“Don’t you think that it would be good psychology to have women up in the air? How is a man going to say he is afraid to fly when a woman is working on the plane?”
1. Blanche Scott (1884-1970)
She showed a keen interest in automobiles as a child, and was able to drive one at a very young age. Thanks to this passion, she set some records after driving coast to coast from New York to San Francisco in 1910: her intent was to demonstrate the ability of a woman to drive for many kilometers and cope, alone, with any mechanical problems.
Thanks to this venture she caught the attention of Jerome Fanciulli and was able to take flying lessons from pioneer Glenn Curtiss: in training, despite Curtiss had placed blocks to some commands, she managed to take off and fly at an altitude of forty feet – the dynamics of how are not clear. The real debut took place in Chicago, again in 1910, as part of the Curtiss team, for which she performed for several years. Nonetheless, Scott considered the public’s interest in the risk of crashing annoying, as the lack of opportunities for women in the industry, and decided to stop flying in 1916.
Shee made a career in radio and as a screenwriter, and she was a collaborator with museums. In 1948 she became the first American woman to fly as a passenger on a jet, piloted by Chuck Yeager.
2. Božena Laglerová (1888-1941)
The youngest of seven children, she initially took singing lessons at the Prague Conservatory, but her career was cut short by problems with her vocal chords. Thanks to the support of her brother-in-law, she became passionate about aviation, deciding to become the first Czech female pilot. In 1911 she began to train with Hans Grade, becoming, in the autumn of the same year, the second woman to obtain a pilot’s license in Germany (and subsequently the first in Austria). Frequently using the name Miss Lagler, she took on successful flights in Germany, but also in the United States, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, until nostalgia for Prague won.
At the outbreak of the World War I she tried to enlist in the air force, but was rejected. After the war, while continuing to promote Czech aviation, she decided to abandon her flights and made a career as a journalist, politician and singing teacher.
3. Nancy Harkness Love (1914-1976)
She developed a great passion for aviation since childhood, obtaining her flight license when she was only sixteen; during her first year in college, she made extra money taking her classmates as passengers. After marriage, she and her husband created their own aviation company in Boston; she spent the years before the war participating in competitions and working as a test pilot.
After several attempts to get women involved in war, she managed, thanks to her skills and knowledge, to become the commander of the newly created Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, which, by 1943, commanded four different base squadrons in four different states. The Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron soon became the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, again under the command of Love, whose guidance allowed to achieve a long list of results, including several records and the possibility for women to pilot the latest aircrafts. Love and her colleagues struggled for years to have the importance of female pilots inside military bodies recognized: obstacles in particular concerned the selection methods, much more severe than men’s, such as age, education and total number of hours of flight.
Later, she continued to work and become interested in aviation and fought for women who served in the war to obtain status of war veterans. She also received the Distinguished Service Medal, at the same time as her husband, for her successful operations during the period at the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots.
4. Ellen Church (1904-1965)
A nurse and a pilot, she had to find a way to get around the mentality of the 30s, which did not look favorably at a woman on board an airplane. She advocated to get nurses on board aircrafts, to be responsible for the welfare and safety of passengers, tasks that were previously carried out by co-pilots.
Boeing Air Transport, which later became United Airlines, decided to support the initiative, albeit initially for a trial period, by hiring Church and seven other women for the San Francisco-Cheyenne and Cheyenne-Chicago flights. Church became the first flight attendant to fly. The trial period was a great success and other companies decided to hire flight attendants, for a total of about three hundred places by the end of the decade.
With the opportunities the selections became harsher, as many managers began to think that an affable personality, graceful movements and good looks played a fundamental role, as much as experience and training.
Following an accident just a lttle over a year after his first flight, Church had to abandon her career as a flight attendant: she decided to devote herself to the nursing, serving for the army during the war.
Cresco Airport, Iowa, her hometown, was named Ellen Church Field in her honor.
5. Geraldine Mock (1925-2014)
After making her first flight as a child, she made aviation her passion: after university and marriage, she decided to take flying lessons and obtained a pilot’s license in 1958. The more she flew and the more she wanted to go and see the world: the National Aeronautic Association approved her journey around the world, and Mock was able to leave in 1964 before another pilot, Merriam Smith, whose objective was to fly on the same route as Amelia Earhart.
Her husband, also a pilot, and his partner helped her with enthusiasm, equipping the Cessna 180 with the best equipment for such a long journey; she lost no time and immersed herself in the study of maps, trying to understand the situation of terrain and the position of radio stations, and took care of the visas and permits necessary in the different countries.
The journey was not without problems. During the first route to Bermuda she realized that the radio was not working; in Morocco she discovered that the new brakes had not been fitted; in Algeria her clothing was questioned, considered inadequate; in Egypt she initially missed the runway due to meteorological problems. From Cairo on, the situation was quieter. After a forced stop for maintenance in Manila, the rest of the journey and the arrival in Oakland went smooth: on April 17, 1964 Mock became the first woman to fly around the world.
Mock was thus able to conquer several records, by distance, by type of routes and for speed. In 1970 she published the story of her trip in the book “Three-Eight Charlie”.
The Cessna 180, called “The Spirit of Columbus”, is visible at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum in Virginia.
First part at this link.
Photo: Nancy Harkness Love at 28 (https://research.archives.gov/description/535775) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons