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How Women Have Changed the Face of Aviation

Women have had to fight for their place in society since the beginning of time.…
History of Women

The Interesting History of Women in Aviation

Many people who haven’t explored or dived deep into the world of aviation are often…

Most Influential Women in the Aviation and Aerospace

Gone are those days when women were confined to the home and kitchen. The times…
Female Aviators

Legendary Female Aviators That the World Is In Awe Of

Aviation can be an exciting and dangerous realm to explore. There have been many incredible…
Nicole Malachowski

Major Nicole Malachowski and Major Samantha Weeks

As a member of the Thunderbirds, she flew F-16 Fighting Falcon and spend over 200…
Woman Astronaut

Hanna Reitsch, The First Woman Astronaut and Test Pilot, Part Two

Hanna Reitsch, Nazi Germany’s celebrated woman test pilot who had flown the VI rocket bomb…

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How Women Have Changed the Face of Aviation

Women have had to fight for their place in society since the beginning of time. In many industries, they are still fighting for equality. One

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How Women Have Changed the Face of Aviation


Women have had to fight for their place in society since the beginning of time. In many industries, they are still fighting for equality.

One industry in particular where women had to break through barriers is aviation. For years, aviation was a male-dominated field. But slowly and surely, women have been making their mark and proving that they are just as capable as their male counterparts.

Since the early days of aviation, women have been making their mark on the industry. Women have been breaking barriers and setting records from the Wright sisters to Amelia Earhart to Sally Ride.


Women in the Military

Since the beginning of time, women have had to fight for their place in society. They’ve been told they’re not strong enough, smart enough, or capable enough to do certain things – including serving in the military.

But women have always proven those doubters wrong; today, they make up a significant part of the aviation community. According to a recent study by the Department of Defense, women make up nearly 15% of all active-duty military personnel.

And while they’re still not allowed to serve in combat positions in most military branches, they are making great strides in breaking down those barriers.

Women have served in the military since World War I, when they were first recruited as nurses and support staff. However, it wasn’t until the end of World War II that women started to be welcomed in the aviation industry.

The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program was established in 1943, and over 1,000 women served as pilots during WWII. After the war ended, however, the WASP program was disbanded, and women were again relegated to support roles.

It wasn’t until 1976 that women were allowed to fly military aircraft again, and it wasn’t until 2013 that the Pentagon lifted its ban on women serving in combat positions.

Women in Commercial Aviation

The percentage of female pilots has nearly doubled since 2010.

This significantly increased from when women were not even allowed to fly airplanes. It was in 1973 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that airlines could not discriminate against hiring female pilots.

Since then, women have been breaking barriers in the aviation industry and proving they are just as capable as their male counterparts. Today, many successful female pilots are flying for major airlines worldwide.

Commercial Aviation

The Future of Women in Aviation

There is no doubt that women have changed the face of aviation. They have broken through the glass ceiling and are flying high in the skies. But what does the future hold for women in aviation?

There are currently more women pilots than ever before, and this trend is set to continue. However, we cannot rest on our laurels. There is s long way to go before gender equality is reached in aviation.

We are starting to see benefits from the numerous programmes that are being undertaken to encourage more women to pursue careers in this field. These initiatives are essential, but we also need to change the culture within aviation if we want to see more women succeed.

The future of women in aviation is bright. We have come so far, and there is no turning back.

The Interesting History of Women in Aviation

History of Women

Many people who haven’t explored or dived deep into the world of aviation are often in awe when they learn about the profound role women have played in the history of aviation.

They have inspired many young girls and shown by example to boldly follow their dreams and not conform to rigid gender roles.  If you want to learn more about the history of women in aviation, read on:

Women Have Been Interested in Aviation Since 1908

There is something liberating and joyful about the idea of soaring high in the skies and defying all.  Back in the early 1900s, women had to go through a great deal of hardship and scrutiny in order to fly in the skies.  They would generally be restricted to general aviation and be given jobs of secondary importance.

Many women in the aviation world look up to Harriet Quimby who was the first woman to receive a pilot’s license.  She was a prolific writer who felt the desire to fly high in the skies and write about her flight experiences.  The magazine company she worked for was willing to pay for her flight lessons, and she soon found herself in the aircraft, flying across the English Channel.

Women Had an Immense Role to Play in World War 2

World War 2 was a time of great conflict and grief.  Many men lost their lives, and the country experienced great economic loss.  In order to meet the need of the hour, many bold women rose to the occasion and received training to fly military planes.  An elite group was formed, which was named the ‘Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs).  Unfortunately, the contribution of the WASPs was neglected and overlooked through the years.

However, it did mark the entry of women into the aviation world.  They started receiving many serious job roles.  They became more involved in the process of aircraft production and testing.  Many women also became flight instructors and flight controllers.

Women Made Many Incredible World Records

Women showed tremendous talent and skill in the flight.  They created and broke many unbelievable world records.  Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly all by herself across the United States, while Geraldine Mock was the first woman to fly around the world.  Bessie Coleman was the first African American and Native American pilot.  She was extremely popular and was envied by others for her mind-blowing flying abilities.

Amelia Earhart

Aviation in the Modern Day

Many things have changed over the years, and the world has realized that women have plenty to contribute to the aviation industry.  At present, many women get to experience the joy of flying on military and commercial flights.  The gender bias in the aviation industry has died down considerably, and women.

Most Influential Women in the Aviation and Aerospace


Gone are those days when women were confined to the home and kitchen. The times have changed drastically, and women are making a global mark in every possible sector. One such field is aviation in the aerospace arena, which was previously a male-dominated field. Over the years, many women have made their firsts’ in this sector. As a result, women have become an integral part of the aerospace and aviation industries, from engineers and astronauts to pilots. If you wish to know about the top women who have paved their way into the aviation and aerospace arena, read ahead to find out!

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart

Amelia is one of the top names that pop up when speaking about women in aviation. In addition, Amelia was the only person to fly a solo trip across the Pacific Ocean. These two achievements boosted her aviation career.

Despite her drastic fame in the aviation field, she was famous for her disappearance in 1937, when she attempted to circumnavigate the globe with her navigator Fred Noonan. Finally, her dream was finally fulfilled by Geraldine Jerrie Mock, the first female pilot to fly around the world.

Phoebe Omlie

After graduating, Phoebe quickly joined the drama field and worked as a secretary. However, over time she grew bored with her career choice and convinced the airport manager to take her on a plane. This sparked her aviation journey. She bought her own plane and started with flight wing stunts by walking on the wings, performing parachute jumps, and so on. Her popularity grew, and she was also asked to perform stunts in the movie The Perils of Pauline. In 1927, after being approached by CAA, she became the first woman to be an aircraft mechanic and a female transport pilot. She also flew across the Rocky Mountains in a light aircraft.

Harriet Quimby

Harriet was the first woman to receive her pilot license in 1911. In 1912, she flew across the English Channel. Unfortunately, since the Titanic ship sank two days earlier to her achievement, her accomplishment was overshadowed in the news. Hence she remained bleak to the popularity she well deserved. She had a gruesome end in 1912 when the aircraft she was in unexpectedly pitched forward, throwing her and her passenger from the plane. Even today, the reason for the flight’s failure still remains a mystery.

Elsie MacGill

In 1929, Elsie was the first woman to earn a degree in aeronautical engineering. She was also the first woman in Canada to achieve an Electrical engineering degree. Her passion for repairing things and checking for damages earned her a popular name in the aerospace field. Although she didn’t fly, she accompanied pilots on test flights and also design them.

Legendary Female Aviators That the World Is In Awe Of

Female Aviators

Aviation can be an exciting and dangerous realm to explore. There have been many incredible women that have left a strong mark in the history of aviation. They managed to challenge and break gender stereotypes with grace and put the world in sheer awe of what they were capable of. This article will list some legendary female aviators that dared to follow their hearts and soar high:

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart is still an inspiration to many young girls around the world for her courage and tenacity. She was born in Kansas and took up the exciting challenge of flying across the Atlantic Ocean all by herself in the plane.

Amelia Earhart

Unfortunately, she met a tragic end on her last flight from Miami. She wanted to transform her dream of flying her plane around the world into a reality. However, her radio lost contact, and she was not found.

Baroness Raymonde de Laroche

This fierce woman from Paris left a strong mark on aviation history. She was the first woman in the world to get a license to fly. She was also a talented actress. All aviation enthusiasts know about the spectacular risks she took in her life.

She suffered many car and aircraft crashes in her life, but they never broke her spirit. She passed away on 18th July 1919 when she was testing an experimental aircraft with another pilot.

Jacqueline Cochran

Jacqueline Cochran has an interesting origin story. She was born as Bessie Lee Pittman. She was a simple Florida girl who got orphaned early in her childhood and received no education. At the young age of 22, she completely fell in love with aviation and went on to break many altitudes and distance records.

She is fondly remembered for her habit of doing makeup in the cockpit. She served as the director of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots and received the Distinguished Service Medal as well.

Emily Howell Werner

Emily Howell Warner grew up in Denver. She felt the desire to fly a plane when she boarded a flight and went inside the cockpit for the first time in her life. She was in awe of all the strange controls and wanted to try them.

She is well known as the first woman to captain and fly a commercial passenger flight. She is also popular for being a commander of the first ever commercial crew made up entirely of women.

Emily Howell Werner

Peggy Whitson

Peggy Whitson is a famous name in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). She was a simple girl in Iowa who wanted to learn how to fly so badly that she sold her chickens to pay for the lessons.

She is recognized as the oldest woman to have gone into space. She was in so love with space that she broke the record for the longest spacewalking time. In her lifetime, she went into space at least eight times.

Major Nicole Malachowski and Major Samantha Weeks

Nicole Malachowski

As a member of the Thunderbirds, she flew F-16 Fighting Falcon and spend over 200 days on the road. Major Nicole Malachowski performed with the Thunderbird team at the Chicago Air and Water Show in August 2007. Her last performance with the Thunderbird team was in November 2007.

A graduate of the Air Force Academy, she has been an Air Force officer for 11 years, a fighter pilot in the F-15E for 8 years, and a pilot with the Thunderbirds for 18 months. She’s married to an F-15E WSO, Her call sign is “FiFi”.

Maj. Nicole Malachowski entered the Air Force in 1996 upon graduation from the U.S. Air Force Academy. She served as an F-15E Instructor Pilot and Flight Commander with the 494th Fighter Squadron in Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. She has logged over than 1,300 hours as an Air Force pilot, with more than 1,000 hours in the F-15E. Other aircraft she has flown are: T-37, T-38, AT-38, F-15E, F-16C/D.

Major Nicole Malachowski provided air support over Kosovo in 1998 during the Bosnian/Serb conflict and on Election Day in Iraq. Major Malachowski served four months in Operation Iraqi Freedom – F-15 Strike Eagle fighter. She is a native of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Major Samantha Weeks
A second female pilot joined the Thunderbird team in June 2007. Major Samantha Weeks flies #6 – opposing solo pilot. Major Weeks is a 1997 graduate of the Air Force Academy. She served with the 12th Fighter Squadron as a flight commander and instructor pilot, flying the F-15C/D “Eagle.” She has flown missions for the 94th Fighter Squadron over Iraq. She flies the F-16 “Fighting Falcon with the Thunderbirds. She’s from Rome, New York and married to an USAF major, Curtis Weeks.

The President of the Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots, Patricia Noyes Prentiss, visited Chicago to watch Nicole and Samantha fly in the Chicago Air and Water Show. Ms. Prentiss and Editor-in-Chief of the 99 News magazine, Bobbi Roe, interviewed the Thunderbird pilots at their staging airport before the air show. Both Thunderbird female pilots are members of the prestigious international association of women pilots with over 5,000 members worldwide.

Hanna Reitsch, The First Woman Astronaut and Test Pilot, Part Two

Woman Astronaut

Hanna Reitsch, Nazi Germany’s celebrated woman test pilot who had flown the VI rocket bomb in sub orbital flight in the early 1940’s — 20 years before the first American spaceman — was actually history’s first astronaut.
Hanna started with gliders. Her passion for the air soon overtook her interest in medicine, and she left medical school to become a full-time glider pilot (Germany had been forbidden to build “war planes” after WWI, which meant that most of the planes constructed in Germany were built without engines). She went on to become an instructor in gliding at the Horngerb in Swabia and also worked as a stunt pilot in films, but she really distinguished herself in competition.

She soon became Nazi Germany’s ideal woman, young and vivacious, daring and highly publicized by the Nazi propaganda machine.
If she hadn’t been on the losing side and if she had been later willing to admit the horrors of the Nazi regime, Hanna Reitsch would be honoured in history books as the greatest woman pilot.

At a time when women were expected to stay in the kitchen, she was one of the world’s top glider pilots. She held 40 world aviation records, was the first to cross the Alps in a glider, first to fly a helicopter and first to fly a jet plane. She was the first woman awarded the iron Cross and was the world’s first woman test pilot.

History records she flew into a burning Berlin at night in the last days of the war and landed a small plane safely on a street full of firing Russian tanks. A direct hit on her plane mangled the foot of the pilot, Ritter von Greim, who had been summoned by Adolf Hitler.

Hanna stayed three days in the Hitler underground bunker then flew the last plane out of Berlin before it fell to the Russians. Her eye-witness account of the last days of Hitler are an important part of history and her flights in the V-1 rocket are a first chapter in space travel.

In 1953 Hanna won the bronze medal in the International Gliding Championships in Madrid, Spain. In 1957 she set two women’s altitude records for gliders. She also continued to work as a research pilot. In 1959, she traveled to India, where she became friends with Indira Ghandi and Prime Minister Nehru, whom she took on a glider flight over New Delhi. In 1962, she founded the National School of Gliding in Ghana, where she stayed until 1966. Always drawn to people in power, she was friend with Ghana’s president, Kwame Nkrumah and flew for him until he was deposed in 1966. She reported these experiences in a 1968 book, Ich Flog fur Kwame Nkrumah.

She was accepted as a member of the American Test Pilots’ Association and was received by President John Kennedy in the White House in 1961. A photo shows her standing near Kennedy, not wearing her self-designed uniform but a dress and carrying a woman’s handbag. She spent her last years quietly. The darling of Nazi Germany was a post-war outcast. Germans who adored her later shunned her. Hanna Reitsch died by a heart attack at 67while was in bed at Frankfurt, Germany one year after setting a new women’s distance record in a glider. She never married, saying her man died in the war.

