NAS PensacolaOne of my resolutions this year is to be more digilent in my posts on this website.  My apologies dear readers for my extended absence.  But enough about that, let’s celebrate the new year!

Did you know that 2014 marks the centennial of the establishment of NAS Pensacola in Florida?  On January 20, 1914, naval aviators arrived in the sleepy town that would later be known as the “Cradle of Naval Aviation”.  Follow along throughout the year as the National Naval Aviation Museum opens its archives to delve into the history of this famous naval airbase.  Click on the following link to learn more: NAS Pensacola: The Early Years

Edith Cook picture courtesy of Suffolk Aviation Heritage Group

Edith Cook
picture courtesy of Suffolk Aviation Heritage Group

Little is known about the first British woman to pilot an airplane.  No, it’s not Hilda Beatrice Hewlett, although she is credited as being Britain’s first woman aviatrix to earn a pilot’s license (to learn more about Hewlett, read Britain’s First Female Aviator).  Edith Maud Cook holds the honor of being Britain’s first female pilot, first British woman to fly solo, as well as made over 300 jumps as a parachutist.  Unfortunately, Cook’s life was cut short due to a parachuting accident, but she accomplished much in her youth.  Born in Ipswich, Suffolk on September 1, 1878, some speculate that she witnessed the ascent of Captain Dale’s hot air balloon in 1888 and thus sparked her interest in aviation.  In December of 1909, after multiple parachute jumps and balloon flights, Cook attended Louis Blériot’s Flying School in Pau, France and thus became the school’s first female student.  The British press followed Cook’s progress, reporting in January 1910 that she had “already succeeded in leaving the ground and so becomes the first woman of British nationality to pilot an aeroplane”.

The Suffolk Aviation Heritage Group has been working diligently to bring awareness to Britain’s heroine of aviation.  In their campaign to build a memorial recognizing her feats, they promote how Cook “surmounted the mores of Edwardian society through hard work, determination and courage.”  The group is currently seeking a site for a statue of Edith Cook to be built near her hometown of Ipswich.  Discussions are to be held on Wednesday, May 29 by the Ipswich Borough Council.

For more information on the Suffolk Aviation Heritage Group and their involvement with this project, please go to their site: Suffolk Aviation Heritage Group

Source: BBC News: Edith Cook: Statue plan for Britain’s first female pilot in Ipswich

May we remember all who sacrificed for our freedom.  Thank you to those who have served and to those who are continuing to protect our nation's borders.  You will never be forgotten.

May we remember all who sacrificed for our freedom. Thank you to those who have served and to those who are continuing to protect our nation’s borders. You will never be forgotten.

As today comes to a close, I wanted to be sure to post for Memorial Day.  Today we remember all those who have served for our military and made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation’s freedom.  I was happy to see through various medias that more people took the time to honor our fallen heroes than to look for the best sale in the stores.  Unfortunately, history has a way of getting lost and the origins of some of our traditions are forgotten.

I have been following a blog entitled, “Two Nerdy History Girls” who write on a variety of historical subjects.  I mention it because today they did a special post on the true origins of Memorial Day.  I enjoy reading their articles as they do an excellent job of researching their subject matter while also providing extra reading materials for their readers to learn more.  Enough of me talking about them, find out for yourself.  Meanwhile you can find out more about a treasured tradition in the United States. (Please see the link below)

“What is Memorial Day, Really?” by the Two Nerdy History Girls

For the month of April, I decided to do something a little different.  I left it to my readers to ask the questions to discover more about something that they did not know.  I was happy to see a few inquiries come back.  The last week of this month will focus on the answers to your questions.  Thank you to all who participated and for those who did not get their request in, please email me at loveofflight@thepublichistorian.net or post a message on this webpage and I will get started on the research for you.

Orville & Wilbur WrightOne of the first inquiries I received was in regards to the Whitehead-Wright controversy of who was really first in flight.  This debate has been sparked every so often in the media questioning who should take the fame for achieving man’s ability to fly heavier-than-air machinery.  Let’s first introduce the characters in our historical narrative.  Many of us aviation buffs are familiar with the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, who flew their flyer above the outer banks of North Carolina in 1903.  Known as the individuals to be “first in flight” they laid the foundation for the aviation industry.

Gustave Whitehead (1874-1927)

Gustave Whitehead (1874-1927)

Little did anyone know that there was another inventor that claimed that title a few years prior.  Gustave Whitehead, an immigrant from Bavaria, Germany who was born on January 1, 1874.  Whitehead had always been fascinated with flight.  Schoolmates dubbed him “The Flyer” due to his intense study of birds and building model parachutes and gliders.  He pursued his passion for aviation and in 1895 decided to immigrate to America to continue his research.

