The early history of women safely falling from great heights may have begun in China more than a thousand years ago with acrobats using two large conical bamboo hats to descend safely.
The first Western woman in modern history to do so is the wife of the first man to safely use a frame-less parachute.
Jeanne-Geneviève (Labrosse) Garnerin was in born in Paris, France.
Jeanne saw André-Jacques Garnerin’s first hydrogen balloon flight and parachute descent at Parc Monceau, Paris on October 22, 1797. She became his pupil, wife and in 1798, the first woman balloon pilot.
Just one year later, she became the first woman to parachute, falling from 900 meters (3,000 feet). She went on to complete many balloon and parachute drops in towns across France and Europe.
On October 11, 1802, she filed a patent application on behalf of her husband for: “a device called a parachute, intended to slow the fall of the basket after the balloon bursts. Its vital organs are a cap of cloth supporting the basket and a circle of wood beneath and outside of the parachute and used to hold it open while climbing: it must perform its task at the moment of separation from the balloon, by maintaining a column of air.”
André-Jacques died in 1823 and Jeanne retired from the ballooning and parachuting, passed the reins on to her niece Elisa Garnerin who learned to fly balloons at age 15, and made 39 professional parachute drops.
By the time Jeanne died in 1847, Elisa was celebrated throughout Europe for her own exploits.
Although she may have never actually jumped in a parachute herself, French aeronaut Sophie Blanchard did, during the turn of eighteenth/nineteenth century, perform early parachuting experiments, parachuting dogs and launching pyrotechnic parachutes from hot-air and hydrogen balloons. Sophie’s chief rival at the time was Élisa Garnerin- first professional woman parachutist and neice of Andre-Jacques Garnerin, who is credited with being the inventor of the frameless parachute, first parachutist and husband of the first lady parachutist, Sophie Blanchard is believed to be the first lady professional balloonist. She was a favorite of both Napoleon Bonaparte and Louis XVIII. In 1819, she become the first woman to be killed in an aviation accident. Born Marie Madeleine-Sophie Armant at Trois-Canons on March 25th 1778 near Yves France, Sophie married Jean-Pierre Blanchard, a early balloon designer and one of the first men to fly over the English Channel in a hydrogen balloon, in 1802. Sophie made her first ascent two days after Christmas 1804 with Blanchard in Marseilles. Sophie was not the first woman balloonist; (Elizabeth Thible made an ascent to entertain Gustav III of Sweden in Lyon on June 4, 1784). Sophie was the first woman to pilot her own balloon and is credited as the first lady professional balloonist. In 1809, Sophie’s husband Jean-Pierre suffered a heart attack, fell from his balloon and was killed in the Hague. After his death, beset by debt, Sophie continued to make ascents, specializing in night flights, often staying aloft all night, sometimes sleeping in her balloon. She once passed out and nearly froze at altitude above Turin after ascending to avoid a hailstorm. She nearly drowned after dropping into a swamp in Naples. Sophie made long-distance trips in Italy, crossed the Alps and did everything her husband had hoped to do himself. She paid off his debts and made a reputation for herself. She seemed to accept the risks of her career. Despite the extreme danger, she would set off pyrotechnics beneath her hydrogen balloon. She became a favorite of Napoleon’s, who made her the “Aeronaut of the Official Festivals.” Napoleon also appointed her Chief Air Minster of ballooning, and she worked on plans for an aerial invasion of England by French troops in balloons. When the French monarchy was restored four years later, King Louis XVIII named her “Official Aeronaut of the Restoration.”On the evening of July 6, 1819, at the age of 41, Marie Madeleine-Sophie Armant Blanchard made her last flight. A crowd of thousands had gathered for a show at the Tivoli Gardens in Paris. Sophie rose from the lawn to music and fireworks. She had planned to do her “Bengal Fire” demonstration, a slow-burning pyrotechnics display. As she mounted her balloon she said, “Allons, ce sera pour la derniere fois” (“Let’s go, this will be for the last time”). Her hydrogen balloon caught fire and Sophie, fell to her death. “Sophie was more at home in the sky than on the ground, where her nervous disposition meant she was easily startled.She was terrified of loud noises and of riding in carriages, but was fearless in the air.”
Élisa Garnerin was a French balloonist. She was the niece of the pioneer parachutist André-Jacques Garnerin, and took advantage of his name and of the novelty of a woman performing what were at the time extremely daring feats. She was a determined businesswoman, and at times got into trouble with the police for the disturbance her performances caused. Between 1815 and 1836, she toured France, Spain, Italy and other parts of Europe, making 39 professional parachute drops.
Mary Breed Hawley Meyers
“Carlotta the Lady Aeronaut”
On July 2, 1883, “Carlotta the Lady Aeronaut” making her 180th balloon ascension, saved herself by floating twelve-miles on fragments of the silk balloon “Flying Cloud“; the makeshift parachute carried her to a safe landing. While a wrecked hydrogen balloon may not be a parachute it worked!
Mary Breed Hawley Meyers was the first woman in the United States to pilot her own aircraft. She set a world altitude record of four miles (20,000′) without oxygen equipment. She set the record for the most one-woman piloted balloon trips during the 19th century. In 1871 Mary Breed Hawley, a descendant of the Breeds of Boston’s Breed’s Hill, married New York balloon inventor, Carl Myers, a self-taught engineer whose experiments led to a patent for a new kind of balloon fabric—lightweight and impervious to hydrogen gas. Mary decided that she, too, wanted to fly. Her first ascent took place in Little Falls, New York on Main and Second Streets, during the rain. Thinking her own name was not exciting enough for such daring behavior, she took the moniker Carlotta the Lady Aeronaut and on July 4, 1880, made her debut as fifteen thousand people, mesmerized by her daring antics, watched from the ground.
“At a little before five o’clock, she stepped bravely into the basket, …and the balloon “Aerial”, with its precious freight – rose slowly and very majestically above the house-tops. At first it was borne northerly, till reaching an upper current, it floated off eastward, remaining in sight until a cloud obscured it. Mrs. Myers took as companions on the voyage four carrier pigeons which she was to let off with news to her Mohawk friends of her flight and of her safe arrival again upon earth.”
That day she became the first American woman to fly solo in a lighter-than-air balloon. In August, she made her second flight, staying aloft in a calm blue sky for more than an hour. The following spring, Mary gave birth to a daughter, who was christened Elizabeth Aerial (little Elizabeth Aerial went on a flight with her mother at the age of three and again when she was seven). The following Fourth of July she opened the balloon season by making two ascensions in one day—the first at Hamilton, New York, and the second at Utica.
For thirty years, “Carlotta” made ascensions at special events, and helped test new balloon designs with her husband on their “Balloon Farm” in New York.
“She retires from the field,” Carl announced in 1891 to the public, “with a record of having made more ascensions than all other women combined throughout the world, and more than any man living in America.” The Myers operated the Balloon Farm for many years. Carl was still riding his sky cycle at the age of sixty-eight, and both he and Mary lived to be over eighty.
As a grown woman, daughter Elizabeth Aerial would make exhibition flights on an invention of her father’s, a foot-pedaled dirigible,which he called the “Sky Cycle” at the St. Louis Exposition in 1903. The flights were made inside a large auditorium, and “Bessie” was so adept that she could maneuver the craft without hitting the walls or roof of the hall; she left the great outdoors to her mother.
Adelaide Bassett was the wife of Henry Bassett and was a smoke balloonist in the early 1890s as a student of Captain Orton.
She made about 30 ascents in her career and probably completed the first “double-aeronaut” para-jump in Europe.
On August 5,1895 As her balloon ascended, it struck telegraph lines that destroyed her parachute. She fell 60′ to her death.
‘FEMALE PARACHUTIST KILLED.
‘Miss Adelaide Bassett, a London parachutist, was killed in Peterborough yesterday evening. In connection with a fete there had been arranged a balloon ascent and a double parachute descent by Captain Orton and Miss Bassett. The latter’s parachute was broken by a telephone wire on the balloon being released, and as she had consequently no means by which to descend, she jumped from the balloon to the ground and was killed.’
(The Aberdeen Weekly Journal, Aberdeen, Scotland, Tuesday, 6 August 1895, p. 6c)
Jenny Rumary Van Tassel
Jenny Rumary Van Tassel was no soft, timid, shrinking wife of balloonist “Professor” Park Van Tassel. Described as big, young, handsome and blonde; on the 4th of July 1888, Jenny, escaped from the detective who had been sent to stop her, climbed into husband’s balloon gondola, rose to 6,000′ above Los Angeles and then, without hesitation, launched herself and her 28′ parachute into the air.