The Amazing Aviatrix Elinor Smith

Amazing Aviatrix

Mr. and Mrs. Tom Smith could not have guessed in a million years that the baby girl born to them on August 17, 1911 would become the ambitious and record-breaking girl-pilot she turned out to be. Their freckled-faced daughter Elinor fell madly in love with airplanes when she took her first ride at the age of six.elsmith3.gif

Mr. and Mrs. Tom Smith could not have guessed in a million years that the baby girl born to them on August 17, 1911 would become the ambitious and record-breaking girl-pilot she turned out to be. Their freckled-faced daughter Elinor fell madly in love with airplanes when she took her first ride at the age of six.It was a glorious afternoon in 1918, shortly after W.W. I., when she and her brother Joe took a plane ride in a potato patch near Hicksville, Long Island. The peculiar looking airplane was from France, a Farman Pusher, made of canvas, wood and varnish. There they were, two little towhead kids strapped together in the cockpit, utterly enchanted as breathtaking scenes scrolled beneath the wings.

One ride led to another. Not surprisingly, the Smith children were Monsieur Gaubert’s best customers that unforgettable summer. During one of these high-flying adventures, he placed Elinor’s small hands on the controls. Because of her natural touch, he predicted she would fly with the great ones some day.

Elinor Smith does everything with a flourish. She soloed at 15; three months later she set an altitude record of 11,889 feet in a Waco 9. In September 1927, at the age of 16, she became the youngest licensed pilot on record. Another significant distinction came her way in her 16th year when Orville Wright finalized her Federation Aeronautic Internationale license.In 1928 Elinor broke into the headlines in a spectacular way by flying under New York’s four East River bridges. This unrivaled incident came about as a dare, but she prepared for it as though it were going to be an Olympic event. After studying the weather, the tides, and even the construction of the bridges, she scheduled this daring exhibition for mid-October.

One bright and clear Sunday, Elinor awakened to near-perfect conditions, with little or no wind. Consequently, early in the morning, she and her friends pushed the Waco 9 elsmith1.gifout of the hangar. She hopped in the cockpit and did a final run-up of the OX5 engine. Just then, someone jumped up on the wing-step and gently shook her shoulder. Startled, she looked up into the handsome face of the world’s Number One hero, Charles Lindbergh. He grinned as he said, “Good luck, kid, keep your nose down in the turns.” This message was so heartening that she and the Waco soared aloft like a couple of dry leaves in a high wind.It was a risky venture, but Elinor made history that day. Her career took off from there, and her celebrity preceded her from then on.

Other records that Elinor set were a solo endurance record at 13-1/2 hours in an open cockpit Bruner-Winkle bi-plane, executed in zero degree weather, January 1929; in April 1929 she re-set the same record at 26-1/2 hours in a Bellanca CH monoplane. When she landed the big six-passenger Bellanca at Curtiss Field, the press corps was stunned, for here she was at age 17 flying a craft heavier in horsepower and weight than had ever been flown by a female. That feat certainly hit the headlines and drew a crowd.In May 1929, she set a woman’s world speed record of 190.8 mph in a Curtiss military aircraft. In June 1929, the Irving Chute Co., hired Elinor to fly a Bellanca Pacemaker on a 6,000-mile tour of the United States. At the Cleveland air races, she unveiled the first mass parachute drop (seven men) done up to that time. Thus, Elinor became the first female Executive Pilot. She was 18 years old at the time.

In 1929 she partnered the first women’s refueling record of 42-1/2 hours with Bobbi Trout as her co-pilot. Because of Elinor’s extensive experience in aerobatics, she was chosen to do the more difficult and intricate contact flying, with Bobbi Trout handling the fueling hoses. In March 1930, she set a world’s altitude record of 27,419 feet, breaking the existing record by almost a mile. In May 1930 at the age of 18, she became the youngest pilot, male or female, ever granted a Transport License by the U.S. Department of Commerce.Of all the awards conferred on Elinor, her most prized one came in October 1930 when her peers, the licensed pilots across the country, selected her as “Best Woman Pilot in America,” with Jimmy Doolittle selected as “Best Male Pilot in America.”

In March 1931 she re-set the Womens’ Altitude Record at 32,576 feet at Roosevelt Field, but due to a barograph failure she was unable to claim a world’s record. However, it justified the claim of G.M. Bellanca, the airplane’s designer, that his was the only six- passenger aircraft to reach anything approaching an over-the-weather altitude.

By now, Elinor had reached her goal to be recognized by Lady Mary Heath and Amelia Earhart. Reminiscing today about those with whom she worked and played, she laughingly says, “But now I’m the last leaf on the tree.” In 1931, a wealthy sponsor purchased a Lockheed Vega for Elinor to use on a non-stop flight to Rome. Unfortunately, due to the depression, this flight had to be cancelled. But her career stayed in high gear as she stunted for the movies, air shows, and fund-raisers for the homeless and needy as the depression deepened. In the midst of her budding aviation career, she met Patrick Sullivan, noted New York state legislator and attorney. He eventually won Elinor’s heart; they married in 1933. She then settled down to the job of being a suburban housewife and raising their four children.

Following her husband’s death in 1956, she re-entered aviation by the way of the military, through membership in the Air Force Association. This gave her the opportunity to fly the T-33 Jet Trainer, as well as the C-119s on military paratroop maneuvers. Fast-forward to March of 2000, when Elinor was invited to fly NASA’s Challenger vertical motion simulator at the Ames Research Center, Moffet Field, California. She was awarded a certificate that states: “This certifies that Elinor Smith successfully landed the Space Shuttle by Simulation in the Vertical Motion Simulator, the world’s largest Motion Simulator.” Elinor is the oldest pilot to achieve this honor. Her response: “It’s a spectacular ride. Everything about it is thrilling, but perhaps the most gratifying is that the entire support crew was made up of females. My instructor, the operator and the assistant were all women.”