According to the historians of gustavewhitehead.org, the “story of Gustave would not be known today if it wasn’t for dedicated researchers from 1937 on who have been tracking down evidence to substantiate the Whitehead first flight claim.  In particular, journalist Stella Randolph who wrote ‘The Lost Flights of Gustave Whitehead’ (1935 publication of Popular Aviation) and ‘Before the Wright flew: The story of Gustave Whitehead’” (1937).  According to Randolph and her co-writer, Harvey Phillips, Whitehead successfully flew three different powered aircraft.  His first flight conducted in 1899, Whitehead flew in a steam-driven aircraft.  Then in August of 1901, he made another flight with a gas-powered aircraft, designated “Number 21” and with “Number 22” the following year.  If true, these flights would prove that Whitehead preceded the Wright brothers in powered flight. (to see article, click here)

Gustave Whitehead with Number 21 courtesy of unmuseum.org

Gustave Whitehead with Number 21
courtesy of unmuseum.org

Several of Randolf and Phillips’ assertions in the article are a bit peculiar and have drawn critics to question the validity of their evidence.   Let’s put to the side that it was more than three decades after the flights and nine years after Whitehead’s death in which the article was written, which could possibly taint any evidence that existed, i.e. people’s memory of the event and that no follow up could be made with Whitehead.  Much of the article drew from a previous story by The Bridgeport Herald newspaper published on August 18, 1901.  The journalist claimed he witnessed a night test of the plane in which at first it was unpiloted but filled with sand bags with a second follow-up flight with Whitehead at the controls.  To begin, an initial testing of an aircraft’s flight ability at night is extremely dangerous even by today’s standards.  Not to mention that aircraft of the pioneering days proved tricky to handle and the likelihood that it flew without someone at the controls while landing without incident may be deemed implausible.

Now John Brown, historian and author of gustave-white.com, argues that “These days, people don’t rely on editors or historians.  If they want to know what happened in 1901, they simply read 1901 newspapers online.”  I would agree with Brown that the internet provides a plethora of information in which people can conduct their own research.  However, unless that individual is trained in cross examining evidence with other primary sources, then they are just as apt to be misdirected by the newspaper articles about Whitehead as the historians who claim that he flew; especially if you are unfamiliar with the history of newspapers.   It is not unknown that some newspaper publications are known to stretch the truth or even write fantastical stories that have no semblance of truth, i.e. The National Enquirer or Weekly World News.  However, these techniques had long been invented before modern practices.  In fact, hoax journalism has been around since the first publishing of newspapers, but it would reach its apex in the 19th and early 20th century.  In fact the famous author, Mark Twain, began his career with hoax journalism.  With this in mind, many stories dating from this era cannot be taken at face value without some other evidence to support it.  This is not to say that Whitehead’s airplanes were never built.  In fact, there are many photographs with Whitehead posing in front of his invention; however, none show the aircraft in flight.  Many of Whitehead’s supporters claim that news of his flight quickly spread in the U.S. and Europe.  While this is true, it is interesting to note that while the story was printed in over eighty papers, including the Boston Transcript and the New York Herald, it was not published in the other four daily newspapers in Bridgeport where the flight took place.  In fact, the story did not even make the front page of The Bridgeport Herald, but rather it was found in the “Features” section.

Let’s take the theory of hoax journalism out of the equation and focus on Whitehead’s explanation of his flight.  In the June 1901 issue of Scientific American, he stated that the Number 21 could turn in the air by varying speed of the propellers.  It is described as the engine pumping gas under high pressure to pistons driving the propellers in which he could vary the pressure of the gas to each prop.  In the story published in The Bridgeport Herald, the engine is described as being fueled by “rapid gas explosions” from acetylene generated from calcium carbide.  So this gives us a better description of Whitehead’s design.  However, in the same article he stated, “I had no means of steering by using the machinery” and that “he simply shifted his weight more to one side than the other”.

Gustave Whitehead flying machine flying drawing - courtesy of gustave-whitehead.com

Gustave Whitehead flying machine drawing       courtesy of gustave-whitehead.com

Now let us assume that the newspaper article(s) had misspoke about the accounts of how Whitehead’s experiments took place.  Let’s look at the evidence that remains.  Unfortunately, as mentioned before, there are no photographs proving the aircraft in flight.  There is a lithograph provided by supporters of Whitehead’s claim, but any drawing can be created by from a talented artist (see insert).  Also, Whitehead was not able to duplicate his achievements.  After completing three successful flights with powered aircraft, Whitehead then goes on to build more gliders.  If he had positive results, wouldn’t an inventor continue with perfecting his design?  Not to mention there is evidence that in 1906 and 1908 Whitehead built two aircraft for Stanley Beach, son of the editor of Scientific American, in which both designs failed.  Supporters argue that Whitehead had more of a mechanic and did not have a propensity for bookkeeping.  Still, it begs the question, why could he not reproduce his earlier results?