“It is only a question of nerve,” said Mrs. Van Tassell, when asked about her exploit. “I made up my mind that I could jump from a balloon and when I make up my mind to do a thing I do it. So, when we were over a clear place, they opened the valve to hold the balloon stationary and give the ‘chute a start to open a little, and then I said good-by and jumped.
I dropped thirty feet like a shot before the parachute was well open, there was no shock, and I felt no great strain on my arms. I often dreamed of falling immense distances, and I wanted to see how it really was. I ain’t exactly a bird nor an angel, but it’s just about what I imagine the sensation of flying is. It was beautiful! Though I went through that 6000 feet in five and one-quarter minutes, I didn’t seem to be going fast, and never lost my breath. I swung hundreds of feet one side and the other for the first 4000 feet, but after that I just floated down an incline to the ground, and alighted with no more shock than would be caused by jumping off a chair. I wasn’t the least bit frightened from the start. One arm was strapped to the parachute, and there was a belt around my waist, so I could not fall away from the parachute. I only thought about my landing, whether I would drop on a big tree that was just under me, or on a house that I saw. I luckily missed both. I was anxious to get a reputation, and I did, and I expect to make a fortune by jumping from balloons.”
On March 16, 1892, in Dacca, East Bengal, she died while landing, after she stuck in a tree at Ramna. She is buried Narinda Christian graveyard in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Park Van Tassel continued his barnstorming career after the incident. He died in Oakland, Calif., on October 24, 1930, at the age of 78.
Marie Marthe Camille Desinge du Gast
Marie Marthe Camille Desinge du Gast was born in Paris. A balloonist, parachute jumper, fencer, tobogganist, skier, rifle and pistol shot, horse trainer, as well as a concert pianist and singer. “Madame” du Gast and her husband, Jules Crespin, were enthusiastic hot air balloonists; she flew with the pilot Louis Capazza. In 1895 she jumped from a hot air balloon at an elevation of 610 meters (2,000 ft) using a parachute. The balloon was one of two used to publicize her husband’s department store, Dufayel, at public events; he insisted that she use her maiden name, du Gast, to avoid her endeavor appearing as a publicity stunt.
She was the second woman to compete in an international motor race and was one of a trio of pioneering French female motoring celebrities of the Belle Epoque.
Surviving an assassination attempt by her daughter and co-conspirators around 1910, she became a recuse until her death in Paris in April 1942. She is buried in the Crespin family tomb at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris
Käthe Paulus is said to be the inventor of the folded parachute. She earned her money as an acrobat of the air. She dropped from a hot-air balloon and landed under a parachute. She developed a parachute pack, designed to be worn by pilots. The Prussian Army didn’t show any interest in this before 1916; the common practice was for pilots to shoot themselves or they would jump to their death. Their motto was: “Parachutes are for cowards”.
The War Department came to realize that the training was too costly and time-consuming to lose these pilots. Käthe Paulus produced round 7000 parachutes and received the Service Cross for her contribution.
On August 5, 1931, Kathe Paulus made her final balloon flight at age 63. She had over 510 logged balloon flights and over 150 parachute jumps.
Käthe Paulus died on July 26, 1935 after a long illness and was buried in the cemetery of the Thank You Church Wedding in Reinickendorf, Blankestraße 12, in the Abbot D-2-32. Among those attending her funeral were renown female pilots such as Elly Beinhorn and Hann Reitsch, appreciating her pioneering achievements for females in aviation.
Her grave is “Ehrengrab des Landes “(grave of honor of the country).
Aliss Ruby Deveau
Aliss Ruby Deveauwas born in Germany, came to this country at the age of four, and was orphaned at an early age. Ruby made her first parachute jump in 1892 at 15 years of age. Billed as the “Queen of the Clouds”, Miss Deveau made 175 jumps; on her last parachute jump during 1895 in London, Ontario, she drifted into a chimney and broke her back.
Edith Maud Cook
(1878 – 1910)
Edith Maud Cook was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, the daughter of James Wells Cook, a confectioner and Mary Ann Baker. She was a pupil at the Blériot flying school and at Claude Grahame-White’s school at Pau, Pyrénées-Atlantiques in 1909 or early 1910, where she learned to fly and became the first British woman to pilot a plane.
She died from injuries sustained following a jump from a balloon at Coventry on 9 July 1910. Her parachute collapsed after a gust of wind blew her on to a factory roof. It was reported that another gust of wind caught the parachute and she fell from the factory roof sustaining serious injuries. She died on the 14th, and her death certificate states the cause of her death as “Internal injuries, broken pelvis and arm, caused by a fall from a parachute. Accidental.” Apparently Dolly Shepherd had been due to make the jump at Coventry but Cook took her place.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio on September 22nd 1885, Maude, the future Mrs. Charles Broadwick #1 alienated her family by marrying the parachuting owner of hot air balloons and carnie, whose real name was John Murray.
Described as beautiful, Maude was barely twenty years old and a popular attraction at Riddell’s Southern Carnival Company. She and her husband were scheduled to make an ascension and parachute drop on November 2, 1905 in Buena Vista Park, California. She was standing by to give the signal to cut the rope when the balloon shot up in the air she was caught in the ropes and lifted three hundred feet, hanging there until she dropped to the earth where she was instantly killed by the hard ground. Charles Broadwick cut away from the errant balloon and parachuted to safety. Some witnesses were of the opinion that Maude’s death was a suicide. Maude’s estranged family were not notified of her death. The interment took place on Saturday, November 11, 1905 at Silver Brook Cemetery, Anderson, South Carolina.
Charles Broadwick went on to adopt Georgia “Tiny” Thompson, who became the first woman to perform a parachute drop from an airplane-Tiny Broadwick. After Tiny severed ties with Broadwick, he married Ethel Lillian Knutsen who continued the act but was also was killed in a parachuting accident in 1922.
Elizabeth Mary (Lily) Cove
Elizabeth Mary (Lily) Cove was born to a working-class family in London’s east end, threw in her lot with ‘Captain’ Frederick Bidmead, and ended up dying a dramatic death. Rising in a trapeze attached to a balloon from what was then the football field on West Lane, Haworth, she tried to make the ascent but the balloon would not rise, a tiny tear was found in the fabric. The descent was postponed until two days later, Monday June 11, 1906.
This time the balloon was able to lift. Lily theatrically tore off her skirt, revealing bloomers beneath, then strapped herself into her harness, and began to ascend on the trapeze. The wind began to blow her towards Ponden, and as Lily neared the vast expanse of Ponden Reservoir, she was seen to shrug out of her harness and plummet to the ground in a field behind Ponden Hall. Although there was speculation that Lily may have committed suicide, it is likely that her known fear of drowning prompted her to try to escape before she was over the water. A Mr Cowling Heaton, seeing her falling body, rushed to the spot and gathered her into his arms, saying, ‘My good woman, if you can speak, do’. Lily’s eyes were open, there was no answer, and she died immediately from multiple fractures and internal injuries. She was just 21.
Elizabeth ‘Dolly’ Shepherd
In the same year the Wright Brothers flew, Elizabeth ‘Dolly’ Shepherd volunteered to take the place of Buffalo Bill Cody’s wife during his Wild West Show in London putting on a blindfold to have the showman shoot a plaster egg from her head. The next year, Cody expressing his thanks, took the 17 year old Shepherd to Auguste Gaudron’s aerial workshop. Using the new stage name of Dolly, began doing exhibition parachute jumps from so-called smoke balloons. Despite a number of close calls, she not only survived an eight year career as Britain’s “Queen of the Air”, but a few years before her death in 1983, (at age 96), she flew with the Red Devils, whose modern parachuting techniques she greatly admired.
Bessie Coleman was born January 26th in Atlanta, Texas to Susan and George Coleman, who were cotton farmers. George left Bessie, her mother and 12 siblings when she was 9. Bessie completed all eight grades in a one-room school and at 12, began attending the Missionary Baptist Church in Texas; after graduation she attended the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University.