At the age of 90, challenges and opportunities are still offered to Elinor. In April 2001 she was invited to fly an experimental aircraft, the C33 Raytheon AGATE, Beech Bonanza from NASA’s base at Langley AFB, Virginia, thus coming full circle in a career and life in aviation, which started in a Hicksville, Long Island potato field, went on to simulated space travel, then culminated in the most sophisticated general aviation aircraft developed to date. Elinor now lives in Santa Cruz, California, where she stays busy as a speaker and consultant to local and national museums. Her book, Aviatrix, (Harcourt Brace) was published in 1981. In the preface, she wrote: ”I had been brought up to think that anyone could do anything he or she put his or her mind to, so I was shocked to learn that the world had stereotypes it didn’t want tampered with. In an age when girls were supposed to be seen and not heard, look beautiful, and occasionally faint, I didn’t seem to fit in anywhere.”

But now the airlines and the military are finally letting down the bars to admit qualified young women, so this is a good time to recall the difficulties most women fliers encountered during our early struggles for recognition and employment.”

Why did we persist in a business that offered so few financial rewards and took lives at such a cruel rate? It’s a question that had as many answers as there were pilots. In my case it was the daily challenge and the sheer beauty of flight that drew me back again and again. It was such a wonderful age to fly through. I was privileged to know all of those gallant pilots, both men and women, and gifted designers. Their efforts should never be forgotten nor their triumphs overlooked. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to have participated and played a small part in it. “To most people, the sky is the limit; to Elinor the sky is home.”

Aviation Pioneer Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie

Aviation Pioneer

Aviation pioneer Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie, a contemporary of more famous women flyers like Amelia Earhart, Jacqueline Cochran and Florence “Pancho” Barnes, began her career in the early 1920s when barnstorming was one of the few ways to make a living by flying. She progressed beyond this daring and dangerous aspect of aviation to become one of the field’s most ardent supporters and innovators, a central participant in the move to legitimize and eventually bureaucratize commercial and private aviation in America.

She contributed much of it through her work in the federal government – working with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA). Throughout her career, Phoebe used her influence to give other women a chance to prove themselves as capable as men.

Phoebe Fairgrave was born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1902. One day just before her high school graduation, she saw her first air show and fell in love with aviation at first sight. She thought about it; she dreamed about it. She began hanging out at the local airfield, begging the manager until he finally agreed to let one of his pilots take her up for a ride. The pilot’s instructions were to give the girl “the works” – a few loops, maybe a nosedive or two – and get her good and sick. Then maybe she would leave them alone. But the pilot’s efforts to discourage Phoebe were counterproductive, to say the least. She loved it!

Not long after, Phoebe showed up at the airfield with a small inheritance from her grandfather and bought herself an airplane, a Curtiss JN-4D, a “Jenny.” Then she dropped into the local offices of the Fox Moving Picture Company and proposed a bold deal to recoup her investment: Fox could film her wing-walking and making parachute jumps. Phoebe came away with a contract to do stunts for such Fox films as the Saturday matinee serial, The Perils of Pauline. Then she hired a young pilot to fly her Jenny for her. He was Vernon Omlie, a 25-year-old veteran of the Great War. He’d been a military flight instructor and dreamed of making his fortune in aviation. In the meantime, the best he could do was fly for the Curtiss Company for $25 a week. After working for Phoebe for a few weeks, Vernon quit his job with Curtiss to become her personal pilot.

In 1920, there were few opportunities for men in aviation and fewer still for women. So Phoebe did the only things she thought she could do: she learned to walk wings, hang by her teeth below the plane, dance the Charleston on the top wing, and parachute. After a couple months of intensive practice, the Phoebe Fairgrave Flying Circus was born. It was the first flying circus owned by a woman.

The thrill show featured the daring Phoebe, wearing riding breeches, a silk shirt, a goggled leather helmet and basketball shoes with suction soles. Once airborne, Phoebe would climb to the top of the upper wing, the wind whipping her clothes, and ride there while Vernon put the plane through a couple loops. She told the press that wing-walking wasn’t much different than climbing up on a table: “You just shimmy up the strut, grab hold of something on the top wing, throw your knee up there, and climb up.”

Phoebe had a special mouth-piece attached to the end of a rope, which she gripped between her teeth as she dangled and twirled in the plane’s slipstream while Vernon swooped low over the crowd. The showstopper, though, was her own invention: a double parachute drop.

The folded parachute was tied to a wing strut. She would crawl out on the wing, put on her harness and jump, the chute opening as she fell. To keep the lines from tangling, the parachute had been interleaved with newspapers. A safety precaution, it was also a crowd pleaser as the newspapers fluttered out like confetti. Once free of the plane, she would cut the lines of her chute loose and free fall. With the crowd holding its breath – thinking her chute had failed- Phoebe would wait until the last possible minute, then pull the cord on a second chute just in time to prevent her descent to certain death.