The last argument that I will delve into is the replicas that have been built by contemporary designers.  According to the supporters, in the 1980s and 1990s, several replica-versions of Number 21 were flown in the U.S. and Germany thus proving that those built by Whitehead were capable of flying “and most likely did”.  The opposition researched this concept of “new archaeology” which refers to the discipline of recreating “the circumstances of an historic or prehistoric event as closely as possible” while keeping in mind the issues that come up “using the technology available at the time” in order “to better understand that event and the people who lived through it” (wright-brothers.org).  The purpose of these experiments is to test the possibility of it working, not to prove that it indeed occurred.  With this information, the flights conducted with the Whitehead replicas do not prove that he ever flew although supporters use this as part of their argument that he did.  Either way, the replicas used modern ultralight engines and high-speed propellers which ultimately defeats the purpose of the experiment as this technology did not exist in Whitehead’s time.

This debate has been discussed for the better part of a century.  Some Whitehead supporters often mention the unusual agreement on behalf of the Smithsonian and the Wright brothers estate as one of the major reasons why Whitehead is not credited as being first in flight.  The agreement reads as follows:

Neither the Smithsonian Institution or its successors, nor any museum or other agency, bureau or facilities administered for the United States of America by the Smithsonian Institution or its successors shall publish or permit to be displayed a statement or label in connection with or in respect of any aircraft model or design of earlier date than the Wright Airplane of 1903, claiming in effect that such aircraft was capable of carrying a man under its own power in controlled flight.

This may seem absurd that the Smithsonian Institute was forced to agree to such terms, but the history is more complex.  While today it is widely accepted that the Wright brothers were first in flight, this was not the case in the early 20th century.  The Wright brothers fought to protect their patents while other builders quickly tried to find ways around them.  One famous dispute occurred between the Wrights and Glenn Curtiss and the consequential “Patent Wars”.  To provide the backstory of the agreement, Curtiss rebuilt an experimental aircraft designed by Samuel Langley on behalf of the Smithsonian Institution in order to prove that other aircraft could have flown before the Wright’s Flyer in 1903.  This resulted in a divide between the Wright brothers and the Smithsonian Institute and would not be resolved until 1948 when the aforementioned agreement was made.  It was only at this time that the Wright Flyer was returned from Europe to the Smithsonian museum to be put on display.

As for my research, much of it came from the primary sources of newspapers articles and publications from Whitehead’s era.  I also pulled from previous researcher’s findings and relied on much from the two main web sources that represent both sides of the debate: gustavewhitehead.org, gustave-whitehead.com, and wright-brothers.org.  While the websites were biased in their opinions, I used other resources to either contradict or support their findings.  So did Gustave Whitehead achieve flight before the Wright brothers?  With the evidence at hand, it does not seem plausible. However, if new evidence comes up to dispute the Wright brothers’ claim then I am certain historians will adjust the canons of history.  Meanwhile, there is not enough to overturn the Wright brothers’ place in aviation history as first in flight.

I thought it to be exciting that this topic has sparked historians and aviation-buffs to re-examine the evidence to possibly find a new truth of who was first in flight.  John Brown, historian and web manager for gustave-whitehead.com argues, “These days, people don’t rely on editors or historians.  If they want to know what happened in 1901, they simply read 1901 newspapers online.”  I would agree with Brown that the internet provides a plethora of information in which people can conduct their own research.  However, unless that individual is trained in cross examining evidence with other primary sources, then the are just as apt to be misdirected by the newspaper articles about Whitehead as the historians who claim that he flew.   I am reminded of a favorite historian, Keith Jenkins, who argues the concept that the real truth of the past is unattainable.  In other words, someone might think they are learning the facts of what happened during a point in history, such as the Wright brothers being first in flight, but in reality the reader is absorbing the historian’s perception of the facts and thus the author’s relation to the truth.  Two historians may look at the same facts, but their training and experiences that they have may heavily influence the narrative that the historian writes.  Consequently, the reader is left to wonder whose “truth” is correct.  Jenkins does not believe this situation to be defective.  He stresses that each different reading can add to the general understanding of the past as a whole.  Jenkins states that “to be in control of your own discourse means that you have the power over what you want history to be rather than accepting what others say it is”.  This view is liberating for the field of history and its scholars, for it allows an historian to deconstruct the history of another and thus incorporate their interpretations in the overall discussion of the topic at hand.  So what does this mean for you?  You have the power to question historical writing of your predecessors and while the truth will never be ultimately found, each historical narrative will add to the canons of history and thus continuing the quest of better understanding the past.

 

For further reading:

Case for Gustave Whitehead – wright-brothers.org

Collection of Several Primary Sources including Bridgeport Herald Article

Gustave Whitehead: Did He Beat the Wright Brothers into the Sky?

Gustave Whitehead’s Flying Machines (gustavewhitehead.org)

Gustave Whitehead – Pioneer Aviator (gustave-whitehead.com)

Hoax Journalism

Keith Jenkins – Rethinking History

For the month of April, I am offering all my readers to message me with their requests on any aviation topic they want to know more about.  I thought it would be a nice change of pace and give you the opportunity to find out more about what you want to know.  The topic can be free-ranging as long as it pertains to aviation.  Either post a comment with your request or message me at loveofflight@thepublichistorian.net.  I look forward to reading your requests!

I would like to take a break from the history books and focus on the women of today who are working their way through the aviation industry. Did you know that of all the pilots, only 6.73% are women? Or how about the non-pilots, such as mechanics and dispatchers? Only 21.85% are women. I have provided some of the breakdowns from the FAA statistics below:

Pilots
Source: FAA’s Aeronautical Center (December 31st, 2010 data)

All Women
627,588 Pilots (total) 42,218 6.73%
119,119 Students 14,767 12.40%
212 Recreational 12 5.66%
3,682 Sport 118 3.20%
202,020 Private* 13,566 6.72%
123,705 Commercial* 8,175 6.61%
142,198 Airline Transport* 5,580 3.92%
15,377 Rotorcraft (only) NA NA
21,275 Glider (only) NA NA
96,473 Flight Instructors** 6,359 6.59%
* Includes pilots with an airplane only certificate. Also includes those with an airplane and a helicopter and/or glider certificate. For example, if a pilots holds a private airplane certificate and a commercial helicopter certificate, the pilot would be categorized as commercial.
** Not included in total pilots.

 

Non-Pilots
Source: FAA’s Aeronautical Center (December 31st, 2010 data)

All Women
686,717 NonPilot (total) 150,019 21.85%
331,989 Mechanic* 7,215 2.17%
41,267 Repairmen* 2,312 5.60%
8,407 Parachute Rigger* 655 7.79%
75,205 Ground Instructor* 5,894 7.84%
20,691 Dispatcher* 3,530 17.06%
174 Flight Navigator 1 0.57%
159,946 Flight Attendant 128,646 80.43%
49,038 Flight Engineer 1,766 3.60%
* Numbers represent all certificates on record. No medical examination required.

 

Pilots (Women)

Source: FAA’s Aeronautical Center (December 31st, 2010 data)

2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996
Student (1) 14,767 12.40% 8,450 11.69% 9,127 11.27% 9,559 11.33% 9,640 11.36% 9,717 11.14% 9,857 11.21% 9,897 11.34% 10,082 11.72% 10,230 11.80% 10,809 11.61% 11,191 11.49% 11,289 11.55% 11,217 11.67% 11,632 12.25%
Recreational 12 5.66% 13 5.56% 20 7.94% 17 7.11% 17 7.11% 20 7.19% 21 7.22% 24 7.74% 23 7.26% 20 6.33% 26 7.65% 25 7.29% 24 7.87% 22 7.75% 20 7.55%
Sport 118 3.20% 98 3.02% 79 3.01% 64 3.15% 26 2.77% 7 5.22% NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA
Private 13,566 6.72% 14,322 6.77% 15,015 6.75% 13,694 6.49% 14,111 6.44% 14,517 6.35% 15,036 6.37% 15,487 6.42% 15,906 6.49% 13,894 5.70% 14,554 5.79% 15,171 5.86% 14,152 5.72% 14,257 5.76% 14,868 5.85%
Commercial 8,175 6.61% 8,289 6.59% 8,083 6.48% 7,101 6.17% 7,236 6.15% 7,315 6.06% 7,421 6.05% 7,436 6.00% 7,454 5.92% 5,932 4.92% 5,807 4.77% 5,720 4.60% 5,366 4.40% 5,392 4.30% 5,495 4.25%
Airline Transport 5,580 3.92% 5,636 3.90% 5,657 3.85% 5,349 3.72% 5,071 3.57% 5,008 3.53% 4,908 3.45% 4,850 3.38% 4,792 3.31% 4,630 3.20% 4,411 3.12% 4,126 3.00% 3,848 2.86% 3,572 2.73% 3,346 2.62%
Flight Instructor (2) 6,359 6.59% 6,362 6.71% 6,293 6.75% 6,232 6.76% 6,158 6.74% 6,067 6.70% 5,970 6.66% 5,811 6.62% 5,667 6.58% 5,386 6.50% 5,193 6.42% 5,028 6.31% 4,926 6.22% 4,763 6.10% 4,667 5.94%
Total 42,218 6.73% 36,808 6.19% 37,981 6.19% 35,784 6.06% 36,101 6.05% 36,584 6.00% 37,243 6.02% 37,694 6.03% 38,257 6.06% 34,706 5.67% 35,607 5.69% 36,233 5.70% 34,679 5.61% 34,460 5.59% 35,361 5.68%
(1) July 2010, validity increased under age 40 from 36 to 60 months.
(2) Not included in total pilots.

 

Non-Pilot (Women)
Source: FAA’s Aeronautical Center (December 31st, 2010 data)

2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996
NonPilot (total) 150,019 21.85% 147,052 21.55% 144,968 21.38% 138,452 20.77% 128,192 19.53% 119,850 18.61% 18,666 3.62% 18,030 3.54% 17,612 3.42% 17,114 3.34% 16,552 3.02% 15,662 2.91% 15,380 2.80% 14,562 2.69% 13,909 2.60%
Mechanic* 7,215 2.17% 6,980 2.12% 6,740 2.07% 6,524 2.02% 6,345 1.96% 6,152 1.92% 5,932 1.87% 5,734 1.83% 5,559 1.76% 5,295 1.70% 5,047 1.47% 4,722 1.39% 4,483 1.33% 4,197 1.26% 4,019 1.22%
Repairmen* 2,312 5.60% 2,335 5.64% 2,284 5.56% 2,193 5.44% 2,180 5.41% 2,108 5.27% 2,039 5.20% 1,800 4.83% 1,722 4.64% 1,789 4.46% 1,704 4.46% 1,582 4.40% 1,940 3.67% 1,861 3.60% 1,752 3.45%
Parachute Rigger* 655 7.79% 633 7.57% 615 7.46% 594 7.26% 584 7.08% 556 6.82% 540 6.74% 521 6.61% 500 6.20% 475 5.99% 509 4.86% 494 4.73% 483 4.62% 464 4.49% 441 4.29%
Ground Instructor* 5,894 7.84% 5,860 7.77% 5,785 7.72% 5,726 7.68% 5,669 7.57% 5,612 7.55% 5,500 7.46% 5,385 7.41% 5,321 7.22% 5,169 7.15% 5,154 7.13% 5,016 7.04% 4,904 6.97% 4,758 6.86% 4,652 6.78%
Dispatcher* 3,530 17.06% 3,381 16.79% 3,230 16.49% 3,087 16.21% 2,934 15.77% 2,805 15.52% 2,647 15.13% 2,520 14.86% 2,410 14.44% 2,262 14.08% 2,062 12.62% 1,895 12.10% 1,729 11.68% 1,557 11.15% 1,411 10.63%
Flight Navigator 1 0.57% 1 0.55% 1 0.45% 1 0.40% 1 0.38% 1 0.34% 1 0.30% 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 0 0.00%
Flight Attendant** 128,646 80.43% 126,034 80.41% 124,419 80.44% 118,426 80.55% 108,559 80.49% 100,630 80.48% NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA
Flight Engineer 1,766 3.60% 1,828 3.58% 1,894 3.56% 1,901 3.49% 1,920 3.43% 1,986 3.44% 2,007 3.38% 2,070 3.36% 2,100 3.30% 2,124 3.25% 2,076 3.19% 1,953 3.06% 1,841 2.89% 1,725 2.76% 1,634 2.66%
* Numbers represent all certificates on record. No medical examination required.
** 2005 was the first year the Registry reported Flight Attendants.

 

According to these numbers, there is a steady, albeit small, increase of women entering the aviation field in the decade spanning from 2000 to 2010 (to see the full chart, click on the link: statistics). However, the statistics are remarkable in that one would think that more women would be involved in aviation. Fortunately, many groups have taken action to help more women pursue careers in flight.

Women of Aviation Worldwide Week just hosted their third annual celebration of women various locations in Africa, Europe, Asia, and America. Over 17,000 girls and women participated in 70 events with the goal of working in the aviation industry. Another global organization, Women in Aviation, International (WAI), just hosted their 24th annual conference in Nashville, Tennessee with a record attendance of 3,375 registrants. The attendees came from all over, including Nigeria, Ghana, Canada and the U.S.

One of the reasons why these organizations do so well is that they provide networking and inspiration to women in aviation. I have attended the past two WAI conferences and found it exhilarating. Never have I found so much support and optimism in an industry such as this one. One of my favorite things about WAI is that it is not just women, but also men who support women in aviation. The camaraderie is unbelievable and definitely something to be experienced. Even more, you are able to meet a few of the pioneers as several of the former WASPs attend annually. One WASP, Bee Haydu, showed her excitement towards WAI, “I don’t smoke marijuana and I don’t take any drugs, but I have a one year fix and it’s the WAI conference!” I agree with Bee, it is definitely a time in which your spirits are renewed and positive encouragement is abundant.

For more information on either organization, please visit their links posted below. If you are interested in pursuing your pilot license or another rating/endorsement, be sure to check out the scholarships page on WAI’s website. For 2013, eighty scholarships for a total of $497,575 were given out during the conference. You can imagine my excitement when I found out that I was one of the eighty recipients to receive money for my flight training. Another one of my colleagues from my WAI chapter won a floatplane endorsement scholarship. So if you are hesitating about applying, don’t! If you need any assistance, please leave a comment and I will help you in any way I can. We are all in this together in our pursuit of aviation.

Blue skies!

Women in Aviation, International (WAI)

Women of Aviation Worldwide Week

photo courtesy of Brooklands Museum

Hilda Beatrice Hewlett
photo courtesy of Brooklands Museum

Hilda Beatrice Hewlett was born on February 17, 1864 in Vauxhall, London, England.  She was one of nine children to Anglican Vicar George W. Herbert and his wife Louisa Hopgood.  In her early life, Hilda pursued her artistic talents by attending the National Art Training School located in South Kensington.  It was not until the first English flying meeting in 1909 that Hilda became interested in aviation.  Partnering with Frenchman Gustave Blondeau who also shared a passion for flight, the two traveled to France to study aeronautics at the Mourmelon-le-Grand aerodome.  The partners returned to England with an Henri Farman biplane, “The Blue Bird” and in 1910 opened one of the first flying schools in Britain, the Hewlett and Blondeau Flying School.

In August 1911, Hilda became the first British woman to earn a pilot’s license.  Upon completion of her license, she quickly got to work in the aviation industry.  She first taught her son to fly in which he later went on to have a distinguished flying career during World War I.  Meanwhile, Gustave and Hilda continued their partnership to build the Hewlett and Blondeau Limited firm for the purpose of manufacturing airplanes.  By 1914 the company had approximately 700 employees and produced over ten different types of aircraft.

As World War I escalated, Hilda contributed to the ever growing demands to help support the war effort.  She conducted a training course for women aircraft workers who would qualify not just for the Hewlett and Blondeau factory, but for other aircraft manufacturing companies as well.  In addition, the company supplied 800 military aircraft for service throughout the war.

After the war, Hilda and Gustave sold the company and parted ways.  Unfortunately research did not come up as to the reason why they decided to separate although the conclusion was that the split was on “polite” terms.  Following the sale, Hilda decided to leave Britain with the “urge to escape from the three C’s,” which she defined as “crowds, convention, and civilization” of which she felt  “became strong”.  Hilda changed her environment by moving to Tauranga,New Zealand and lived there until her death on August 21, 1943.

A side note about Hilda.  She married Maurice Henry Hewlett in 1888; however, the two separated in 1914.  It can be assumed that he did not approve of her life pursuits and was recorded stating, “Women will never be as successful in aviation as men.  They have not the right kind of nerve.”  Hilda proved critics such as her husband and paved the way for future women in Europe in aviation.

 

For further reading and sources:

Hargrave: the Pioneers

New Zealand Biographies: “Hilda Beatrice Hewlett”

Old Bird: The Irrepressible Mrs. Hewlett

“Our Flying Men” by Hilda Beatrice Hewlett

 

For my master’s thesis project, I interviewed women who had worked as flight attendants for Pan American Airways.  My case study centralized around the theme of amalgamating women’s social history with aviation, proffering a new persepctive of how gender issues and flight interrelate.  To complete the project, sixteen interviews were conducted with prior Pan Am women flight attendants, the oldest having worked in 1951.  The study determined that popular culture exaggerates the stewardess image as sex icons, and thus depreciates the contribution of these women to the aviation community.  In an era in which women were not allowed to fly aircraft, they found another means to fulfill their desires.  From the time of the last woman Airforce service pilot of World War II to the first female commercial pilot in 1973, the stewardess successfully preserved the women’s presence in the aviation industry and she did so with grace, style, and dignity.

To emphasize some of the amazing accomplishments of the women who served the skies, I have pulled an excerpt from one of the interviews.  Ingrid tells the story of the mass evacuation of children from South Vietnam to the U.S., France, Canada, and Australia otherwise known as “Operation Babylift”.  It took place at the end of the Vietnam War from April 3-26, 1975.  A total of approximately 3,300 infants and children had been flown out of Vietnam in hopes for a better future for these children.  I have included a few photos from Ingrid’s collection.  Apologies for the photo quality as they are pictures of her pictures and were not taken in the best lighting.  However, they do give an idea of how the flight attendants cared for these children on the airplane.  Please enjoy this excerpt and keep in mind the next time you are on a commercial flight, thank your flight attendant for all that they do for their job.

photo courtesy of vietnambabylift.org

photo courtesy of vietnambabylift.org

It is 1975 and Pan Am stewardess Ingrid sits in her hotel room watching the news about a rescue attempt on behalf of the U.S. government. A military cargo airplane carrying more than 240 South Vietnamese orphans crashed during takeoff from Saigon.  Only half the children survived.  Meanwhile, Ingrid hears a knock at the door. It is the bellboy delivering a telegram sent from the Pan Am crew desk.  It read: “Scheduled pattern canceled.  Depart April 5 for Saigon to pick up orphan charter.  295 infants, 100 children ages 2-12 years old.  60 escorts, 5 doctors, 10 nurses.”  Ingrid is immediately frightened.   Pan Am expected her to fly into a dangerous place.  She is also three months pregnant unbeknownst to Pan Am.  The airline rule stipulated that if any stewardess were pregnant, they were to be grounded for maternity leave and Ingrid wanted to acquire as much paid flying time before then. She thinks, “Now what do I do?”  She attempts to reschedule with her flight coordinator but is told she has no choice; either she went or she may lose her job for not complying.  Ingrid did not want to jeopardize the job she loved, so she packs her bags.