At the age of 23, Bessie Coleman went to Chicago to stay with her brother who one day said “I know something that you’ll never do – Fly!” Bessie decided right then and there that she would become the first black woman to earn a pilot’s license. United States flying schools denied her the chance so she taught herself French and enrolled in France’s Ecole d’Aviation des Freres Cadron et Le Crotoy of Gaston and Rene’ Caudron, earning her license in just seven months. On September 3, 1922 at Curtiss Field near New York, in Glenn Curtiss’s Jenny, the first public flight by an African-American woman in America was done by Bessie Coleman! Specializing in stunt flying and parachuting, she earned a living barnstorming and performing aerial tricks. On her third exhibition on October 15, 1922 after a series of flights, she performed a perfect Richthofen glide and loop-the-loops. During a show in Wharton, Texas, a woman parachutist failed to show and “Brave Bessie”donned a parachute and jumped in her place. She raised money to open an African-American flying school by giving lectures.
On April 30, 1926, Bessie Coleman’s life ended in Jacksonville FL. at Paxon airfield when she asked mechanic/pilot William D. Wills to take the controls so she could study the field for a good site to parachute. At 2,000 feet, a lose wrench jammed the controls, the plane suddenly flipped and Bessie, who was not wearing a seat belt or a parachute, fell to her death. Wills, who was strapped in the plane, died when it crashed to the ground not far from Bessie. Since 1931, each year, on April 30th, the Challenger Pilots’ Association of Chicago fly over her grave at Lincoln Cemetery. In 1977, women pilots in Chicago established the Bessie Coleman Aviators Club. In 1995, the U.S. Postal Service issued a “Bessie Coleman” stamp and O’Hare International Airport (ORD) is located at 1000 Coleman Drive.
“Madame Cayat de Castella”
Lucienne Blaise was a French parachutist, who died on July 26, 1914 at Stockel racecourse (near Brussels) during a demonstration flight, she found it impossible to deploy her parachute; her previous jump on May 17 had gone perfectly.
Only 22 years old, she was the first french woman to parachute from a plane in 1913 , the same year the American “Tiny” Broadwick. Testing one of the canopies made by her husband Georges Cayat, she was tied by three leather straps under the tail, the parachute being fastened under one wing and connected by another harness to her armpits; her hands were wrapped in rags so as not to be injured by the cables to which she clung. Her husband, inventor of an air-assisted opening system, detached it at an altitude of 800 meters, while her face was only 50 centimeters away from the propeller.
(Note: some confusion on names and dates, still to be sorted.)
Deborah DeCostello was only seventeen, when on October 1st, during a jump she drowned as high winds carried her out in Lake Michigan. Details are unclear whether the winds were misjudged or before she was ready to drop, the rope was accidentally cut.
The pilot made a few attempts to snag the Deborah once she started drifting out over the lake. Rescue craft were dispatched from the U.S. Lifesaving Station at Sleeping Bear Point, but were unable to locate DeCostello for 6 days.
No family members could be located so money was raised for her funeral and tombstone by selling a diamond ring found on her body. She was buried in St. Philip’s cemetery, at the very west edge of the cemetery near the center from where she started her final flight.
Her tombstone simply reads “Deborah DeCostello, 1893-1920.”
There were at least two other “Ethel Dare”s during that time, Ethel Gilmore, killed during a jump in 1924 and Margaret Potteiger /Margie Hobbs -“The Flying Witch” (died 1970). Whether or not they worked together or even knew each other is speculative at best.
Who was the ‘real’ Ethel Dare?
Georgia Ann “Tiny” Broadwick
At the age of 15, Georgia Ann “Tiny” Thompson convinced a neighbor to take her to see “The Broadwicks and Their Famous French Aeronauts,” who dropped from a hot air balloon and descended using a parachute. Tiny persuaded Broadwick to let her join his crew of aerial performers. Considered ” The First Lady of Parachuting”, Tiny is the first woman to jump from an airplane and the first person to intentionally delay her opening by using a ripcord.
Tiny was born Georgia Ann Thompson on a farm in Granville County North Carolina to George and Emma Ross Thompson on April 8, 1893. The last of seven daughters, weighing only 3 pounds, she was given the nickname “Tiny” due to her small size; Tiny reached only 4′ 1″ and weighed in at 80 pounds as an adult. Tiny’s early life was one of hardship; her parents raised pigs and chickens and Tiny worked the tobacco fields. At the age of six, due to a drop in farm prices, the Thompsons were forced to give up their farm, taking work at the Harriet Cotton Mill in nearby Henderson. Tiny married William Aulsie Jacobs when she was only twelve and a short time later was pregnant with her only child, Verla. Her husband soon abandoned her and Verla, forcing Tiny take a job working 12 to 14 hour shifts at the mill, earning forty cents per day. She would walk home twice a day to nurse her child and return to complete her shift.
Tiny’s life of boredom and drudgery would soon come to an end though. In the spring of 1908, Tiny convinced a neighbor to take her to Raleigh to the Johnny J. Jones Exposition Shows to see “The Broadwicks and Their Famous French Aeronauts,” which featured a stunt performer named Charles Broadwick (aka: John Murray) who dropped from a hot air balloon and descended using a parachute. Tiny convinced Broadwick that she could do a better job than him. “When I seen this balloon go up, I knew that’s all I wanted to do! I hung around until they came back to the lot where the balloon had left from and told them I wanted to join them. I was hell-bound and determined to get in that act!” Talking up her small frame and assuring him that she could manage a light and easy descent to the ground without trouble. Tiny persuaded Broadwick to let her join his crew of aerial performers. Charles Broadwick needed some convincing but knew a good thing when he saw it. Promising to send money back for Tiny’s daughter Verla, he was able to get her parent’s permission; her mother eventually agreeing to give the arrangement a trial. Charles Broadwick “adopted” the 15 year old girl since it was not considered proper for a young woman to travel with an unrelated older man. Miss Tiny Broadwick, the World’s Most Daring Aviatrice-Parachutistl” was born. The teenage parachutist and Charles Broadwick traveled all over the country with the Johnny J. Jones Carnival Co. Billed as the the Doll Girl because of her small size, she performed in ruffled bloomers, a silk dress with pink bows in her hair; an outfit the rough and tumble Tiny hated. Tiny made her first parachute jump before the act left Raleigh; landing right in the middle of a big blackberry bush! Described this way, “I tell you, honey, it was the most wonderful sensation in the world!” “Tiny Broadwick” became an instant headliner. They traveled all over the United States with the popular balloon act, during which the fearless Tiny performed daring drops often under multiple parachutes, sometimes with flares or torches. She had several harrowing mishaps, including fires during her career; landing on top of a train, getting tangled in a windmill and high tension wires and many rough landings during which she broke several bones and dislocated her shoulder on several occasions, she never lost her enthusiasm for dropping. As far as payment and money for her daughter Tiny was quite often given a Coke and a candy bar, or sometimes pocket change. Charles Broadwick was not a good financial manager.
In 1912, on a field south of downtown Los Angeles, the third Dominguez Air Meet, the greatest aviation event in the United States was being held. The absolute cream of the flying world including designer Glenn Curtiss, famed stunt flyer and future manufacturer Glenn Martin, pilot Lincoln Beachey would be there; having moved west the year before, Charles Broadwick and Tiny would also be in attendance. She met Orville Wright who told her, “I’m glad you’re interested in aviation,” to which she replied, “I’m mostly interested in parachutes.” One day at the Los Angeles air meet, Tiny met airplane manufacturer Glenn L. Martin, who had picked her up in one of his airplanes after an off-field landing, Tiny’s first airplane ride, and it proved to be a turning point in her life. He proposed that she drop from one of his airplanes; “jumping” at the chance, she agreed without hesitation. On June 21, 1913, Tiny hung from a trapeze type swing suspended under the right side of Martin’s airplane just behind the wing. Her parachute, developed by Charles Broadwick, was on a shelf above her, and when the plane was at 2,000 feet over Los Angeles, Tiny released a lever that made the seat release from under her. The parachute, which was attached to the airplane by a thin(static) line, opened automatically, and she parachuted safely to earth, landing in Griffith Park making her the first woman to parachute from an airplane.
Two reporters were on hand and wrote stories about this eventful day. ” … Tiny Broadwick …crossed the great divide between the clouds and the earth,” wrote Grace Wilcox. “When she was ready to drop, Martin touched my shoulder,” Bonnie Glessner, wrote, “I faced about and turned my eyes on the face of the child. She was clambering over the side of the machine as though it were stationary. Once over, she clung tenaciously, her eyes fixed on Martin, who was just then looking down over the side of the aeroplane. The signal came while he watched below. Just the slight movement of his hand but the girl understood and her lips formed a ‘goodbye’ which I sensed rather than heard. Smiling at me, she stepped off into space, not even a tremor of the machine showing she was gone.” “… as I watched with thickly beating heart, this nervy little girl stepped calmly over the edge of the aeroplane a thousand feet in the air, and with a brave little smile, plunged earthward.” That same year, she became the first women jump from a hydroplane and also the first to parachute into water; she emerged from Lake Michigan soaking wet to present a wreath to Governor Edward F. Dunn of Illinois.