In many ways, it’s remarkable that Phoebe survived the 1920s, given the chances she took. After a year of so, she and Vernon teamed up with an accomplished stunt flier named Glenn Messer. Phoebe had ideas for newer and tougher stunts; one of them involved changing from plane to plane in the air. She talked Messer into working with her on it. They found a barn in Iowa that had a central runway from end to end. They rigged a trapeze bar hung from the rafters with Messer hanging by his knees and extending his hands. Phoebe stood on the seat of an old buggy as Vernon piloted the team of horses. As Vernon drove the buggy through the barn, Phoebe would grasp Messer’s hands and be pulled up alongside him on the trapeze. Gradually they increased the speed of the horses to a fast trot until she could connect with Messer on every pass. When they had it perfected, they alerted Fox who sent along a camera crew to film it. There were three planes: the upper plane for Messer, Vernon flew the lower plane, and the movie man was in the third.

Messer was hanging from the axle of the upper plane, hands down, ready to grasp Phoebe’s hands, as the two pilots jockeyed into position, trying also to get in a good position for the camera. Suddenly the lower plane hit an up-draft. Phoebe, standing near the right wing tip of the upper wing on the lower plane, with her toes hooked under two guy wires, saw the upper plane’s propeller coming rapidly toward her. She dropped to her knees, reached under the leading edge of the wing, and grabbed a strut. Then she flipped forward and over the edge and shinnied down to the lower wing, safely out of the range of the whirling prop. The turbulent air continued for a few moments, and the propeller of the upper plane sliced into an aileron of the Omlie plane. Fortunately, Vernon was able to land safely and quickly fixed it.

The movie people were still eager for a picture, so they went up and did it all again, this time successfully. Talking it over later, they agreed to make the stunt a bit less dangerous. After that, Messer hung by his knees from the lowest rung of a 20-foot rope ladder to grab Phoebe’s hands, leaving a margin of unoccupied air between the planes. The act became one of the most spectacular and exciting for the Phoebe Fairgrave Flying Circus.

Thousands would come out to see Phoebe’s show, but it was difficult to ensure that all of them paid to see it. The real money was made in encouraging the crowd to take rides at $5 or $10 a trip. It was a tough way to make a living and sometimes the Phoebe Fairgrave Flying Circus would make less than $10 profit a week.

Phoebe and Vernon headed south, hoping to stay one jump ahead of the coming winter weather. By December, they landed in Memphis, where Phoebe spent much of the winter doing speaking engagements about her life in aviation and in the movies.

Phoebe married her pilot in February 1922 and changed the name on the side of her plane to read the Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie Flying Circus. But they continued to struggle. The circus needed to do something spectacular to get the publicity they could not afford to buy.

They came up with the perfect stunt, and on July 10, 1922, Phoebe Omlie was ready. Vernon lifted the plane’s nose and climbed steadily to over three miles up. Then Phoebe crawled to the end of the wing, strapped on the parachute, stood up, hesitated a moment, and jumped. To her dismay, the chute did not open properly in the thin air, and she was in free fall for at least the first 5,000 feet. When she reached the ground a few minutes later, she was a world record holder for a woman’s parachute jump at 15,200 feet. She had gotten sick on the way down, she told reporters, adding, “It was terrible; I never want to try it again.” But there were few things Phoebe would not try at least once.

Phoebe’s flying circus continued for several more summers, but Vernon was eager to settle down and build himself a business around aviation. Memphis was warm, it had no aviation facilities, and he saw that as opportunity. He set up operations first in the middle of a horse track and began offering rides and lessons. He and Phoebe put on shows for the locals. Gradually the Omlies attracted and trained a group of flying enthusiasts who eventually built Memphis’s first real airport.

Vernon was happy to settle down. But Phoebe still craved excitement. She gave up wing-walking and took up piloting. In 1927, she became the first woman to receive a transport pilots license and the first woman to earn an airplane mechanics license. In 1928, when Vernon moved his fixed-base and charter operation to the new Memphis Municipal Airport, Phoebe won new fame on her own. She was flying for the Mono Aircraft Company of Illinois, builders of monocoupe racers. They provided the planes, and she provided the publicity. In the summer of 1928, she took her little 65-hp Monocoupe up to an astonishing 25,400 feet, trying to set a new altitude record. She was still climbing when a spark plug blew out and the main oil line gave way. The spraying oil blinded her and she began fumbling with her oxygen mask, gasping for breath because of the leanness of the oxygen mixture. Almost unconscious she swung the plane once around the field and landed, then collapsed. A physician was waiting when she landed and hurried to check her. Coming to, she remarked, “I feel all right now. I can make the attempt again if I need to.” She didn’t need to-she had set a new world altitude record for women and light aircraft.

Her real passion was air racing, and during the late 1920 she entered dozens of races. She finished first or in the money most of the time. In 1928, she was the only woman competitor in the National Reliability Air Tour for the Edsel Ford trophy. The 6,000-mile tour reached 32 cities in 15 states over regions rough enough to test the stability of any plane and the skill of any pilot. In the tiny black and orange monocoupe she named “Miss Memphis,” Phoebe traveled alone, taking neither navigator nor mechanic. She told reporters: “If I take a mechanic, they’ll say that he flew the ship over the bad spots! No. I’ll be my own mechanic, and I’ll fly my plane myself!”

Measuring and Calculating Air Speed

Air Speed

Every effort is made to assure the accuracy of this information but errors sometime occur in typing or translation to html for the internet. The information provided here is for general education and understanding only and not for the purpose of actual use in any aviation activity or other calculation of air speed.

Knowing how fast an aircraft is traveling is just as important, if not more so, than knowing how fast a car is moving. However, the measurement of an aircraft’s speed is a bit more complex than the speedometer on an automobile. In this article we will discuss the various types of air speed and how they are measured.

Pilots speak of several types of air speed. When read directly off the air speed indicator, the value is called indicated air speed (IAS). Indicated air speed has several factors that must be corrected in order to determine the actual speed of an aircraft over the ground. To determine the aircraft’s indicated air speed, two pressures are measured. A pitot tube is positioned on the exterior of the aircraft so that the air molecules of the atmosphere “ram” into it. The faster the aircraft is traveling, the greater the ram pressure. As an aircraft climbs, the atmospheric air pressure decreases, as does the ram pressure. To account for this, the aircraft has a static air pressure port that is also connected to the air speed indicator. The greater the difference between the ram and static pressures, the greater the indicated air speed.

As an aircraft changes its air speed and configuration, such as occurs when slowing down and lowering flaps and landing gear, the airflow pattern over the fuselage changes. This change of airflow affects the pressure in the pitot tube and static port. To account for this, the pilot refers to an air speed calibration chart to read the calibrated air speed (CAS). Each type of aircraft has its own calibration chart because the airflow pattern depends on the aircraft itself.

With some aircraft, such as the TB-9 Tampico, the IAS is approximately equal to CAS at all air speeds. This is true for relatively slow-moving aircraft because they have an air speed envelope (the difference between the maximum and minimum speeds) of less than 50 knots. This small envelope means that the airflow pattern does not significantly change from slow to fast air speeds. A jet transport aircraft has a speed envelope of more than several hundred knots.
The airflow pattern over a Boeing 737 cruising at 400 knots with flaps and gear up is significantly different than when the aircraft is landing at 150 knots with gear and flaps down.

When flying faster than 200 knots, the air ahead of the aircraft becomes compressed. This air compression increases the air density and the pressure in the pitot tube. To account for compressibility, the pilot refers to an air speed compressibility chart. The greater the CAS and the higher the altitude, the more the pilot must subtract to attain the equivalent air speed (EAS).

As an illustration, imagine being in a speedboat and sticking your hand out into the wind. The wind pushes your hand back with a particular dynamic force. Now imagine sticking your hand into the rushing water. The dynamic pressure exerted on your hand by the water is greater than that of the air because of the higher density of water. As air is compressed into a pitot tube, the increased density of compression increases the dynamic pressure and therefore the air speed that is read on the air speed indicator. The more the air is compressed, the greater the error.

The air will be more compressed the faster the aircraft is traveling and the higher the pressure altitude. Think of the air at lower pressure altitudes as being pre-compressed by the force of the air pressure. Think of this air as pre-compressed concrete block. Think of the air at higher pressure altitudes as not being compressed, and therefore like a sponge. When the same force is applied to a concrete block and a sponge, the sponge will be more compressed, as is the case with air. So for the same CAS as the pressure altitude increases, so does the amount that must be subtracted from the CAS to determine the EAS. Equivalency charts are used to make this correction. The pilot enters the CAS and pressure altitude into the chart and determines how much to subtract. Equivalency charts are not airplane-specific.

It is the EAS that the aircraft feels. EAS is a measure of the dynamic pressure exerted on the aircraft. This dynamic pressure plays a key role in the lift and drag created by the aircraft. For a given EAS the aircraft feels the same dynamic pressure, and therefore lift and drag, regardless of altitude. The higher the density altitude, the thinner the air, and the faster an aircraft must travel through the air mass to obtain the same EAS. The actual speed of the aircraft through the air mass is called the true air speed (TAS).

A pilot flying at high altitudes must account for reduced air density. Imagine the space shuttle in orbit – even though the orbital speed is more than 17,000 knots, there is virtually no atmosphere to ram into a pitot tube. The EAS would be nearly zero. By knowing the air density, the pilot can calculate the actual speed through the air mass, or true air speed. The only time that EAS is equal to true air speed is when an aircraft is flying at standard sea level (SSL) conditions. It is to the TAS that the velocity of the wind is applied, to determine the speed over the ground. The presence of a tailwind or headwind will increase or decrease the ground speed.

Dynamic pressure represents the kinetic energy of the relative wind. We recall that the formula for kinetic energy is one-half the mass multiplied by the square of the velocity or KE = ½ m v2.

Because air is a fluid, its mass is represented by its density or r (rho). The symbol r0 represents the air density at standard sea level. Here are the equations for dynamic pressure (q): ½ r VTAS2 = q = ½ r0 VEAS2.

This means that the dynamic pressure can be determined by taking one-half the air density multiplied by the squared velocity in TAS (VTAS2). The same value will be obtained by taking one-half the SSL air density multiplied by the squared velocity in EAS (VEAS2).

Rearranging the previous equation, the following equation is obtained: VTAS2 (r /r0) = VEAS2.

The term r /r0 represents the ratio of the air density at some altitude to that of SSL. This density ratio is referred to as sigma or s. Making this substitution, the equation becomes VTAS2 s = VEAS2.

Taking the square root of all terms yields VTAS = VEAS.

Solving for VTAS, the equation becomes: VTAS = VEAS (1/ ).

The term 1/ is referred to as the standard means of evaluation, or SMOE. This means that in order to determine the TAS, the EAS is multiplied by SMOE: VTAS = VEAS x (SMOE).

At approximately 40,000 feet the SMOE value is 2. This means that if the EAS, what the aircraft feels, is 200 knots, then the TAS, or actual speed through the air mass, would be 200 knots x 2, or 400 KTAS.

Mach refers to the ratio of an aircraft’s speed to that of the local speed of sound (a). The phrase “local speed of sound” is used because the speed of sound’s propagation through the air is a function of the velocity of the air molecules themselves. Recall that the temperature of the air reflects the average molecular velocity, so the speed of sound is a function of air temperature. At the SSL temperature of 15°C the speed of sound is approximately 662 knots (a0 = 661.74 knots). As the temperature decreases with altitude, the local speed of sound (a) also decreases.

The formula for determining the local speed of sound is a = a0 x , where a0 represents the speed of sound at SSL. The term T0 represents the SSL temperature of 15°C in Kelvin (288 K). Kelvin is an absolute temperature scale. For example, zero degrees Celsius is equal to 273 K. The ratio of the local temperature to that of SSL is called theta or q.

Making this substitution, the equation becomes a = a0 x or a = 661.74 knots x .

So the determination of an aircraft’s Mach number would be Mach = TAS / (661.74 knots x ).

Pilots of high-altitude fast-moving aircraft are more concerned with exceeding their maximum safe Mach number than they are with dynamic pressure limitations such as never-exceed red lines. As an aircraft approaches the speed of sound, the accelerated airflow over the top of the wings will exceed the speed of sound before the aircraft’s speed through the air exceeds the speed of sound. The speed range in which both subsonic and supersonic airflows exist over an aircraft is called transonic. This is the speed range in which commercial jetliners cruise. If a jetliner were to exceed a safe Mach number, the excessive area of sonic airflow could result in a dangerous buffeting similar to that of a stall. If this high-speed buffet increases, it can result in aircraft-control prob-lems. Most commercial airliners cruise at around Mach 0.85.

Because of the importance of maintaining a cruise speed below a maximum operating Mach number (Mmo), high-speed aircraft must have a Mach-indicating device. This is typically represented by a red-and-white striped hand on the air speed indicator that moves as the speed of sound changes. This “barber pole” indicates the fastest speed at which the aircraft should cruise. It is interesting that a Mach meter does not require a temperature input to determine the highest speed that can be attained without exceeding the Mmo. It seems contradictory that the speed of sound is a function of temperature and that the Mach meter does not need to know what the temperature is. Here is why:

Remember that the formula for Mach is the ratio of TAS to the local speed of sound, or Mach = TAS / a.

Because TAS is EAS multiplied by SMOE, and the local speed of sound is the SSL speed of sound multiplied by the temperature ratio, the previous equation can be rewritten as Mach = {EAS x (SMOE)}/ (a0 x ) or Mach = {EAS x (1/ )}/( a0 x ).

Moving the SMOE term to the denominator yields Mach = EAS / (a0 ).

Combining the temperature ratio and density ratio under a common radical becomes Mach = EAS / (a0 ).

Now the magic. Certain gasses behave in such a way that they can be said to be ideal gasses. These gasses obey the ideal gas equation, which states that the temperature ratio (theta or q) when multiplied by the density ratio (sigma or s) equals the pressure ratio (delta or d), or d = q x s. The pressure ratio represents the ratio of the ambient pressure divided by the SSL pressure of 29.921 inches of mercury, or d = P /P0.

Substituting d for q s under the square root radical becomes Mach = EAS / (a0 x ) or Mach = EAS / (661.74 x ) or Mach = EAS / (661.74 x ).

So, the moral of the story is that a Mach meter needs only pitot static inputs to determine the Mach number of an aircraft. That’s because the gasses that make up our atmosphere behave in a manner consistent with the ideal gas equation.

Keeping track of all the different types of air speed is a bit complicated, but pilots do have one thing going their way – there aren’t nearly as many speed limits in the air. So, the next time a police officer asks if you know how fast you were going, you might respond by asking, “Do you mean indicated, calibrated, equivalent, true, ground speed, or Mach?” That will just about guarantee that you’ll get a ticket.