photo from Ingrid's collection

photo from Ingrid’s collection

The plane is scheduled to depart at one in the morning for a pre-dawn arrival in Saigon.  Ingrid and her colleagues are briefed that there will be fourteen more children who had survived the flight that crashed the day before and will require additional assistance for the injuries.  In addition, they are warned that their aircraft would be parked far away on the runway, thus limiting the time to extract the children.  The Boeing 747 aircraft had been outfitted for the mission: stocked with several hundred baby bottles, thousand of diapers and bassinets stacked to the ceiling and the upper deck converted to an intensive care unit to accommodate the extremely sick orphans.  Putting all fears aside, Ingrid and the crew are ready to depart.

photo from Ingrid's collection

photo from Ingrid’s collection

The airplane lands in Saigon and the buses with the orphans are nearby.  Ingrid is in charge of getting the orphans from the buses onto the airplane.  One by one, she carries them up to the plane and hands them over to another stewardess who places the infants in the bassinets under the seats and the older orphans in two or even three in a seat.  Ingrid chokes back tears as she takes the orphans from their caretakers promising that she will take good care of the children.

Twenty-five years later at a reunion, a young Vietnamese woman rescued in Operation Babylift befriends Ingrid.  Through their correspondence, the young woman writes a letter as if her mother had spoken to her.  She shares with Ingrid:

“Today I give you up because Vietnam is no place to stay.  I give you love and hope, for a chance in America where I hope you’ll stay with a nice family there who can love and provide, give what I cannot give, a chance to survive.  I will miss you dearly and mommy will miss your face, but sacrifices have to be made to ensure you live in a nice place.  Mommy will never forget how she held her baby girl, but I’m giving you a future and a fresh start in this world.  Life is full of decisions that are sometimes hard to make, I will never regret this decision or think it was a mistake.  As I am not able to care for you, as this country is at war, my baby girl you are so precious you will understand one day, what mommy did this all for.   So with all my heart I’m wishing for your, grow up strong, and remember me too.  As I’ll always remember my baby girl, and I’ll know in my heart you have the chance to make a difference in this world.”[2]


[1] Story reconstructed from author’s interview with Ingrid.

[2] “Dear Baby Girl” written by Carol Schuler-Culver in correspondence with Ingrid

For more information on Operation Babylift:

Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam

Vietname Babylift Images

Raymonde de Laroche

March 8th holds a special meaning in the canons of women’s history.  To begin, March 8th signifies International Women’s Day which began in 2011 when more than 100 countries joined together to celebrate the accomplishments of women worldwide.  Various nations have commemorated IWD since 1911 when it first began, focusing on the women who have worked tirelessly towards a more egalitarian society.  Ironically, March 8th also marks the date in which women entered into aviation.  On this day in 1910, Raymonde de Laroche became the first woman in the world to obtain a pilot’s license.

Born on August 22, 1882 in Paris, France as Elise Raymonde Deroche.  She initially pursued an acting career where she took on the stage name of Raymonde de Laroche.  It was not until 1908 when Wilbur Wright arrived in Paris to perform a flight demonstration that she became interested in flying.  She inquired with aviator Charles Voisin from whom she took flight instruction.  She earned License #36 from the International Aeronautics Federation (F.A.I.) on March 8, 1910 at the young age of twenty-four.  Several months later she entered the Reims air race as the only woman pilot.  Unfortunately a near fatal crash involving Laroche brought the race to abrupt stop to her aviation career.  She suffered multiple injuries which forced her to be grounded for a time, but it did not keep her from returning to the skies.  Laroche later went on to set new women’s flight records including her altitude record of 15,700 feet (4758 m).  She also won the Femina Cup for nonstop flying at a total of four hours.

In the summer of 1919, Laroche was determined to push the limitations further by pursuing a possible career as the first female test pilot.  She reported to the airfield at Le Crotoy to report for duty.  During a training flight with another pilot, the aircraft went into a dive on its landing approach resulting in the deaths of both the pilot and Laroche.

Laroche set the precedent for women around the world in aviation.  She inspired Harriet Quimby, Bessie Coleman, and other women to push through the gender barriers proving that they too could fly.  Happy International Women’s Day Raymonde de Laroche – this day is truly yours.

Below is an excerpt from Colliers Magazine written by Baroness de Laroche on September 30, 1911 about her experience flying in the presence of the Czar of Russia.

“FLYING IN THE PRESENCE OF THE CZAR”
by Baroness de Laroche
from Colliers Magazine
30 September 1911
Transcribed by Dave Lam, 1-9-04

After practicing at Moumelon, and breaking my arm in a fall, I went to Helipolis, where I obtained by pilot’s certificate. I had hardly recovered from my accident, but I felt no apprehension on mounting my machine one more. What can I tell you of this first meeting, except that as soon as we took the air we were all seized by treacherous currents which flopped us about at the wind’s pleasure, although the atmosphere seemed perfectly calm. From there I went to Saint Petersburg.
The aviation ground was small. None of us was willing to fly, and yet we all decided to do so. On the occasion of one of my flights I mounted to a height of 150 meters, being enveloped by the smoke from the factory chimneys which surrounded the ground. I flew over houses, then above forests, and turned three times. In order to reach the ground at the end of the fourth turn I made a little curve, tacked, and stopped my motor at a height of 100 meters. It was my first volplane, so I was somewhat excited. To my great astonishment nothing broke. The Czar, who was present at this meeting, wished to congratulate me. He asked what my feelings had been, and I was able to assure him that his presence in the first place, and the houses and the landing ground, which was only 30 meters wide, in the second, had brought my heart into my mouth.
Then I set out for Budapest, where I successfully achieved a flight of 37 minutes. There again the factory chimneys, which served as pylons, so to speak, caused very disagreeable currents with their smoke. It was that flight which has left me with one of my most striking impressions. Nevertheless, in my opinion, the record for currents was broken at Rouen. There, being caught in a kind of tempest when I was in the air, I had to lower my equilabrator immediately and came to earth by the barriers that surrounded the aerodrome, where my biplane stood on end. If I had stopped my motor I should without doubt have fallen on the crowd. Happily, I had a little presence of mind left.

For further reading:

Did you know that the month of March is the celebration of women in aviation?  If you did not, then you do now!  In recognition of these amazing women, posts for this month will concentrate on individuals who have broken the gender barriers in the aviation industry.  From Raymonde de Laroche and Nancy Love to Major General Michelle Johnson (for those who are not familiar with Major General Johnson, she will be the first woman to lead the Air Force Academy).  Enjoy this month’s theme as women take to the skies!

Boeing B-17 photo taken by Richard Seaman

Boeing B-17
photo taken by Richard Seaman

A tidbit for today’s on this day in aviation history: the Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” entered military service with the U.S. Army Air Corps 2nd Bombardment Group.  To tie in with this month’s theme, I have inserted a story of a riveter who worked in the Boeing factory in Seattle, Washington during WWII:

“In 1942, my husband, who was in the Marines, was stationed in Bremerton Washington, and we lived in Seattle.  You could walk into any department store and sign up to work at Boeing Aircraft Company or the shipyards for employment.  I applied at Boeing, and about two days later I received a call stating I should report to work the next day.

Rosie Riveter of the B17  photo courtesy of http://www.b17.org

Rosie Riveter of the B17
photo courtesy of http://www.b17.org

I would take three different busses to travel to Boeing Aircraft building number #2, which was camouflaged with grass and trees on the roof.  They had Barrage balloons over the building, because if an enemy airplane would attack the plant the Barrage balloons would be in the way.

When we walked through the doors we immediately punched a time clock.  A number of posters were up on the wall all over the plant “Keep ‘em Flying” and the “Enemy May Be Listening.”  We were forbidden to take pictures inside the plant.

photo courtesy of http://www.b17.org

photo courtesy of http://www.b17.org

I belonged to the union, and worked as a riveter on the B-17 wings. A beginning riveter would start as a rivet bucker, and climb into a wing on the frame, and then they would hold up a small metal bar against the wing for the riveter.  The riveter would rivet the wing from the outside against the small metal bar.  I had to climb up on a third story platform on a scaffold to rivet the wings from the outside with a very noisy rivet gun.  A light was shining on the aluminum wings, and the reflection made it so bright it was difficult on your eyes.  At the end of the day, we all felt really stiff from climbing around the airplane.  A man from Oklahoma was the foreman for six of us women in my department.

All the women had to wear scarves around their head so their hair would not get caught in the machinery.  We would each wear a button which signified the department we were from.

Each day we ate our lunches in an air raid tunnel.  The plant was open 24 hours a day, and we could work as many as hours as we liked.  The employees who worked at Boeing were from all over the United States, and I made many nice friends which I am still in contact with today.  Every one was patriotic, and wanted to produce as many airplanes as possible; most of the employees worked over time.

The pay was very good for a woman, I earned 82 ½ cents an hour.  I left Boeing Aircraft Company because my husband was transferred to another state.”

For more information about the B17 and the women who worked on them: Rosie the Riveter of the B-17

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