Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Female Fliers

By Niki Turner

It was my privilege to take my grandson to his first big-screen movie at the theater to see "Planes."

Small airplanes are a big part of my immediate family history. Both my parents had their pilot's licenses and flew small, single-engine planes. According to them (and pictures) I was flying through the sky at the tender age of six weeks old. One of my earliest memories is that of reading the instructions on the emergency locator beacon in the backseat of our small plane while we bounced through mountain turbulence on our way to somewhere for lunch. We never needed that beacon, praise God, but it contributed a great deal to my adult apprehension of air travel.

Anyway... "Planes" is about air racing, and one of the friends I met at the theater shared that her grandmother was one of those early racing pilots, which triggered a recollection of my mother sharing something about being asked to join The Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women's pilots.

Lillian Todd, Inventor
Mention historical female pilots and most people will only think of Amelia Earhart, but there were many more. Women jumped into the adventure that is air flight almost at its inception. (tweet this!) Orville and Wilbur Wright's first successful, powered, manned flight lasted 12 seconds in December, 1903.

Just three years later, Lillian "Lily" Todd, a self-taught inventor, was busy designing an airplane of her own.

Blanche Stuart Scott

In 1910, Rochester, NY, native Blanche Stuart Scott became, purportedly, the first American woman to fly a plane at a public event. She eventually became a stunt pilot and a test pilot for Glenn Martin (of Lockheed-Martin fame).

Katherine Stinson
Katherine Stinson, eventually known as "The Flying Schoolgirl" on the aviation circuit, had to convince Wright Bros. pilot Max Lillie to give her lessons. He didn't want to teach her because she was a girl. In July 1915, she became the first woman to perform an aerobatic loop, and proceeded to do so some 500 times without incident, earning her the title of the first female aerobatic pilot. (That first plane I flew in with my parents was a Stinson tail-dragger, named for the company Katherine's brother established.)

My point? There is a lot of history out there that we've scarcely scratched the surface of in modern fiction, and a lot of potential heroes and heroines we might not have considered! When my friend told me about her grandmother, I was surprised. Not only did I not know there were female aviators who raced planes "back in the day," I'd never considered how close to home I might find a unique story idea!

Niki Turner is a writer, former pastor's wife, mother of four, and grandmother of two and a half. She has thus far been unsuccessful at coming up with catchy taglines for her writing, her purpose in life, or what she hopes to achieve in the future. Suggestions are welcome.



  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. What brave ladies! Amazing. I don't know how anybody was willing to fly in those early planes. Human ingenuity and curiosity are a powerful combination!

    Great idea for potential stories, Niki.

  3. I'm going to ask my friend about her grandmother. Who knew?

  4. Ohh! Nikster! Strong women in history. Just what I love!

    What amazing stories. I loved them all. Especially about your parents and you flying in the backseat of their plane just to do lunch.

    How cool is that?

  5. I'm thinking about a Suzie Johnson post that would link up nicely with this one...

    This is cool and don't you love the way story ideas pop out of local history? This is big time stuff!

    I'm not far from Rochester NY (it's 'my' city) and I hadn't heard of that woman, but we do have a air museum and soaring museum nearby. Soaring is a really scary/fascinating sport that is popular around here. I might try it some day -flying without an engine. YUp that sounds safe!

    well, we're expecting a female pilot story from you now!

  6. Thanks for this interesting post, Niki.

    I have so much respect for these women and others, but they seem to be buried under mountains of mens' adventures. Sometimes it's worth the time to do some digging, eh. :)

  7. That's cool. I guess planes were evolving around the same time as women's rights, so I suppose it was a natural fit.

  8. As I was writing this post I kept thinking about those women taking to the skies before they even had the right to vote. Pretty amazing. And really made me think how easy it is for us to whine about things instead of just taking action!

  9. i've learned so much about pioneering women here at the Inkwell. this is another great post about some more women in history that i hadn't known.

    really cool. i've had some pilot friends with whom i've enjoyed flights and my older brother is a small plane pilot as well, but i've never flown with him. go figure *heh*

  10. @DebH - So glad you found it interesting! I did, too. History is filled with amazing, astonishing women who never made it into our history class textbooks.

    Haha... my DH has suggested learning to fly a few times. I told him he could, but I won't be riding along!


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