This Day in Women's Aviation

Today is Monday, October 16, 2017 10:38 PM

1915 - Australia’s "First Lady of Aviation," Nancy-Bird Walton, was born. She would begin flying lessons at 17, becoming one of the first students of the legendary Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, who was the first to fly across the Pacific. Her flight school was situated in a cattle paddock, where Sydney International Airport is located today. Among her many accolades would be her pronouncement as an Australian Living National Treasure by the National Trust in Australia in 1998.

1933 - "Time" magazine reported Mrs. Cecil W. (Teddy) Kenyon of Waban, Massachusetts as the national amateur champion airwoman at the National Charity Air Pageant held at Roosevelt Field, Long Island. From among the 39 contestants, the finalists--four men and four women--went through their paces: three deadstick landings to a spot, two loops, a spin, two Immelman turns, and two snap rolls. "Pretty, blonde wife of a former transport pilot, Mrs. Kenyon received $5,000."

1936 - Australian Jean Batten landed in Auckland, welcomed by a crowd of 6,000 people who had flocked to the small grass air strip at Mangere to greet her at the end of the first flight from England to New Zealand. Her 14,224-mile journey from England took 11 days and 45 minutes, a time that would remain a solo record for 44 years. Jean was already famous for, on her third attempt, having smashed Amy Johnson's England to Australia record 2 years earlier.

1944 - WASP Marjorie Laverne Davis was killed on a night flight while on a cross country training flight in an AT-6 near Walnut, Mississippi. As with all 38 WASP deaths, there would be no money, no military escort, and no flag for the coffin. Everyone would chip in to cover expenses.

1944 - Jeanne Lewellen Norbeck, 31, of Columbus, Indiana, was killed on a checkout flight of a BT-13 Vultee Valiant. An exhibit honoring her would display in her hometown at the Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum.

1992 - Flight Lt Nicky Smith graduated from 89 Course at Shawbury to become the British Royal Air Force's first female helicopter pilot. Women were fully integrated into the British Armed Forces in the early 1990s, but they remain excluded from primarily combat units in the Army, Royal Marines, Royal Air Force Regiment, and the submarine service.

1997 - Over Perris Valley, California, 20 female parachutists (from the U.S., Germany, Canada, and France) established a new world record for the largest canopy formation. They broke the previous record of 17, set in Perris Valley just the day before.

1999 - Ruth Harman Walraven was posthumously inducted into the Wisconsin Hall of Fame. After attaining her pilot certificate in 1932 at age 18 and then performing in air shows throughout the state, she became chief instructor in the Civilian Pilot Training program at Kenosha, training hundreds of naval flight cadets during World War II. One of only 50 female CPT instructors in the country and the only one in Wisconsin, she was also the state’s first female airport manager.

2003 - Canadian Dorothy Rungeling, 92, launched "The Flying Housewife," her third book of aviation memories. She related how she learned to fly at the Welland-Port Colborne Airport in 1949 in a rather sedate 65-hp Aeronca Champion "that didn't go over 100 mph." She instructed at the airport for several years in the mid-1950s and, after moving on to aircraft with better performance, took part in several transcontinental races in the U.S. organized by The Ninety-Nines, and "five or six" international races.

2009 - Valeria Valiquette, 72, of Montana, successfully passed her exam and was issued a private pilot license. Michelle Petrina, Montana’s only FAA-qualified female pilot examiner, conducted the exam in a Cessna 182 that Valeria shared with her husband of 50 years, who is also a pilot. She started learning to fly in Spokane in 1975, and soloed after just 10 hours of instruction, but didn’t resume her practical training until 33 years later.

2009 - The Gathering of Eagles banquet, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the X-15 hypersonic airplane, was held in Lancaster, California. Among the honorees was Betty Love, who worked on all research airplane projects from the X-1 to X-15 in the days before computers. In her role as a “human computer,” she performed manual data conversion from the lines scribed on an oscillograph film recorded during test flights.

2009 - Hollywood director Mira Nair and Academy-Award winning actress, Hilary Swank, held a press conference at New Jersey's Essex County Airport to promote their upcoming movie "Amelia." They were joined by Susan Larson--president of The Ninety-Nines, an international women pilot organization co-founded by Earhart in 1929--who presented Hilary with an Amelia Earhart medallion and then gave Mira a signed copy of Earhart's 1928 memoir "20 hrs. and 40 min." Hilary took 19 hours of flight instruction to prepare for her starring role in “Amelia,” which would be released nationwide 5 days later.

2009 - In response to the paucity of women in critical jobs in aviation and aerospace such as pilot, engineer, and senior management, the Royal Aeronautical Society officially launched the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Committee to encourage more women into the industry. The new committee, the first set up in the UK to represent women working in all sectors of the industry, would be chaired by Claire Walker, former chair of the British Women’s Pilots Association and newsletter editor.