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WING TALK
EDITED BY FREDERICK B. NEELY
LADY BIRD
DELL AIRCRAFT CORPORATION
Once known as the world's most famous aviatrix, Blanche Stuart (Betty) Scott soloed nearly 37 years ago. She is shown in a Bell helicopter.

THE public mind has been conditioned for hundreds of years to think of women as the weaker sex as well as the dumber and, dammit, more women preach this than men.  Since the beginning of automobiles there has been no professional place for women as designers, mechanics, engineers, salesmen and drivers.  Aviation is following right along with that attitude, now that the war is won and the wonderful help given by women pilots, mechanics and aircraft builders is forgotten.  Until this weak-and-dumb theory is broken down, I can see no future for women in aviation, except as an avocation."

This is Blanche Stuart (Betty) Scott speaking in May, 1947.  She said substantially the same thing in 1916; put away her helmet, goggles, flying pants and puttees and entered upon a successful writing and producing career in motion pictures and radio.

Betty Scott soloed on September 6, 1910, after alternately shocking and thrilling the public by being the first woman to drive an automobile across the continent.  She was a beautiful girl, the outdoor type, and she would not be cloistered after the fashion of the day.  Born in Rochester, New York, she was educated at the Misses Nichols School for Girls in her native city, at Howard Seminary, West Bridgewater, Massachusetts. and Fort Edward College, New York.

"I was a screwball then and I still am – all my friends are screwballs,"proudly declares Betty as she recalls she drove every inch of the way from New York to San Francisco when there were but a few hundred miles of paved roads beyond city limits.  "I was a cocky kid of eighteen and the whole thing was just a lark."

On the way West she passed through Dayton, Ohio, where the Wright Brothers were teaching flying and subconsciously she was bitten by the bug. The infection spread slowly but when she returned East it suddenly engulfed her. On that September morn in 1910 she found herself sitting in a Curtiss pusher at Hammondsport, New York, receiving verbal instructions from Glenn H. Curtiss on high-speed taxiing.

The throttle had been blocked to prevent increased power being applied but something happened to it after the first run and Betty Scott was in the air – flying. The fundamentals of how to land a plane had been hastily sketched to her by Glenn Curtiss and these plus a natural but until then unknown aptitude for flying enabled her to land safely. Soon she was again scandalizing her family and friends and astounding the public by joining the newly formed Curtiss Exhibition Team and putting on the first public exhibition flight by a woman in America – at Fort Wayne, Indiana, in October of that year.

She loved to fly and hoped her repeated "exhibitions," the most thrilling of which were the 3,000-foot "death dives," would provide opportunities for women in aviation on an equality basis.

"In 1911, I took off from Mineola, Long Island, madder than a wet hen over something I don't remember now," she recalls. "Anyway, I had been told I must never fly beyond the field, so I started to get away from it as fast as I could. I kept on flying east without paying much attention to the course and I finally wound up over Riverhead, Long Island.  Having cooled off by that time I flew back to Mineola and I was very surprised to read in the papers the next day that I had made the women's first long-distance cross-country flight – sixty miles!"

Since crack-ups were inevitable in those days, Betty had her share but they were few compared with her exposure to accidents due to the nature of her flying. Her first was in 1912 in Sacramento, California, where she was with the Great Western Aerial Circus featuring the late and immortal Lincoln Beachey and "Miss Blanche Scott, The Tomboy of the Air–The Most Famous Aviatrix in the world."  For her "daredevil stunts" she received $5,000 a week.  One of her colleagues out on the West Coast at that time was Glen L. Martin, now the dean of American aircraft manufacturers. She was flying a Martin pusher and she broke it into a thousand pieces when she carelessly landed it on its tail. "It was my fault," she explained.  "I was in love."

On May 31, 1913, at Madison, Wisconsin, Betty nearly achieved the predicted reward for her continued defiance of fate. At about 200 feet she shoved forward on the throttle for more power and the wire snapped – it had been previously cut almost in two, subsequent investigation revealed, by someone still unknown to her.  With no engine control and badly in need of power, she had to get down immediately and she plumped into a swamp.  She was hauled out with a wide variety of broken bones and a cut throat from a rigging wire.

Recovered from this crash early in 1914, she flew occasionally until 1916 when she concluded there was no opportunity for a professional piloting career for women, and there was insufficient public interest for her to make a fight for it. But she never turned her back on flying. A short time ago she had her first ride in a helicopter with Bell Aircraft's chief helicopter test pilot, Floyd W. Carlson.

It's just a coincidence that Betty Scott hails from the same place as Susan B. Anthony, that vigorous champion for equal rights, but if the airwomen of the nation ever intend to launch a long-term campaign – that's what it's got to be – for equal rights in aviation for women, they'll need a Susan B. Anthony of the Air and in Blanche Stuart Scott they'll have no shy, clinging vine....
ERNEST JONES


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Collier's for May 10, 1947

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