight is 20,640 pounds (9,362.2 kilograms).

The F-104G was powered by a General Electric J79-GE-11A engine, a single-spool, axial-flow, afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor section and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-11A is rated at 10,000 pounds of thrust (44.48 kilonewtons), and 15,800 pounds (70.28 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 4.0 inches (5.283 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,560 pounds (1,615 kilograms).

The maximum speed is 1,328 miles per hour (2,137.2 kilometers per hour). It has a combat radius of 420 miles (675.9 kilometers) or a ferry range of 1,630 miles (2,623.2 kilometers) The service ceiling is 50,000 feet (15,240 meters).

General Electric M61A1 20 mm rotary cannon in the weapons bay of a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter. (Michael Wolf/Wikipedia)
General Electric M61A1 20 mm rotary cannon in the weapons bay of a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter. (Michael Wolf/Wikipedia)

Armament consists of a 20 mm General Electric M61A1 Vulcan six-barreled Gatling gun, with 725 rounds of ammunition. Up to four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air heat seeking missiles can be carried on the wingtips or under wing pylons. In place of missiles, two wingtip fuel tanks and another two under wing tanks could be carried.

On NATO alert, the F-104G was armed with a B43 variable-yield nuclear bomb mounted on the fuselage centerline hardpoint. The B43 could be set for explosive force between 170 kilotons and 1 megaton.

Two F-104G Starfighters in service with the Luftwaffe. The airplane closest to the camera, marked 26+41, was built by Messerschmitt with final assembly by MBB-Manching in February 1971. (© Peter Doll)
Two F-104G Starfighters in service with the Luftwaffe. The airplane closest to the camera, marked 26+41, was built by Messerschmitt with final assembly by MBB-Manching in February 1971. (© Peter Doll)

¹ FAI Record File Number 13041

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

4–7 May 1936

1st April 1936: English aviator Amy Mollison, nee Johnson (1903 - 1941) wearing a woollen suit from the collection of flight clothes designed by Madame Schiaparelli for her solo flight from London to Cape Town. (Photo by Sasha/Getty Images)
“1st April 1936: English aviator Amy Mollison, nee Johnson (1903 – 1941) wearing a woollen suit from the collection of flight clothes designed by Madame Schiaparelli for her solo flight from London to Cape Town. (Photo by Sasha/Getty Images)”

4–7 May 1936: British aviatrix Amy Johnson, C.B.E., departed Gravesend Aerodrome, Kent, England, at 8:02 a.m. GMT, 4 May 1936, in her Percival D.3 Gull Six, registration G-ADZO, enroute to Cape Town, South Africa. In July 1932, she had set a record for flying this route, solo, breaking the existing record which had been set by her husband, James Mollison. The current record, though, was held by Flight Lieutenant Tommy Rose. Her goal was to retake the record.

During the next three days, Johnson flew approximately 6,700 miles (10,782 kilometers). She made several stops to refuel her airplane, but she slept only about six hours.

She arrived at Wingfield Aerodrome, Cape Town, at 2:31 p.m. GMT, 7 May, for an elapsed time of 3 days, 6 hours, 29 minutes. Her average speed over the course was 122.65 kilometers per hour (76.21 miles per hour), setting a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Recognized Course.¹ She broke Tommy Rose’s time by 11 hours, 9 minutes. Her plan was to then make the return flight and beat Rose’s two-way record.

Amy Johnson’s record-breaking Percival D.3 Gull Six, G-ADZO, at Gravesend. (Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library)

Amy Johnson’s Percival D.3 Gull Six, c/n D63, was a single-engine, low-wing monoplane, with fixed landing gear, designed by Edgar Percival and built by Percival Aircraft Limited at Gravesend. It was built primarily of wood and covered by doped fabric. The Gull was flown by a single pilot and could carry two passengers.

The airplane was 24 feet, 9 inches (7.544 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 2 inches (11.024 meters) and height of 7 feet, 4½ inches (2.248 meters). The D.3 had an empty weight of 1,170 pounds (530.7 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,050 pounds (929.9 kilograms).

The Gull Six was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 9.186 liter (560.57-cubic-inch-displacement) air-cooled 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 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).

G-ADZO had been sold to Harold Leslie Brook, 12 December 1935. Amy Johnson had flown it in a previous attempt for the London-Cape Town record in April 1936, but G-ADZO was seriously damaged when she ground-looped the airplane at Colomb-Béchar, French Algeria.

The Gull was raced by R. Falk, flying for the Marquess of Londonderry, in the King’s Cup, 10–11 July 1936, carrying race number 12. G-ADZO finished in 7th place with a time of 2 hours, 10 minutes 48 seconds, and average speed of 163.44 miles per hour (263.03 kilometers per hour).

In 1937, H. L Brook flew G-ADZO to Capetopwn and back.

G-ADZO was scrapped 8 February 1938.

G-ADZO in the water at King’s Lynn.
Percival Aircraft Company advertisement in FLIGHT, 21 May 1936. (Aviation Ancestry Database of British Aviation Advertisements 1909–1980)

Amy Johnson had set many flight records, both individually and with her husband, James Mollison, whom she had married in 1932 (divorced, 1938). He proposed to her during an airplane flight, only eight hours after having met her. For her record-setting flight from England to Australia in May 1931, she was made Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) and won the Harmon Trophy.