In 1914, she demonstrated a parachute to the US Army; her reputation as a parachutist and Broadwick’s “coatpack” led to the military into contacting her, Charles Broadwick and Glenn Martin about a formal demonstration. Many pilots in Europe were being killed because they had no way to escape from a disabled airplane. Tiny was asked to demonstrate how to parachute from a military airplane; she made four jumps at San Diego’s North Island. On her fourth drop, her parachute’s line became tangled in the airplane’s tail assembly and the slipstream prevented her from getting back in the airplane. Tiny cut the line to a short length and free fell toward the ground, then pulling the line by hand to open the parachute. This was the first planned free-fall descent, and the first deployment by use of a “rip cord”. She had proven that a pilot could return to the ground safely by bailing out of an airplane. As a result, she also became the first person to ever free-fall from an aircraft. The day after the Broadwick demonstration, the San Diego Union carried the following: “…Brigadier General George P. Scriven, chief signal officer, USA, has recommended the purchase of a number of parachutes ….” In those days, fires in airplanes were common that, in fear of a fiery end, some pilots carried pistols to commit suicide; others chose to jump to a quick death. If a pilot had Broadwick’s static-line parachute, however, he might have a chance at escaping a burning airplane.” She made jumps at the 1915 and 1916 San Diego World’s Fairs.
Tiny married Harry Brown in 1916 and stopped parachuting for four years; that marriage ended in divorce as did her 1912 marriage to Andrew Olsen. She also severed her relationship with Charles Broadwick during that period. She continued to go by the name of Georgia Brown until her death; she considered Broadwick to be her “stage’ name. She returned to jumping again in 1920 for two more years. The novelty of parachuting had worn off, her ankles had begun to bother her but she was very reluctant to give up parachuting because, she said, “I breathe so much better up there, and it’s so peaceful being that near to God.”. She retired permanently, making her last jump in San Diego in 1922, with over 1,100 jumps when she was just 29 years old. Tiny’s retirement from jumping did not come easily. She said: “It was terribly hard for me to settle down. I had so much pep and energy. I was lonesome for my work and occasionally made a few jumps.” She remained a powerful influence in the aviation field throughout her life. Tiny received many honors and awards in her lifetime. Among them are the U.S. Government Pioneer Aviation award and the John Glenn Medal. She was the only woman in the 80 member Early Birds of Aviation. She also received the Gold Wings of the Adventurer’s Club in Los Angeles, and was made an honorary member of the 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg. With that honor, she was told she could jump any time she chose. At the May 5, 1964 Tiny Broadwick Night dinner during which Tiny donated her parachute, National Air Museum Director Philip S. Hopkins said, “Measured in feet and inches, her nickname ‘Tiny’ is obviously appropriate. Measured by her courage and by her accomplishments, she stands tall among her many colleagues — the pioneers of flight.” On Nov 16, 1972, the Adventurers Club of Los Angeles held a “Tiny Broadwick Night”. Norm Heaton of USPA presented her with her Gold Wings for her 1000+ jumps.
Tiny Broadwick webpage
Ethel Gilmore was born January 20 “illegitimate” in Grand Ledge, Michigan to Josephine Gilmore and Frank Shattuck. Ethel married Frederick Harris on June 20 1914 in Lansing, having one daughter on April 20, 1914.
Ethel began leaping from balloons in 1917; her daughter Lonnie, who was living with her aunt Bertha, died at the age of four on January 4, 1919 while Ethel was performing. The details are tragic, heartbreaking and too difficult to write!
“Frank” divorced her in March 1920 because of his wife’s “serial dare-deviltry destroyed his peace of mind and caused him untold anguish.” Ethel claimed “keeping house was too tame.” She married her second husband, Arthur Edward Johnson on September 27 1920 in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Getting married again did not appear to deter Ethel, who began jumping from airplanes in 1921. She made her 600 th leap during an air circus at Dayton, Ohio Thursday, Oct. 2, 1924. On Nov. 15, 1924, she was “pulled from the fuselage of an airplane as she was preparing to make a parachute drop.” Her broken body was found in a cornfield.
There were at least two other “Ethel Dare”s during that time, Deborah DeCostello, killed during a jump October 1, 1920 and Margaret Potteiger /Margie Hobbs -“The Flying Witch” (died 1970). Whether or not they worked together or even knew each other is speculative at best.
Ethel Gilmore Johnson is buried with her daughter Lonnie in Riverside Cemetery in Kalamazoo, Michigan, under a stone that reads: Aviatrix Ethel Dare 1896-1924.
Ethel Lillian Knutsen Broadwick
Ethel Lillian Knutsen was born in Mankato, Minnesota to Martin and Elenia Knutsen. She moved to Long Beach, California in 1913. The sixteen year old was drawn to the excitement of aviation and would often be found at the Pike Amusement Park on the shore of Long Beach. Ethel met many of the early aviators, hired to entertain the crowds, including Tiny Broadwick. Ethel idolized Tiny and longed to become a daredevil aviator herself. After Tiny had severed her ties with Charles Broadwick and married Harold Brown, Ethel took Tiny’s place dropping from airplanes, even taking her moniker.
Charles Broadwick, Tiny’s adopted stepfather, was by 1916 experimenting with new parachute designs which Ethel would test.
Ethel became Broadwick’s second wife in 1918, his first wife having perished in a parachuting accident. Charles Broadwick was 44 and Ethel was 21.
She continued performing stunts on airplanes, and testing new parachute and container designs with her husband when in February 1920, at the age of 23, she took her last flight from Marina Airfield near Monterey. During that jump from 2,000 feet,she was testing a new parachute that Broadwick had designed when the lines became tangled. As a camera filmed the tragedy, Ethel, fighting with the toggles was not able to clear the malfunction. She lived several day before succumbing to her injuries.
She was laid to rest in the Sunnyside Cemetery, Long Beach California.
Elsa Teresia Andersson
Elsa Teresia Andersson was born on April 27 the daughter of a farmer in Strövelstorp was Sweden’s first female aviator and stunt parachutist. Full of determination and a taste for physical activity and adventure, she went shooting with the boys and she learned how to drive, cutting the image of a flapper sailing through the Swedish landscape. At age 24, she got accepted into Enoch Thulin´s flying school and became Sweden’s first woman pilot(diploma #203). Elsa felt at home among the other (all male) aviators. An embodiment of her own motto that ‘courage and determination are the best qualities in a human being’; an article from the time, stated:
“Such a curious woman; silent, serene and completely lacking of nerves!” In September 1921, Elsa decided to go to Germany to train under parachuting instructor Otto Heinecke; the course lasting a few weeks. Elsa made her first jump from 2000 feet during an aerial exhibition in South of Sweden. A glorious autumn day with 2000 spectators, Elsa was the most thrilling act on the bill. Elsa exited head first. It was a perfect jump; landing gently and jubilant in the lake grass. The men making fun of her parachute, called it a ‘Heinecke sack’, exclaiming “You’d never get me in one of those, not for a million kronor!” “It’s a piece of cake” Elsa cuts back with a smile.
On a cold January Sunday in 1922, standing on the wing, left hand holding onto the wing, she waves to the crowd of thousands, gathered below on the ice of Lake Alsen and jumps, doing a few somersaults, she had trouble releasing her parachute, which finally unfolded barely above the treetops and she crashed into the ground; Elsa was killed during that jump.
In 1926, the Swedish Aero Club erected a three-metre-high obelisk as a memorial in the place where she died.
Sophie Catherine Theresa Mary Peirce-Evans,
Lady Sophie Mary Heath
One hundred years ago, when male aviators flew only with ham sandwiches and hard boiled eggs, Sophie Heath, the first Irish woman to parachute from an airplane and the first to land in the middle of a football(soccer)match, piloted a tiny open-cockpit airplane from Cape Town, South Africa to London with a Bible, shotgun, a couple tennis rackets, six tea gowns and a fur coat. One of the best known women in the world during the 1920’s, “Britain’s Lady Lindy,” as she was known in the U.S. was the first pilot, male or female, to make that flight.
