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[[Image of woman in cockpit, smiling]]
CLIPPED WINGS
Sandy Gandy
With others like her, ex-schoolteacher Marge Hurlburt, who holds the women's speed record, is fighting for feminine recognition in aviation

Thirty-one years ago, Blanch Stuart (Betty) Scott hung up her helmet and goggles for good and declared there was no future for women in flying except as an avocation. She made this decision (as reported here last week) after surviving six years of daring exhibition flying. Her conclusions still appear to be sound and applicable to today's 5,000 women pilots who are competing against 335,000 male airmen for equal status in flying.

Other women took up where Betty Scott left off, in the belief that the public could be made to accept them as safe and reliable pilots--not exhibition freaks--and the aviation industry would grant them equal opportunities with men in important flying positions. They worked hard at it.

In addition to gambling their lives, they gladly accepted the rugged life that went with operating aircraft. Barked knuckles, skinned shins, torn fingernails, sun and wind burn producing leatherlike complexions and rat's-nest hair-dos never stopped able airwomen like Jacqueline Cochran, Arlene Davis, Helen Richey, Amelia Earhart, Viola Gentry, Nancy Harkness Love, Ruth Nichols, Blanche Noyes, Phoebe Omlie, Louise Thaden, to name but a few who will always be credited with proving they could fly any type aircraft as skillfully as men.

All this hard work succeeded only in bringing applause and fame for themselves, individually. But with the formation of the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (Wasps) in 1942, women pilots as a group got their first break. They fulfilled a critical need for home-front military flying. They ferried primary trainers, four-engined bombers and red-hot fighters from factories to Army air bases and thereby released combat pilots for the global battlefront.

The cause of equality in the air might have achieved its goal had the Wasps been allowed to finish out the war, but Congress discontinued their services a few months before V-E Day and broke hundreds of brave and courageous feminine hearts.

Since the war, the opportunities for women in professional flying have been extremely dark, what with aircraft production cutbacks and returned servicemen taking up their old civilian flying jobs. Neither the air lines nor the aircraft manufacturers have given much thought to the present or future place of women in the actual flying branches, and these trouble-weary companies did not welcome enthusiastically a recent poll on the subject by this department.

Generally they wanted to shy away from what they called "a delicate matter" without quotation or identification, but nearly all felt that most women didn't want or couldn't be counted upon to maintain permanent flying careers and that the number that did was so small as to warrant attention only as standout exceptions.

However, a few grand airwomen still carry the banner for equality by flying much and talking little. Blanche Noyes of the Civil Aeronautics Administration is one. She pilots a government plane continuously throughout the nation, exhorting communities to provide air marking and showing them how to install this vital, lifesaving aid to air navigation. She's a superb airwoman and is neither dumb nor weak. (Betty Scott said in last week's Wing Talk that it was the encouragement given by women themselves to the age-old belief that they are both the weaker and dumber sex that has prevented them from progressing in aviation on an equal basis with men.)

Without rancor, Blanche Noyes declares she has had to work three times as hard to hold her flying jobs since 1929. "Making a place in aviation is up to the individual woman," she counsels. "There is no question about its being tough. Then there are still too many publicity seekers, which means the serious ones have got to work even harder to show they are sincere."

Another great woman pilot, Phoebe Omlie, actively engaged in flying for more than two decades, declares, "If we could get a Susan B. Anthony for aviation, and the women would back her up, then that would be it. But we've got to remember how long it took her, and she paid a terrific price. Do we have anyone willing to pay as much for helping women get to an equal status with men in aviation? I don't know of anyone."

Dark as the future seems to be for equality for women, the idea of attaining that goal is not yet dead. The 99s, a pioneer organization of women pilots formed 17 years ago, through its Florida Chapter, numbering 65 pilot members, staged what they proudly hailed as the First All-Woman Air Show in the World at Tampa's Peter O. Knight Airport on March 16th.

It was managed entirely by the Florida Chapter under the direction of Mrs. Gladys Pennington of Miami, a racing pilot and publisher of the biweekly Southeastern Airport News for personal flying. No men were permitted to enter the contests and races; not even allowed on the field. This was a show aimed at attracting more women into active flying and incidentally to refresh the recollections of the male audience that women could still fly, and well, too. It is to be an annual event.

Women pilots from all over flew down to Tampa and raced in planes of 65 to 400 horsepower. They performed acrobatics, parachute jumps, sailplane flying, comedy flying acts and climaxed what veteran women pilots proclaimed was the safest and best-organized air show ever held, with an assault on the world's maximum speed record for women, established in 1937 by Jackie Cochran at 292 miles an hour.

Miss Marge Hurlburt, of Painesville, Ohio, a Wasp of 20 months' service and with five years' flying experience, flashed across the international three-kilometer speed course four times for an average of 337 miles an hour and a new world's record. She flew a war-surplus Vought Corsair fighter of 2,000 horsepower, a plane once described in this department by a Marine Corps officer as being so terrific in its performance that it "could kill a man quick who didn't know how to handle it."

Miss Hurlburt, readily admitting thirty-two, had had but 8 1/2 hours flying time in the Corsair, four hours of which was on the flight down to Tampa, before shooting for the record. At the Cleveland Air Races last year (she had never seen an air race) she won the Halle Trophy Race for Women in a 650-horsepower North American advanced trainer at 200 mph. She's now building a racing plane for the 1947 National Air Races.

For speed performance over long distances, though, Miss Cochran still is top pilot. She averaged 420 miles an hour in the Bendix Trophy race from Van Nuys, California, to Cleveland last year, covering the distance in 4 hours and 52 minutes. Flying a P-51 Mustang fighter, she finished 10 minutes behind the winner, Paul Mantz, veteran Hollywood airman, whose P-51 clicked off 435 miles an hour for the distance.

The End

Collier's for May 17,1947
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