October 24, 1934 Maude “Chubby” Miller was sworn in as a “sky policeman” by the San Francisco Chief of Police. Miller herself had been involved in a sordid murder investigation just two years earlier when her romantic and flying partner Bill Lancaster was accused of killing her biographer Haden Clarke. Lancaster was acquitted but their romance was finished and he disappeared on a flight over the Sahara.
October 23, 1910 Betty Scott became the first woman to fly before an audience when she flew a Curtiss Pusher biplane at a demonstration in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She was the only woman Glenn Curtiss taught to fly. He didn’t believe women belonged in the air, but he never imagined Scott would stick with it,and had included her in the demonstration as a publicity stunt. Called “The Tomboy Of The Air”, Scott was already a renowned adventurer and the second woman to drive an automobile across the United States. She had been the first woman to fly in America when her plane accidentally lifted off during training- Bessia Raiche was the first to fly intentionally.
October 22, 1909 “Baroness” Raymonde de Laroche became the first woman to pilot a heavier than air machine. The daughter of a plumber, de Laroche was permanently tagged with the title of baroness by an article in a French tabloid. She was accomplished balloonist when aviator Charles Voison convinced her to pilot his new invention, a fixed wing airplane. De Laroche’s statue stands at Le Bourget airport outside Paris.
October 21, 1928 Seventeen year old Elinor Smith flew her father’s Waco 10 biplane under the four East River bridges. Beneath the Brooklyn Bridge she flew between a tanker and a destroyer, flipping her plane into a vertical bank to thread through the narrow space. Overnight Elinor became world famous, earning her own radio show, endorsements from goggle and motor oil companies, and a job as test pilot for the Bellanca Corporation. My picture book biography Soar, Elinor! chronicles Elinor’s journey from six year old with her head in the clouds to teen super-pilot. I’ll be signing books on Saturday morning at the Clarendon, Virginia Barnes & Noble.
October 20, 1985 “The Flying Nun” Sister Mary Aquinas passed away. This real life pilot-nun, the inspiration for a movie and television series, taught aeronautics at Catholic University in Washington, DC.
October 19, 1911 Czech Bozena Laglerova became the second woman to earn a German pilot’s license. She was already licensed in Austria. Less than a week later she crashed her plane near Prague and suffered life threatening injuries but she recovered and went on to fly in exhibitions and competitions throughout Germany.
October 18, 1937 Jean Batten broke the record for a solo flight from Australia to England, the only person to simultaneously hold the record both from Australia to England and England to Australia. She was made a Commander of the British Empire, received the French Legion of Honor, and was the first woman to be awarded the medal of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. Glamorous but reclusive, she was known as the “Garbo of the Air”.
October 17, 1956 astronaut and physician Mae Jemison was born. Jemison became the first African American woman in space on board the space shuttle Endeavor in September 1992. Although discouraged by teachers, Jemison majored in engineering at Stanford University and obtained her medical degree from Cornell. Inspired by Sally Ride and Star Trek’s Lieutenant Uhuru, Jemison was accepted into the space shuttle program in 1987, in the first class selected after the Challenger explosion. She went on to found the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence which hosts science camps for students ages 12- 16.
October 15, 1908 Pilot, reporter, and adventuress Fay Gillis was born. Gillis’s first career was demonstrating airplanes for Curtiss. She later became a star reporter and, as a White House correspondent, covered the Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations. She reported from Hollywood along with her pet leopard Snooks.