Full throttle, right rudder and we were headed down the runway. The airspeed indicator read “0”. Come on! I waited for it to pick up. Soon, the nose lifted off the runway, yet the airspeed indicator stayed “0”. “Have I forgotten anything?”, I wondered. But I am getting ahead of my story.
It had been a gorgeous day out in the California Central Coast. When my college friend Manu, decided to visit California, as fellow pilots (and wanna be pilots) we started planning a cross country flight. I had just gotten my license to fly a month ago and had barely taken my first passenger in the air. I was excited and thrilled to plan a flight. In those days most of my cross countries tended to be up and down the California coast line, either following the coastline or Highway 101 which prevented me from getting lost. This was really important since all I had in the cherished 152 I flew those days was a single NAV/COMM. No GPS, no glass cockpit with traffic, weather and all the latest avionics! I navigated using 101 highway or the coastline. So the immediate choice for destination was Monterey.
“Aircraft arriving over Lake Parker, expect holding until 7:15 pm over Lake Parker,” was what we heard on the radio a few minutes after our planned group departure from Leesburg International Airport (KLEE) in Leesburg, Florida.
Four aircraft from the Mid-Atlantic had made it easily, albeit, at different times to our chosen airport of rendezvous. Considering the aircraft in play: a Columbia 400, a twin Baron, a Cessna 182 and a Cessna 172, we definitely needed a rally point to meet, prepare, and plan a departure to Sun ‘n Fun (SNF).
According to our original plan, we had all congregated at KLEE, briefed the arrival procedures and departed on cue around 6:00pm. The plan was to arrive at Lakeland Airport around 6:30pm for a group arrival.
Being the slowest aircraft of all, a Cessna 172, we had departed last. Hearing the SNF radio communications, Linda and I, pondered our options…
I might have been born in a hovel but I am determined to travel with the wind and the stars. — Jackie Cochran
Born Bessie Lee Pittman in Pensacola, FL in 1906, Jackie Cochran, was the youngest of five children. She rose from a poverty-stricken childhood to become one of history’s most accomplished female aviators. She worked in a cotton mill at the age of six, and labored at a series of jobs before answering her call to the air. She married Robert Cochran in 1920, and after the marriage ended with the death of Robert in 1925, she retained the name of Cochran and began using Jacqueline or Jackie as her name.
She learned to fly in 1932 at the Roosevelt Flying School in Long Island and pursued advanced flight instruction at Ryan School of Aeronautics going on to get her instrument, commercial and air transport pilot ratings. Some of her achievements included:
In 1934, she flew in the London, England to Melbourne, Australia race.
In 1935, she became the first woman to fly in the Bendix Trophy Race, which she won in 1938.
In 1937 she became the first woman to make a blind instrument landing.
In 1939-40 she set new women’s records in altitude and open class speed.
She was the first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic Ocean during World War II, leading to the formation of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) program.
In 1950, she received the Harmon Trophy as the Aviatrix of the Decade.
In 1953, she became the first woman to break the speed barrier.
In 1962, she subsequently set 73 records in three years.
In 1964, she exceeded Mach 2.
She was also the first woman to land and take off from an aircraft carrier
She was a sponsor of the Mercury 13 program, an early effort to test the ability of women to be astronauts. She served as the President of the Ninety Nines for two terms. She received the Distinguished Service Medal for her leadership of the WASP and three Distinguished Flying Cross awards for other records. She was also a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. Jackie Cochran also authored two autobiographies —The Stars at Noon and, with Mary Ann Bucknam Brinley, Jackie Cochran.
Jackie Cochran pioneered women’s aviation as one of the most prominent racing pilots of her generation.
Born in Atlanta, TX in 1892, Bessie Coleman was the first African American, and the first Native American woman pilot. She had twelve brothers and sisters. During World War I, when she learned that France was allowing women to learn flying, she became interested in becoming a pilot. Although she applied to many schools across the country, being a woman and African American she was at a disadvantage. She started learning French and applied to flight schools in France. She was accepted at the Caudron Brothers’ School of Aviation in Le Crotoy, France and received her international pilot’s license on June 15, 1921 from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Her dream was to own a plane and open her own flight school.
She performed her first public flight in 1922 and was famous for doing “loop-the-loops” and making the shape of an “8” in an airplane. She toured the country giving flight lessons, performing in flight shows, and encouraging African Americans and women to learn to fly. She suffered her first accident in 1923 when her engine stopped and was badly injured. She survived the accident and returned to flying performing dangerous tricks in 1925.
On April 30, 1926, while taking a test flight with a mechanic named William Wills who was at the helm, a loose wrench got stuck in the engine of the aircraft at about 3,000 feet. The aircraft was no longer controllable and flipped over. Unfortunately, Coleman was not wearing a seatbelt. Airplanes at that time did not have a roof or any protection and Coleman immediately fell out of the open plane and died.
March is Woman History Month and Women of Aviation Month.
In her exhilerating book Clipped Wings: The Rise and Fall of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII, author Molly Merryman shines light on the critical and dangerous work of the daring female aviators who changed history. New York University Press classics series has just updated the book with Merryman’s reflections on the changes in women’s aviation in the past twenty years. A documentary based on Merryman’s work, Coming Home: Fight For A Legacy, is currently in production. The WASP directly challenged the assumptions of male supremacy in wartime culture. They flew the fastest fighter planes and heaviest bombers; they test-piloted experimental models and worked in the development of weapons systems. Yet the WASP were the only women’s auxiliary within the armed services of World War II that was not militarized. In Clipped Wings, Merryman draws upon finally-declassified military documents, congressional records, and interviews with the women who served as WASP during World War II to trace the history of the over one thousand pilots who served their country as the first women to fly military planes. She examines the social pressures that culminated in their disbandment in 1944—even though a wartime need for their services still existed—and documents their struggles and eventual success, in 1977, to gain military status and receive veterans’ benefits.
Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) were a unit of the U.S. Naval Reserve. Mildred McAfee served as the first director of the WAVES. The first class consisted of 644 women, and subsequent classes produced a maximum of 1,250 graduates and by fall 1942, the U.S. Navy had produced a record 10,000 women for active service. WAVES were not eligible for combat duty and duties included everything from patching bullet holes in a naval boat to performing engine checks on a seaplane. (See more here).
“Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations…If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won’t exist because you’ll have already shut it out … You can hear other people’s wisdom, but you’ve got to re-evaluate the world for yourself.”
Once in a while we come across some events that reach deep into our hearts and make us cry out ‘Why?’. The answers are not easy and take time.
One fine Saturday morning, when most of the country was fast asleep, many not even aware that there was a mission in progress, and that, the Columbia Spacecraft was scheduled to return to earth after a successful mission. Columbia was the first ever shuttle to fly in April of 1981. After 27 successful missions, it was destroyed during reentry on Feb 1.