”A woman can fly across Africa wearing a Parisian frock and keeping her nose powdered all the way.”
—Lady Sophie Mary Heath (1897-1939)
Having the most tragic start in life, a beginning too horrible to consider, Sophie Catherine Theresa Mary Peirce-Evans, was born on the November 10th, 1896. While a toddler, her father beat her mother to death leaving little Sophie alone for hours with her mother’s body. John Pierce-Evans was found guilty but insane and imprisoned, and Sophie was brought to live with her Grandfather. She showed an early talent and passion for sports, but her aunts forbid this ‘unladylike’ behavior. Sophie finally went to school in Dublin, where she could play hockey and tennis. One of very few women at the Royal College of Science in Ireland, she earned a degree in science specializing in agriculture, and she played hockey. During World War I, Sophie worked in England and France as a dispatch rider; her aunts were aghast, writing to relatives: “For Mercy’s sake, don’t let Sophie get hold of the girls.”
Moving to London in 1922, she helped found the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association, promoting a full women’s program at the Olympics and becoming a delegate to the International Olympic Council. She published “Athletics for Women and Girls” and by 1926 was representing the UK in Track and Field at the Women’s International Games; she set a world record for the High Jump and became the first women’s javelin champion in Britain. Her records for the shot-put and discus were not broken until the 1960’s.
It was then that Sophie took her first flying lessons, which unleashed a burning passion for aviation. During the latter half of the 1920’s, Sophie was the most famous Irish woman on the planet, fighting prejudice and ignorance to become the first woman in the UK to get a commercial pilot’s license. Her test included proving to a panel of men that she could control an aircraft at “at all times of the month”.
Sophie had already set a number of altitude records when she married Sir James Heath in October of 1927. Lady Heath landed in the middle of a football match after becoming the first British woman to parachute from a plane, and in 1927, the first female pilot to win an open race. In July 1929, she wrote an article for Scientific American magazine, entitled ‘Is Flying Safe?’. Sophie would once gain experience tragedy when just before the National Air Races in 1929, she was badly injured in a plane crash. Lady Heath would never be the same after her accident.
Running her own company near Dublin into the mid-1930’s, helping produce a generation of pilots, and creating Aer Lingus airlines, Sophie Catherine Theresa Mary Peirce-Evans, the great Lady Mary Heath at the age of 42, died of head injury following a fall on a tramcar in 1939; the fall was thought to have been caused by an old blood clot from the 1929 crash.
Her ashes were scattered over Surrey from an airplane flown by her husband although legend has it that her ashes were returned to Ireland and scattered over her native Newcastle West.
“Queen of the Heights”
Smaranda Brăescu was born in the village of Hânţeşti, Romania on July 24, 1897(same day as Amelia Earhart, was a parachutist and aviation pioneer with multiple world records. In 1928, while in Germany, she bought a parachute, and jumped for the first time from 6000 m.
Earning her parachuting license on July 5, after a two day course of jumping without incident, she became the first female Romanian parachutist. On May 19, 1932, Smaranda set the world record for highest parachute jump from 6929 meters or 22733 feet, (surpassing her previous record by 476m) in Sacramento, CA. Thanks to her, Romania is the third country in the world, with a female parachutist. On August 17, 1930, at Satu-Mare, during a jump, she was seriously injured, remaining bedridden for six months. She owned two biplanes and in 1932, in her Miles Hawk, established the record for crossing the Mediterranean Sea between Rome and Tripoli (1100 km in 6 hours and 10 minutes). In the same year, in Sacramento, Braescu establishes an absolute world record, previously held by an American at 21,733 ft, by jumping successfully from 24,000 ft (7,200m). From then on, she was a national hero, being escorted by 30 planes after being invited to an air show in Canada. She was in the medical wing on the Eastern Front during World War II, remaining active until May 12, 1945. She condemned the November 1946 election, and was sent to prison for two years, where she died on February 2, 1948. She is thought to be buried in the Central Cemetery in Cluj, under the name of Maria Popescu. A street in Bucharest was named after her.
Amelia Mary Earhart“Lady Lindy”
The world’s most famous lady aviator, gave Stanley Switlik, James Strong and George Palmer Putnam the idea for parachute training towers; towers used by the U.S. Marines, in Hightstown, New Jersey, and later by U.S. Army Airborne at Fort Benning. Strong and Switlik sold towers to the Romanian and U.S. militaries; installing towers at Fort Dix; four were installed in Fort Benning, Georgia.
Amelia ’s husband built a 115 foot tall tower on Switlit’s farm (now Six Flags Great Adventure in Ocean County NJ) to train airmen in parachute jumping, the first public jump from the tower was made by Lady Lindy on June 2, 1935, calling it: “Loads of Fun!”Born July 24, to Samuel “Edwin” Stanton Earhart and Amelia “Amy” Otis, at her grandfather Alfred Gideon Otis’s home in Atchison, Kansas, Amelia was a born daredevil. After graduating from Hyde Park High School in 1915, Amelia attended Ogontz, a girl’s finishing school in the suburbs of Philadelphia. She left in the middle of her second year to work as a nurse’s aide in a military hospital in Canada during WWI, attended college, and later became a social worker at Denison House, a settlement house in Boston.
Amelia took her first flying lesson from Neta Snook on January 3, 1921 and, in six months, managed to save enough money to buy her first plane, a Kinner Airster “The Canary” and by October 22, 1922, started breaking records, with the women’s altitude record of 14,000 feet. On June 17-18, 1928, she became the first woman (as a passenger) to fly across the Atlantic, (20hrs 40min) in a Fokker F7, “Friendship”. In the Summer of 1928, Amelia bought an Avro Avian and later that fall, published her book, “20 Hours 40 Minutes”, toured, lectured and became aviation editor for Cosmopolitan magazine. In August of 1929, she placed third in the First Women’s Air Derby, aka the Powder Puff Derby and upgraded from her Avian to a Lockheed Vega and by the fall of 1929 was elected as an official for National Aeronautic Association and encouraged the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) to establish separate world altitude, speed, and endurance records for women. In 1930, on June 25, Amelia set the women’s speed record for 100 kilometers, and on July 5, set speed record for of 181.18mph over a 3K course: by September she helped to organize a new airline, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington Airways, becoming vice president of public relations.
On February 7, 1931 she married her publicist, George P. Putnam, after his sixth proposal, in Putnam’s mother’s house in Noank, Connecticut and two months later on April 8, 1931, Amelia set the altitude record of 18,415 feet in a Pitcairn Autogyro. The next year on May 20-21, the 5th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s flight, she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic; (14 hrs 56 min), receiving the National Geographic Society’s gold medal from President Herbert Hoover and the Distinguished Flying Cross from Congress; she wrote “The Fun of It” about her journey. In 1932 she became the first woman to fly solo nonstop coast to coast, setting the women’s nonstop transcontinental speed record, flying 2,447.8 miles (19hrs 5min) and also, helped form and was named president of the Ninety Nines. On July 7-8, 1933 , Amelia broke her previous transcontinental speed record by making the same flight in 17hrs 7min. On January 11, 1935 , she was the first person to solo across the Pacific between Honolulu and Oakland, California (2,408 miles); the first flight where a civilian aircraft carried a two-way radio. On April 20, first person to fly solo from Los Angeles to Mexico City (13hrs 23min), May 8, first person to fly solo nonstop from Mexico City to Newark (14hrs 19min). On June 2, Amelia Earhart made the first public parachute jump from Stanley Switlik’s training tower. (Switlik went on to manufacture jump towers for the 1939 World’s Fair, Coney Island, United States Marine Corp and U.S. Airborne forces at Fort Benning GA). On March 17, 1937, her first attempt at circumnavigation of the globe, Amelia and her navigator, Fred Noonan, along with Captain Harry Manning and Paul Mantz, flew from Oakland, California, to Honolulu, Hawaii, in 15 hours and 47 minutes. The attempt ended there due to lubrication and galling problems.
On June 1, 1937, Amelia took off in her twin-engine Lockheed Electra from Miami, Florida with her navigator Fred Noonan, on her second attempt to fly around the world (29,000-miles), reaching Lae, New Guinea, on June 29. On July 2, 1937, midnight GMT, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan took off from Lae Airfield; never reaching their intended destination of Howland Island. Her last known transmission at 8:43 a.m.: “We are on the line 157 337. We will repeat this message. We will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles.”………”Wait. We are running on line north and south.”
On July 19th, after searching 250,000 square miles of ocean, the United States government called off their search operation.
Amelia Mary Earhart Putnam was declared death in absentia on January 5, 1939.
At the age of 19 years old, Sylvia Boyden was the first English girl to make a parachute leap from a balloon(1918).
Sylvia is the first woman to make. a descent with- a “packed” parachute. Previous descents made by women have been with open type parachutes, which were suspended ready for immediate release beneath the balloon basket.
A cheerful Miss Boyden, is quoted as saying that she jumped “for the love of the experience.” “I did not. feel, in the least bit nervous, I sat on the edge of the basket, and could see the people like ants beneath me in the park. Somebody behind me said, ‘Ready, go,’ and I just slipped off into space. Looking up I saw the black tapes coming out of the parachute case, which was tied like a large muffin to one of the balloon stays just above the basket. Then the black silk parachute gradually swelled out. For a moment the air rushed past; then I just floated downwards as in a swing.”
“When I reached the earth there way no greater shock than jumping
from say, a mantelpiece. I kept, my knees bent, and so came down,
on all fours as light as a feather.”I have been promised to be allowed to jump from an aeroplane in a few days, and I think this will this be much thrilling.”
Lillian Boyer was born on June 16, in Hooper Nebraska.
In 1921 while working as a waitress in a restaurant, Lillian was invited by two customers to take an airplane ride. Eager to fly in an airplane, on a lark she agreed. On her second flight, she climbed out on a wing of a Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” biplane and by December 1921, she began training with pilot Lt. Billy Brock, a former World War I pilot and barnstormer. During her 8 year career as one of the best known stunt people of the day, she performed 352 shows, earning $100 per appearance.
Lillian walked on the wings of planes, transferred herself from a moving car to a moving airplane 143 times, made 37 parachute jumps, (13 into Lake Erie) and hung under the airplanes by her teeth or toes until 1929 when federal regulations on low flying and unsafe planes forced an end to many barnstormers’ careers. Lily, aka: Mrs. Ernest Werner died in February of 1989 at a San Diego convalescent hospital.
Gladys Roy was a barnstormer during the 1920s, performing mostly in the Minneapolis, Minnesota and Hollywood, California area. Roy became a parachute jumper in 1921 and later a wing-walker, most famous for dancing the Charleston and for playing tennis on the upper wing of an airplane in flight
She was the holder of the world’s lowest record parachute jump for many years and she also completed a parachute jump from 17,000 feet. She was in the movie business, appearing in “The Fighting Ranger” (1925). She was the sister of Robert “Lee,” Charles “Les,” and Chadwick “Chad” Smith, all prominent pilots who were inducted into Aviation Hall of Fames. Gladys and Lt. Delmar Synder were planning a flight from New York to Rome, but she unfortunately walked into the spinning propeller of an aircraft that was sitting on the ground and died on August 15, 1927
Phoebe Jane Fairgrave Omlie
(1902 – 1975)
(1902 – 1975)
Phoebe Jane Fairgrave Omlie was born in Des Moines, Iowa on November 21.
The day before she graduated, Phoebe witnessed a flyover commemorating President Wilson’s visit to Minneapolis and she began hanging around airfields, convincing a flight instructor to take her flying. She acquired more flight time and used her inheritance to purchase a Curtiss JN-4 .
While still in her teens, Phoebe started wing walking, learned to parachute, hang below the plane by her teeth and dance the Charleston on the wing. She held the record for the highest parachute jump for a woman by jumping from her plane at 15,200 ft (4,600 m) and earned a movie deal, flying aerobatic stunts with Vernon C. Omlie for the The Perils of Pauline. Fairgrave and Omlie flew around the country barnstorming and they married in 1922. Phoebe became the first woman to receive an airplane mechanic’s license, as well as becoming the first licensed female transport pilot.
On August 5, 1936, Vernon was killed when a commercial flight crashed in St. Louis while attempting to land in fog. In 1941, when she took a job as “Senior Private Flying Specialist of the Civil Aeronautics Authority” training WWII pilots. Mrs. Omlie established over 60 flight schools, including the school in Tuskegee, Alabama that would train the Tuskegee Airmen. With the Tennessee Bureau of Aeronautics, she established an “experimental” program to train women as instructors.Phoebe stated: “If women can teach men to walk, they can teach them to fly.” Phoebe Jane Fairgarves Omlie resigned in 1952 from the Civil Aeronautics Authority and left aviation.
Phoebe made a little money as a public speaker and spent her last few years in seclusion, living in a flophouse in Indianapolis, fighting alcoholism. Phoebe died on July 17, 1975 of lung cancer and is buried next to her husband in Forest Hill Cemetery.
In June 1982, the new air traffic control tower at the Memphis International Airport was dedicated and named in honor of Phoebe and Vernon Omlie.
The “Lady Parachutist” of Elmira, NY, Ruth Blackman made her first jump from a hot air balloon, the one and only time not from a plane; she found jumping from an airplane much more thrilling. On August 19, 1920, 18-year-old Ruth jumped from the wing of an airplane at an altitude of 3,500 feet. Before a crowd of 43,000 spectators at the Wyoming County Fair, she climbed out onto the wing of the biplane piloted by Leon ‘Windy’ Smith.
“It was so cold up there that my hands and legs seemed numb when I stepped out,” she later told a newspaper reporter. “Added to this was the terrific force of the plane.” Despite the cold and the wind, Blackman made it out onto the wing and, after a signal from Smith, stepped off the wing and jumped.
“I dropped like a rock for about 30 feet until I felt the parachute open and hold me securely. Then it was just an easy drop downward.When I got nearer the earth, I saw that I was likely to fall on top of a barn. I paddled with my feet to get away from that and then I had to do some maneuvering to avoid landing on a fence or in a tree. Finally I plumped right down in a bean field.” Over the course of that summer, Ruth made 13 additional jumps at fairs throughout the Twin Tiers. They spiced up the routine with tricks like jumping with an open bag of flour and transferring between planes. That autumn she and Smith traveled to Atlanta, Georgia where they performed aerial stunts for a movie. The next year ‘Windy’ Smith had a new partner, the 17-year-old girl Irene DeVere also from Elmira, NY.
It was Ruth’s ambition to purchase her own plane and travel the country as a barnstormer. Maybe she did; so far after 1920, she has disappeared from the public record .
“Irene DeVere” Lina Mae Freese
Lina Mae Freese was born in 1903 in Elmira, NY and raised by her grandmother; her mother had died when she was very young and her father was not around. The rugged and demanding life on a farm had established a strong will in Lina and a passion to seek adventure. Determined and unafraid, in the summer of 1921 at the age of 18, she signed on with pilot Leon ‘Windy’ Smith and made her first jump over Mansfield, PA.
She continued to work with Smith for the next five years. The petite, 92 pound daredevil acquired the skills of a parachutist, wing walker and pilot.
“Daring Dolly DeVere” performed at county fairs, local events, and demos from 1921 through 1924. She fearlessly flew, wing walked and parachuted as her troop traveled throughout northern Pennsylvania, New York’s Southern Tier, and the surrounding Finger Lakes Region. In July of 1921, she scribbled a simple, direct message on a postcard sent to relatives in Florida:
Dear Auntie & Uncle,
I am jumping from an aeroplane. I jumped 2,600 feet yesterday.
Lina Mae Robertson died at the age of 98. She and her husband Al rest in a rural cemetery in New Hope, New York
Florence Gunderson Klingensmith
Florence Gunderson Klingensmith
Florence Gunderson Klingensmith “Tree Tops” became a stunt parachutist at the age 23 to pay for flying lessons. She became the first licensed female pilot in North Dakota, competed against men and women in various races throughout the country and in 1929, joined ninety-eight other female pilots to form the Ninety-Nines, the pioneering organization of female pilots.
Florence Edith was born September 3, to Gustave and Florence (Parker) Gunderson on a small farm in Oakport Township, Minnesota and with her sister Myrtle and brothers George and Roy attended Oak Mound School. Her father “Gust” was the school janitor and bus driver. In 1918 her family moved to Moorhead, Minnesota, where the fourteen year old daredevil tomboy took up riding motorcycles. and terrorizing the neighbors.
Florence Gunderson married Charles Klingensmith on June 25, 1927. Just two months later, on August 26, she witnessed Charles Lindbergh touch down at the Hector Air Field in Fargo, ND. and decided at that moment to become a pilot herself. In early 1928, Florence started taking classes at an auto school in Fargo, worked as a mechanic’s apprentice at Hector Field and began taking flying lessons. Her instructor, Edwin Mead Canfield, asked her to be his stunt girl in area flying exhibitions; she agreed to take the job in exchange for more lessons. Her first skydive in June of 1928 was nearly her last; she lost consciousness but was determined to continue. Charles divorced her by late 1928.
She realized she needed her own plane if she wanted to make a living as a pilot. She recruited Fargo businessmen to buy her a plane in exchange for free advertising. In April 1929, she bought a Monocoupe she named “Miss Fargo” earning her the new nickname, “Tree Tops”
On April 19, 1930, she broke the women’s record(unofficial)for inside loops, at 143. On June 22, 1931, at Wold Chamberlain Field in Minneapolis, with 50,000 spectators and officials watching, “Tree Tops” flew for over four hours and completed 1,078 loops.
In 1932, she was the first winner of the Amelia Earhart Trophy.
On September 4, 1933, after completing her eighth lap at the Frank Phillips Trophy Race outside Chicago, her overpowered(650 Hp) BEE Gee Model Y Senior Sportster came apart due to stress. The plane nose-dived from an altitude of 350 feet, killing her on impact. A parachute was tangled in the fuselage indicated that she may have attempted to escape the airplane.
Florence Klingensmith was returned home to Minnesota for burial. Her funeral was attended by her fellow pilots; the Fargo businessmen who had financed her first plane served as her pallbearers. She was interred in the Gunderson family lot at Oak Mound Cemetery, a few miles from where she was born. In June 2015, a monument to was erected at her gravesite.
“Rusty” Faye Cox Rogers
(1907 – 2005)
(1907 – 2005)
Faye Cox Rogers, born in Red Cloud, Nebraska on May 25, worked keeping books and pumping gas in McCook, Neb. wishing she were somewhere else. In February 1930, her cousin, M.C. Cox had just lost his parachute jumper and needed a replacement. “Faye begged and pleaded,” said friend Jerry Bisgard. “She really wanted that job bad.” On Feb. 17, with less than an hour’s worth of training, Faye made her first parachute jump from an Alexander Eaglerock and was paid $100. “When she hit the ground, she was ready to go right back up,” said Jerry.
Always jumping with a bag of flour, tearing it open to let the flour trail behind her, she quickly became known as the “famous girl chute jumper.”
By the end of 1930, she was setting records for both endurance and altitude. In Denver, she won the “endurance record” for women, jumping four times in three hours and in Oklahoma City, she jumped 22 times in seven hours. She also held the world’s altitude record of 18,256 feet. Landing on rooftops, in the middle of the street—just about anywhere the sponsor wanted, she even made a perfect landing on top of a milk cow. In Cheyenne, she made a night jump, where her flares fell off and she landed, unseen, in a field. Search parties found her hitchhiking on the Torrington highway. She later was quoted, “I’m so tame now, even I sometimes wonder if I did all those things”. Rusty broke her right arm once, her right leg twice, and her right foot three times. “I can’t really explain why I kept on.” she said, “but when you’re young, you’re too proud to admit you’d much rather bake bread than jump out of a plane.”
During World War II, she held an airman’s certificate as a parachute rigger, technician and ground instructor, one of the first in the nation. She operated schools, training the much-needed riggers, jumping to show the students that she had confidence in her work, but secretly, she later said it was the only way she could jump for fun during the war.
In October 1948, she married Robert Rogers, who asked her to “settle down” and quit jumping. She agreed ending her 16-year career with a total of 530 jumps.Always loving adventure, when she no could longer could feel the vertical wind, she would feel the horizontal wind in her hair. “She loved cars,” said Bisgard, “especially Corvettes and Cadillacs.”
In 1967, Faye retired from the Colorado State Treasurer’s office as an accountant. Faye Lucille Cox Rogers was inducted into the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame in 1974.
In her early 90s she purchased a motor home and “would blow down the road at incredible speeds,” said her friend. “She’d just have the time of her life, but she didn’t like anyone to pass her.”
She passed away peacefully in her Aurora home at the age of 97
Fay Gillis Wells
(1908 – 2002)
(1908 – 2002)
On September 1929 Fay Gillis Wells Became the first woman pilot to bail out of an airplane to save her life; becoming the 2nd Female Caterpillar(Irene McFarland was the first woman in the club-1925). A founding member of the Ninety-Nines, a journalist who pioneered overseas radio broadcasting with her husband Linton Wells, Fay was a White House correspondent from 1963 to 1977. For many years she actively promoted world friendship through flying. Fay Gillis Wells received many awards in the fields of aviation and broadcasting. These included: 1972 Woman of the Year by OX5, 1984 Women’s Aerospace Achievement Award, 1998 Esther Van Wagoner Tufty Award, 2001 Katherine Wright Award for outstanding contributions to aviation, 2002 Amelia Earhart Pioneering Achievement Award, and the American Women in Radio and Television Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1995, Gene and Carolyn Shoemaker, named Asteroid 4820 in her honor.
Jessie Woods flew as a stunt pilot, scampered about on wings, parachuted and performed gymnastics on rope ladders. She was also a mechanic and helped her barnstormer husband create the Flying Aces, the longest-running of the air circuses; she flew with the Civil Air Patrol during WW II, became a commercial flight and ground instructor,
“I soloed an airplane. I learned how to wing-walk, parachute, do rope-ladder work. I learned how to grind valves. I finally figured out I was getting used. I learned to live without eating, sleep without a bed. I learned everything you saw wasn’t necessarily what it looked like.”
and, at age 81, rode the wing again.
Jessie Schulz was born on January 27, the daughter of William and Clara Miller Schulz, on the family farm near Seward, Kansas. Jessie was a music student at Washington State University, living for the summer with her family in Ulysses, Kansas, when on Aug. 28, 1928, she eloped to Wichita with James H. “Jimmie” Woods, a barnstormer who had come to town. The following year she and Jimmie would found the Flying Aces Air Circus, the longest running air circus in US history and Jessie would become a stunt pilot and wingwalker. She would dangle from a ladder mounted under the plane; she would parachute from the wings. After the Flying Aces folded in 1938 she became a pilot instructor. She and Jimmie would later train pilots for the military and during WWII Jessie would fly for the Civil Air Patrol. After Jimmie Woods, who became a legend himself because of the connection with the “Flying Aces” circus, died Feb. 6, 1958, Jessie continued flying all over her home country, gaining a commercial pilot’s license. She was employed by the State of Washington and in 1967, was named the state of Washington’s pilot of the year. In 1994 she was inducted into the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame. In 1985 she was elected to the OX5 Aviation Pioneers Hall of Fame; in 1991, she received the A.E. Aviation Award from the Zonta Club of St. Petersburg, Florida; in 1994, she was the only woman to be honoured as an Eagle at the Gathering of Eagles, Maxwell Air Force BaseJesse was a member of the Ninety-Nines, International Women Pilots and OX 5 Pioneers.
Jessie retired from flying in 1994 and died on March 17, at Great Bend, Kansas, at the age of 92. She was buried at Fairview Park Cemetery in St. John, Kansas.
“The Flying Flapper”
(1911 – 2010)
“The Flying Flapper”
(1911 – 2010)
Elinor Smith took to the air in 1916 at age 6 and at age 8, with blocks tied to the rudder pedals, took flying lessons from Clyde Pangborn, becoming the youngest woman to fly solo at the age of 15 and, at 16, the youngest licensed pilot in the world, man or woman. Elinor was the first woman to be pictured on a Wheaties box, the first female Executive Pilot (for Irvin(g) Air Chute Company), the first woman test pilot for both Fairchild and Bellanca and a record-setting speed, altitude and endurance flyer, often performing fund-raisers for the poor and needy during the Great Depression.
Born Elinor Regina Patricia Ward on August 17, in New York City, to Thomas and Agnes Ward, both famous Vaudevillians. Her comedian, singer and dancer father, who took the stage name Tom Smith, hated trains so, while on the road, hired pilots to take him from town to town. “My earliest memory was at dinner with Dad using a knife to show us how the controls of a plane worked.” In 1918, at the age of six, along with her brother Joe, she took her first plane ride in a Farman pusher from a potato field on Long Island. She immediately fell in love with flying, and took several rides that summer with Louis Gaubert. “I remember so vividly my first time aloft that I can still hear the wind swing in the wires as we glided down, by the time the pilot touched the wheels gently to earth, I knew my future in airplanes and flying was as inevitable as the freckles on my nose.”