During World War II, Amy Johnson flew for the Royal Air Force as a First Officer of the Air Transport Auxiliary (equivalent to the RAF rank of Flight Lieutenant). Tragically, on 5 January 1941, while flying over London, she was challenged by an RAF fighter. Twice she gave the incorrect recognition code and she was then shot down. Her airplane crashed into the Thames, where she was seen struggling in the water. Lieutenant Commander Walter Fletcher of HMS Haslemere dived into the river to rescue her, but both died. This incident was kept secret and it was publicly reported that she had run out of fuel.

¹ FAI Record File Number 13241

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

1 May 1930

Amelia Earhart's transport pilot license. (Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections )
Amelia Earhart’s Transport Pilot’s License. (Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections )

1 May 1930: The Aeronautics Branch, Department of Commerce, issues Transport Pilot’s License No. 5716 to Amelia Mary Earhart.

The certificate is in the collection of the Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

16 April 1912

Harriet Quimby, September 1910. (Edmunds Bond/The Boston Globe)

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.

FLIGHT reported:

MISS QUIMBY FLIES THE CHANNEL.

ALTHOUGH Miss Harriet Quimby has made an enviable reputation for herself as a capable pilot in America, her native country, she has not been very well-known on this side of the Atlantic, and no doubt few of our readers who read the announcement in FLIGHT a week or so back that she was coming to Europe, looked for her so soon to make her mark by crossing the Channel. Contrary to what one would expect, the feat was carried through without any fuss or elaborate preparations, and only a few friends, including Mr. Norbet Chereau and his wife and Mrs Griffith, an American friend, knew the attempt was being made and were present at the start. Miss Quimby had ordered a 50-h.p. Gnome-Blériot, which arrived from France on Saturday, and was tested on Sunday by Mr. Hamel. On Tuesday morning, as previously arranged, after Mr. Hamel had taken the machine for a preliminary trial flight, Miss Quimby, who had been staying at Dover under the name of Miss Craig, took her place in the pilot’s seat, and at 5.38 left Deal, rising by a wide circle and steering a course, by the aid of the compass, for Cape Grisnez. Dover Castle was passed at a height of 1,500 feet, and by the time the machine was over the sea, it was at an altitude of about 2,000 feet. Guided solely by compass, Miss Quimby arrived above the Grisnez Lighthouse a little under an hour later, and making her way towards Boulogne she came down at Equihen by a spiral vol plané not far from the Blériot sheds.

     To Miss Quimby, therefore belongs the honour of being the first of the fair sex to make the journey, unaccompanied, across the Channel on an aeroplane; and, appropriately enough, as the first crossing of an aeroplane by a “mere man” was on a Blériot machine, her mount was of that type. Miss Trehawke Davies, it will be remembered, was the first lady to cross the Channel in an aeroplane, but she was a passenger with Mr. Hamel on his Blériot monoplane.

FLIGHT, No. 173. (No. 16, Vol. IV.), 20 April 1912 at Page 345

Quimby was the first woman to fly across the channel, but that was not her only “first”: On 11 August 1911, after 33 flight lessons over a four-month period at the Moisant Aviation School at Hempstead, Long Island, New York, she had become the first American woman to receive a pilot’s license, Number 37, from the Aero Club of America. She was called as “America’s First Lady of the Air.” Miss Quimby was widely known for her “plum-colored” satin flying suit.

Miss Harriet Qumby, 1911, (Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library)

Harriet Quimby was born 11 May 1875 at Arcadia, Michigan. She was the fourth child of William F. Quimby, a farmer, and Ursula M. Cook Quimby. The family moved to California in 1887, initially settling in Arroyo Grande, and then San Francisco. There, she worked as an actress, and then a writer for the San Francisco Call newspaper, and Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly. Quimby also wrote a number of screenplays for early Hollywood movies which were directed by D.W. Griffiths.

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. Miss Quimby was buried at the Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York.

Miss Harriet Quimby with her Blériot monoplane.

The Blériot XI was a single-seat, single-engine monoplane, designed by Raymond Saulnier and built by Louis Charles Joseph Blériot. It was 26.24 feet (7.998 meters) long with a wingspan of 25.35 feet (7.727 meters) and overall height of 8 feet (2.438 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).

Blériot Type XI, front view.
Blériot Type XI, side view.
Blériot Type XI, top view.

Miss Quimby’s airplane, though, was powered by a normally-aspirated, air-cooled, 7.983 liter (487.140-cubic-inch-displacement) Société des Moteurs Gnome Omega 7-cylinder rotary engine which produced 50 horsepower at 1,200 r.p.m. The direct-drive engine turned a two-bladed wooden propeller in a left-hand, pusher configuration. The Omega 7 is 79.2 centimeters (2 feet, 7.2 inches) long, 83.8 centimeters (2 feet, 9.0 inches) in diameter, and weighs 75.6 kilograms (166.7 pounds). The prototype of this engine is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air & Space Museum.

The Anzani-powered Blériot XI had a maximum speed of 76 kilometers per hour (47 miles per hour) and its service ceiling was 1,000 meters (3,281 feet).

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.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes