Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Women, Aviation, Airline, Pilot, Amelia Earhart, United States, Earhart, World

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/12/05

Aviation History

It is nice to know we have multiple ways of transportation when it comes to traveling. Either by train, boat, car, bus, or airplane we know there is a captain in charge and responsible of every passenger’s safety. When traveling by airplane before take-off, passengers always hear an announcement similar to this, “Hello, this is your captain speaking.” How many of those captains’ voices making that announcement have belonged to a woman? Women make up approximately 5% of the 53,000 members in the Air Line Pilots Association. This figure represents pilots serving at regional and major airlines in the United States and Canada. Statistics show that a mere 450 women around the world are actually airline captains or pilots in command of airlines. This small number of pilots “supervises all the other crew members on a flight, according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots” (Pawlowski, 2011).
When one asks the typical female about the ideal career, the choice is rarely that of being a pilot. Most women do not see it as a possible dream while there are those who do not believe that it is a suitable career for women in general. Most women want to get married and have children, but in order to be a pilot an individual must travel great distances and sometimes being away for an extended time. For the most part women are the ones are the main agents of socialization in the family. Women take care of the children; therefore, absence from their family is not an option. Women do not want to think of the idea of leaving their kids for weeks to be able to do their job. In addition, the starting salary for the typical airline pilot is relatively low and it is extremely expensive to be trained as a pilot. Clearly, in order to become a pilot, woman must have the desire, the dedication, and the passion that comes with the job. History shows that there are not many women pilots, but the few have broken records.
Gils suggests that “the 1920s and ‟30s are often referred to as the golden age for women who aspired to a career in the American aviation industry,” (Gils, p.1). But, these women faced many challenges as the male dominated world of aviation did not allow for the inclusion of women pilots. Conversely, the “role of women as pilots in World War I had been minimal, women pilots became significantly involved and highly visible in United States civilian (sport) and commercial aviation between 1920 and 1940,” (Gils, p. 1). In fact, a number of these outstanding female pilots engaged in aviation as a means of recreation, breaking records, flight instructors, and being test pilots. Nonetheless, the end of the 1930s “women pilots seemed to have disappeared from the aviation scene,” (Gils, p. 1). Still, some women pilots remained as flight instructors despite the fact that the war ended the flight careers of many women.
Luedtke postulates “since the early days women have been active participants in aviation and aviation education,” (Luedtke, p. 1). Nonetheless, the “opportunities for women in aviation did not come easily, but were founded on decades of struggle, determination, and perseverance,” (Luedtke, p. 1). One of the most outstanding female pilots, Harriet Quimby was born in Arcadia, MI on May, 11 1875. Based on an inspirational story she was reporting, Quimby, became the first female licensed pilot in the United States in 1911. Quimby made several unforgettable exhibition flights, which included a moonlit night flight over Staten Island, New York. The following year, “she became the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel, just three years after Louis Blériot first accomplished that feat,” (Flying With America's Most Famous Female Aviators, n.p.). But tragedy struck and “a few months later as hundreds looked on during an aviation meet in Boston Harbor, she fell to her death out of a plane flying at 1,500 feet,” (Flying with America's Most Famous Female Aviators, n.p.).
Interestingly, Bessie Coleman became the first African American female to earn the International Pilot’s License in 1921. After studying in France, Coleman returned to the United States where she became “Queen Bess” by the enthusiastic aviation world. Coleman flew a number of exhibition flights and used the opportunity to encourage both white and black women to become pilots. However, before she raised enough money to open a flight school in the United States, she was violently thrown from an aircraft in 1926 as she rehearsed for an exhibition flight show, (Flying with America's Most Famous Female Aviators, n.p.).
Similarly, Jacqueline Cochran was born in Muscogee, Florida on May 11, 1906. “Cochran made her initial mark in aviation by winning numerous air races and setting speed and altitude records in the 1930s,” (Flying with America's Most Famous Female Aviators, n.p.). In 1942, she was one of the funding pilots in the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASPS), who were responsible for transporting approximately 12,650 military aircraft in the two years of service in the unit. In the period after World War II, Cochran returned to racing and in 1953, she became the first woman to exceed Mach 1 as she broke the “sound barrier” in an F-86 Sabrejet, (Flying with America's Most Famous Female Aviators, n.p.). As a repeated winner of the Harmon outstanding pilot award, Cochran is reputed to set more aviation records than any of her male or female contemporaries, (Flying with America's Most Famous Female Aviators, n.p.).
The young Amelia Earhart was born in Atchison, KS on July, 24 1897. Her first journey in an airplane occurred on December, 28 1920. On that flight, at about three hundred feet from the ground, Earhart knew that she would become a pilot. Her fascination with the idea of being off the ground led Earhart to her first flying lesson on January 3, 1921. Within six months, she was able to save enough money to purchase her first airplane. This second-hand Kinner Airster, which Earhart called “The Canary”, was a two-seater biplane that she painted in bright yellow. She “used it to set her first women's record by rising to an altitude of 14,000 feet,” (The Official Website of Amelia Earhart, n.p.).
On April, 1928, Earhart got a life-changing phone call. She was asked if she wanted to be the first woman pilot to fly over the Atlantic. She joined the pilot Wilmer "Bill" Stultz and co-pilot and mechanic Louis E. "Slim" Gordon. On June 17, 1928, the crew left Trepassey Harbor, Newfoundland, in a Fokker F7 named Friendship. The crew arrived at Burry Port, Wales just about twenty – one hours later. This triumphant journey by the three aviators made the news around the globe. In the ensuing years, Earhart soared to new heights as she set an altitude record for autogyros of 18,415 which stood for years, (The Official Website of Amelia Earhart, n.p.). On January 11, 1935, Earhart became the first individual to fly solo across the Pacific from Honolulu to Oakland, California. Later that year, Earhart became the first pilot to fly solo from Mexico City to Newark, (The Official Website of Amelia Earhart, n.p.).
On June 1, 1937, Earhart and Fred Noonan left Miami and began the 29,000 mile journey. They landed on June 29th in Lae, New Guinea; having completed just about 7,000 miles. Their navigation was hampered by the frequently inaccurate maps that made it difficult for her navigator, Noonan. The next leg of the journey to Howland Island presented the greatest challenge. At about 2,556 miles from Lae in the mid-Pacific, Howland Island is only a mile and a half long and a half-mile wide. The journey became even more complex, but Earhart engaged in a plan that would give her an additional 274 additional miles. Noonan and Earhart removed the unnecessary items from the plane to create more mileage.
On July 2, Earhart and Noonan departed despite poor weather reports. Amidst the overcast skies, intermittent rain showers, and poor radio transmissions, Earhart received a message questioning her position in the air. She returned with a message regarding her position, but that was the last message or contact with Earhart. After the most extensive search in the air and sea naval history, the rescue operation to find Earhart was abandoned and Earhart was pronounced dead on January 5, 1939. History records Earhart as the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. As such, she received the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross for the record she created, (The Official Website of Amelia Earhart, n.p). Critics note that “while Earhart, Hughes, and others pushed themselves and their airplanes to their limits in pursuit of trans-global records,” (Aviation Pioneers, n.p), other courageous aviators worked in the comfort of the naval bases in the United States.
Florence “Pancho” Barnes, wealthy, determined and exceptional woman, performed in barnstorming shows, air races, and worked as a stunt pilot in Hollywood. Just before she took up flying in 1928 she had roamed Mexico disguised as a man. Married to a minster, she sometimes buzzed his Sunday morning service. In 1935, Barnes established the Happy Bottom Riding Club, a California dude ranch famous that was famous for parties that hosted such test pilots as Chuck Yeager, Jimmy Doolittle, and Buzz Aldrin” (Flying With America's Most Famous Female Aviators, n.p.).
Elinor Smith, another female pilot, was only 26 years younger than Amelia Earhart when she started her career as a pilot. Elinor Smith was born in New York City, NY on August, 17 1911. At seven years old, the young Elinor took lessons near her home on Long Island with a pillow behind her back so that she could reach the controls. By the age of fifteen, Smith had done her first solo flight, but her love for the air forced her to earn her pilot license at the age of sixteen. Smith made the headlines during the said year when she attempted a daring feat as she flew under New York City’s four East River bridges. Along with Bobbi Trout as her co-pilot, these women became the first female women aviators who refueled a plane in mid-air in 1929. Earhart and a group of other pilots honored Smith as the Best Female Pilot in 1930. Additionally, Smith was responsible for setting numerous records for altitude, speed, and endurance records in the 1930s. For almost twenty years, Smith stayed home and raised her family, but she returned to flying in the 1950s. She piloted military transport planes and jets for many years. The flight world missed its legend when Elinor Smith passed away in 2010 at the age of 98,” (Flying with America's Most Famous Female Aviators, n.p).
But the role of women in aviation was not limited to recreational purposes or fulfilling dreams. The tone of female in the field of aviation soared as women aviators assumed the roles of pilots in the U.S. Army Air Force. These women acted as civilian pilots and they ferried aircrafts that they towed as targets for ground and aerial antiaircraft fire and flight-testing aircrafts, (Lewis-McChord, par. 1). Conversely, they flew approximately sixty million miles and worked for over three hundred thousand hours flying, (Lewis-McChord, par. 1). Washington had a number of female pilots in the mission, but there was tragedy in the world of female aviation as thirty – eight of these women pilots died while in training or on flight missions. The program continued for two more years and then was later, but these female pilots became the founding fathers who changed the history of aviation and American society, (Lewis-McChord, par. 1).
Prior to World War II, the world of aviation was introduced the two renowned female pilots who relentlessly proposed the idea that female pilots also supported national defense. Jacqueline "Jackie" Cochran delivered a presentation that promoted the rights for female pilots who carried out non-military tasks in the air. Additionally, Nancy Harkness Love presented another proposal that was independent of Cochran’s presentation. Her narrow proposal reinforced the idea that women could transport aircrafts from the factories to airfields in the same way that men carried out these tasks. Both proposals were opposed because of the sexist notion that females were unfit to become pilots. Nonetheless, the increase in the demand for pilots and a chance to create the opportunity for male to engage more freely in combat gave support to the calls for more female pilots.
A number of influential women, including First Lady Roosevelt lent support to the need for a flight program for women. Eventually, Love's Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron and Cochran's Women's Flying Training Detachment joined to open the doors for women to fly military aircraft,” (Lewis-McChord, par. 1). The proposals from both Love and Cochran combined to create the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) on August 5, 1943. In fact, the merger saw Cochran commanding the program and Love serving as the executive officer in the Air Transport Ferry division.
Barbara Erickson London had her roots in Seattle in the 1920s. It was during her second year at the University of Washington that she became a part of the training program for Civilian Pilots. This federally funded program was designed to boost the group of qualified pilots as they prepared for war. London obtained the rating as an instructor in spite of the limitations that was placed on women who were enlisted in courses that were even more advanced. Still, in 1940, London she competed in the national aviation activities despite her limitations. In August 1942, she was became a part of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron and was the 14th woman who qualified for the squad.
Conversely, “BJ” as London was affectionately called by the members of her squadron, ferried a number of aircraft from the factories bases to the airfields. During one of the five-day periods, London successfully made four separate flights of over 2,000-mile and “commanded the 73-member ferrying squadron at Long Beach, California,” (Lewis-McChord, par. 3). In 1943, the world saw London as the first female pilot receiving the much coveted Air Medal. Despite this achievement, London was applied for jobs as a pilot, but faced disappointment as the world was not ready for women as female pilots. In spite of the heightened gender discrimination, London continued to participate in air races and administration.
Much of the female pilots in history started their early passion for the year at simple air shows in their communities. Dorothy Kocher Olsen and Alta Corbett Thomas were no exception to the early desire to fly planes. Kocher came from Woodburn, Oregon. She loved flying as a child on her adventure at Oregon State Fair. Later, she became a part of a club that promoted aviation. In 1943, she joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots. Kocher had become an exceptional pilot. She was responsible for ferrying aircraft and made an amazing sixty-one flights as she delivered different models of planes. At the end of the war, Olsen returned to Pacific Northwest and settled in her marriage up until 2013.
Thomas, on the other hand, grew up in Portland, Oregon. She fell in love with aviation during her free hours at Swan Island airport in Portland. In World War II, Corbett became a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilot program. She was involved in towing targets, at Camp Davis’ anti-aircraft school and later at Camp Stewart. The role involved flying above anti-aircraft guns even as they tried to take out the targets she carried at the rear of her plane. Additionally, Corbett flew during the night missions in an effort to coach searchlight crews as they attempted to detect and locate aircrafts. After the war, Corbett tried to get a job as a pilot, but faced the same music as the other female pilots: the world was not ready for female pilots. But, her love for aviation allowed her to stay and work in the field as she worked in the airport communications department in Alaska.
Women pilots in the twentieth century came from all over the United States. The passion for aviation increased as the years passed and saw the expansion of WASPS. Another important female pilot in the movement to pave the way for accepting female pilots in the male dominated field included Opal Vivian Hicks Fagan. She later enrolled in the Women Airforce Service Pilots because of the adventure and her love of flying. She hoped to work for the good of her country and during her training in 1944; she participated in tests that revealed that women could serve as pilots even when they face their menstrual cycle.
Many arguments surfaced regarding women’s ability to fly an aircraft at during their monthly cycle. Although the arguments were absurd, Fagan made every effort to disprove the prejudice of the moment. Fagan became a part of the ferrying flights. She became even more dedicated when she learnt that the program could be dissolved. She succeeded in working with high-horsepower aircraft. After the program was dissolved, Fagan became a flight instructor after she was rejected by the Aloha Airlines as a pilot because of her gender. The issues that Fagan faced was not unique as female aviators represented “less than one-thirtieth of all aviators,” (Gibson, p. 18). Nevertheless “women pilots were highly visible in aeronautics and played an important role in spreading the winged gospel,” (Gibson, p. 18)
The life of Mary Barnes Sturdevant is one of the most interesting stories of a female pilot. She was from the poorer class, but she used the opportunity of the pilot program for women to foster her love and development as a pilot. Sturdevant’s flying experiences during the war included having to survive a plane crash in one of the basic trainer planes. Her plane died as she flew alongside another trainee pilot. The devastating accident left the other trainee disabled permanently even as Barnes recovered from the injuries she received in the crash. Despite these horrifying events the world of aviation continued to see women making their contribution to the world of aviation.
Nancy Nordhoff Dunnam was born in Seattle in the early 1920s. Her love for aviation grew out of the fact that her father was an aviator in the First World War. He opened her appetite to the splendors of flying and her love for the field grew from her first air flight with her father. While attending the Washington’s University, Dunnam enrolled into the program Women Airforce Service Pilot. Carol Nicholson Lewis, Jean Isabella Landa, and Margaret Eleanor Neyman Martin, formed a part of the group of eight women who later became successful as World War II pilots.
Despite the sacrifices of these women pilots in the World War I and II, the women face gender discrimination in the world even today. History shows that the sacrifices of these women were great even as the thirty-eight of the women pilots in the WASP program died while training or as they embarked on “mission flights”. The harsh reality is that there were no benefits for these women who sacrificed their lives because based on the technicality that they were not a part of the military, the government compensations did not apply to them even in death. The sad truth is that for many of the number of the women pilots who were killed, it was their fellow pilots who contributed to the shipment of the bodies back to the United States so that these women would receive an honorable burial in their homeland. In many cases, another pilot accompanied the deceased to the pilot's hometown.
Included in the number of women killed in aviation was Dorothy F. Scott who died in a collision in the air on December 3, 1943. As Scott approached the landing strip in Palm Springs and had acknowledge the air traffic control clearance, a fighter plane that was next in line to land overtook Scott’s plane at great speed as it collided with her aircraft. Similarly, Jayne Elizabeth Erickson collided over the training field at Avenger, Texas as she took a solo flight on April 16, 1944. Jeanne Lewellen Norbeck died in 1944 while she tested a BT-13 basic trainer in Southern Carolina. Mary Louise Webster was merely a passenger aboard a flight from Oklahoma on December 9, 1944 when the plane crashed. Webster is the only female pilot whose name has been recorded on the wall of the War Memorial.
Surprisingly, some of the strongest arguments against women becoming more active in aviation arise from the women who oppose the idea. But, in spite of a number or problems, World War II changed the history of aviation for American women. Through WASPs veterans received acknowledgement through veterans' status in 1977. Before the legislation in 1977, the Army and the Navy began accepting women into their aviation ranks in 1974, (Kruper, n.p). In fact, Lieutenant Sally Murphy became the Army's first female aviator. Numerous studies into aviation in the early seventies pointed to the fact that the personality characteristics of GA pilots revealed that "pilot personality" surpassed gender. In fact, "personality was marked by physicality, courage, adventure, orientation toward demonstrating competency, skill, and achievement, and mastery of complex tasks,” (Kruper, n.p). Interestingly, one realized that these qualities had a positive impact on the aviation pioneers in the early years and continues to shape the lives of modern aviators who choose to work in the field of aviation.
In concluding, these are strong and driven women created some of the most memorable stories in the history of aviation. Although some of these stories are more popular than others, they all inspire us to follow our dreams and keep on trying. None of these women gave up on what they believed in despite it being a male dominant career. Today, there are a lot of ways to succeed as a female pilot. The educational doors have been opened for decades and recently the aviation field has become more tolerant of female pilots. Time and technology have advanced, even though pilots have to travel for lengthier periods, there are several ways to be able to see family and communicate from long distance. Financial help is also offered through scholarships, loans, financial aid, and more. With this in mind, there is no excuse for a woman to not do what she loves. For us female pilots, the sky is the limit; do not limit yourself, and in no time you will be flying through the skies.


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