Tom Smith bought an open-cockpit Waco 10 biplane and Elinor insisted on taking lessons. She first soloed when she was 15; at the age of 16, became the youngest person to earn a pilot’s license (signed by Orville Wright) from the Federation Aeronautique International, and the next year was taking passengers on short flights from Roosevelt Field over Long Island. Then, on Oct. 21, 1928 on a dare, the blue-eyed, 5-foot-3, curly blond, teenager flew her father’s Waco 10 under all four of New York City’s East River bridges; she is the only person to ever do so. She had to dodge several ships while newsreel crews were there to film her at each bridge (Curtiss Field regulars alerted the media). She had her license suspended for 15 days. but the stunt made the “Flying Flapper” a pioneering woman in aviation, along with Bobbi Trout, Katherine Stinson, Pancho Barnes , Fay Gillis Wells, Louise McPhetridge Thaden and Amelia Earhart.
On January 30, 1929, taking off from Mitchel Field, flying an open cockpit Bruner Winkle biplane, she set the women’s solo endurance record of 13 ½ hours, and three months later, she did it again with a 26 ½-hour flight. In June 1929 the Irving Parachute Company, hired her to tour the United States, piloting a Bellanca Pacemaker on a 6,000-mile tour and making 18-year-old Elinor Smith the first female Executive Pilot; during the air races in Cleveland, she was the jump pilot for the first seven-man parachute drop. Flying out of Metropolitan Airport in Los Angeles, she and Bobbi Trout set the first official women’s record for endurance with mid-air refueling. They were aloft 42½ hours in a 300-horsepower Sunbeam biplane. Smith did the flying and Trout handled the fueling. In March 1930 she attained the record altitude of 27,419 feet; her NBC broadcast interview after that flight won her a job covering the world of aviation, including live broadcasts from air shows and interviews with other prominent aviators. In 1930, she set the women’s altitude record of 27,419 feet and three months later 32,576 feet. The same year Elinor set a woman’s world speed record of 190.8 miles per hour in a Curtiss military aircraft. An October 1930 a poll of licensed pilots selected her as the “Best Woman Pilot in America”.
In 1933 Elinor Smith married New York State legislator and attorney Patrick H. Sullivan, and once she had her first child, she retired from flying and raiseda total of four children. Her husband died in 1956, and Elinor returned to aviation. Her membership in the Air Force Association allowed her to pilot Lockheed T-33 jet trainers and to take up C-119s for paratrooper maneuvers. In March 2000 at the Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, she became the oldest pilot to succeed in a simulated shuttle landing and in April 2001, at the age of 89, she flew an experimental C33 Raytheon AGATE, Beech Bonanza at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia.
On March 19, Elinor Smith Sullivan died at a nursing home in Palo Alto, CA, leaving a son, three daughters, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She was 98.
Katarina Matanović Kulenović
Born near Osijek, Croatian province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on March 18, Katarina Matanović Kulenović became the first female Croatian pilot and the first East European woman parachutist.
Katarina was born in the village Vuka near Osijek. Her father died when she was 16 years and with her sister Paula moved to Zagreb. She lived in Zagreb from 1918 and enrolled in the Aero-Club Pilot School, becoming a pilot in the Yugoslav Royal Air Force in 1936. In June 1938 in Belgrade, she parachuted into the air show in Zemun becoming the first woman parachutist in the eastern Europe.
From 1943 she served in World War II where she became a Lieutenant in the Croatian Air Force flying an Avia FL-3. In 1944, she lost her pilot husband Namik Kulenović who was shot down by the Allies. She was injured,losing a leg, in the bombing of Zagreb the same year.
After the war, she was persecuted by the Communist authorities, thrown out of the apartment and forbidden to fly.
In 1998, Katarina received the Order of Danica Hrvatska-the Order of Croatia with the image of Franjo Bucar, for the contribution to sports from Croatian president Franjo Tuđman and in November 2001 she was re-admitted to Aeroclub of Zagreb and after 56 years, symbolically returning to aviation.
Katarina died on April 2, 2003 at the age of 80.
Helen Naomi Heron-Maxwell
Naomi or “Maxie” as her fellow ATA aviators liked to call her, logged 104 parachute jumps during the early 1930’s while with Sir Alan John Cobham’s “Cobham’s Flying Circus” giving thousands of people their first experience of flying with her dare-devil aerial performances. Naomi worked very hard to establish parachuting as a sport with her jumping and her demonstrations but also with her detailed lectures ‘Learning to Leap : First Adventures of a Parachutist’. Naomi was famous for parachuting but her great love was Soaring (gliders/sailplanes). She was the first British woman to earn the Silver C (FAI Glider Badge); translating Wolf Hirth’s book, ‘The Art of Soaring’ into english as an exchange for her lessons and soaring time at the Hornberg in the Central Black Forest.
After the outbreak of WWII World War II, she flew more than fifty different airplanes for the British Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) including Spitfires, Mustangs, B-25s and Mosquitoes, achieving the rank of First Officer and 4+ qualifications to fly heavy twins.
Born on June 25, 1913, the daughter of Sir Ivor Walter Heron Heron-Maxwell and Norah Henrietta Parker of Springkell, U.K.
Naomi married Francis Cecil Harold Allen on March 2,1938, and on New Years Eve 1957 she married Howard Dale Thomas. Nicholas John Thomas was born on July 10,1958.
Naomi’s son had very little clue that his mother was anything more than a mom until she passed in 1983 and found her diaries.
“Queen of Daredevils”
“Queen of Daredevils”
Birdie Draper was a famous parachutist and death defying performer, making her first jump on June 6, 1937
Birdie Viola was born in 1916 to Sophie Draper in Hennepin, Minnesota just outside of Minneapolis.
At age 20, Birdie began training as a parachutist with Stub Chrissinger at Hincks Flying Service.
After her training, Birdie joined a stunt group called the Thrill Day Performers. She became known as the “Queen of Daredevils” performing at thrill shows and fairs throughout the country. After joining the “Death Fighters,” Birdie expanded her act to include automobile stunts. One particular stunt involved an 18 inch brick wall, an old car, 16 sticks of dynamite, and Birdie at the wheel.
During the 1940s Birdie traded in her stunt career for a position at Ryan Aeronautical Company in San Diego as a licensed parachute rigger. She also became part of the newly organized parachute troop of the Women’s Ambulance and Transport Corps of California (WATCC). Draper married George Griffin, and retired from Ryan Aeronautical Company in 1945.
She died November 1, 2005.
Adeline Gray was born to Martin and Pauline Gray, German/Russian immigrants. Adeline began jumping at age of 19 and worked for Pioneer Parachute Co. of Manchester, Connecticut as a parachute rigger. She and had completed 32 jumps and was the only licensed female parachute jumper in Connecticut, when on June 6, 1942, she volunteered for the first descent with a nylon canopy, over Brainard Field, Hartford, Conn.“Back home in Oxford, I used to take an umbrella and jump off the hayloft holding it over my head like a parachute. But I ruined many umbrellas.” – Adeline Gray-
Jean Ethel Burns
Jean Burns was born in the Melbourne suburb of East Brunswick to Robert Burns, a merchant seaman who married Jean’s mother in Cardiff, Wales during WWI. Moving to Australia in 1919, she attended MacRobertson Girls’ High School, Albert Park, South Melbourne. Jean was the first Australian woman to parachute from an airplane over Australian soil. In early 1937 Jean obtained her pilots licence and became Australia’s youngest female pilot; she held the record for 15 years, until 17-year-old Brigid Holmes. Miss Jean Burns on November 21, 1937 achieved the distinction Australia’s first woman parachutist by jumping from 3,200ft from the Airco DH4 Spirit of Melbourne, piloted by Mr. Howard Morris; more than 2,000 people witnessed the jump. Saying of the jump: “One day at Essendon we were watching a parachute descent and one of the club pilots said he would not leave a plane even if it were on fire. I said that I would: nothing to it, just hop out, pull the ripcord and float down. He bet me a couple of hours on his account that I would not be game if he could arrange it. Arrange it he did with Felix Mueller, and I got my hours.” Jean made about a dozen jumps, over a period of little over a year.
In July 2006, Jean got to meet Howard Morris whose father was the pilot of the DH4 which Jean had jumped.