To the Editor:
As some of you might know, my interest in airplanes began very early. I collected information about all kinds of pre-WWII aircraft. I also joined the “flying club” of Roscoe Turner. He was a dashing racing pilot in the 1920s and '30s, which got him on the Wheaties cereal box. I sent in the required box tops and got a pair of wings. Those wings lasted until I learned to fly when home on leave in Army Air Corps in 1945.
Turner was but one of the pilots who, back then, raced against the women. The story is told in a book by Keith O’Brien called “Fly Girls.” In order to battle the discrimination by the male pilots, a group of daring young women in 1929 formed a group called the 99s. Author O’Brien found a lot of great stories to tell; I will mention but one, the Bendix trans-continental race of 1936. Turner had a flashy fast plane and was a favorite to win, but he had a mechanical failure and crashed. To make a great story short, Louise Thaden, flying a Beechcraft (stagger wing), came in ahead of not only the other girl pilots, but all the men. Unbelievable! In April 1937, she was presented the Harmon Trophy.
Despite the many tragedies and defeats, the girls not only made history, but were significant in paving the way for the 1,000 women who formed the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS) in WWII to ferry every kind of plane, thus relieving male pilots for combat. If you fly commercial today, you may very well have a “Fly Girl” in the cockpit.
Rev. Bob Dell