BY Donna Crane-Bailey and Pamela O'Brien
Monterey Bay Chapter
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN PILOTS / 99 NEWS
In May, to honor the 99th birthday of Charter Member Achsa Donnels, individuals and chapters in the Southwest Section created a one-time scholarship awarded at the International Conference in Huntsville through the Amelia Earhart Scholarship Fund.
In Achsa’s biography there is a picture of her at 4 years of age, standing in overalls, hands on hips, big grin on her face — and with a “take on the world" look. And that is just what she did. There was no present we could think of for a Charter Member turning 99 more appropriate than to create a scholarship in her name so that someone else could continue her dream.
As a pioneering aviatrix, Achsa has plenty of stories to tell. What was her private pilot checkride like? Turns out back in ’28 the examiner wouldn’t get in the airplane with a woman, so she did what he asked her to do in the air with him watching from the ground!
She remembers weekend flights in her Waco out of Bakersfield to the Los Angeles Basin and San Fernando Valley to visit friends and do a little shopping — one of these flights saw the basin fogged in and the sun setting. Achsa (with an oblivious passenger) had to do some quick calculations about where she was and do some blind faith flying to land at the airport. As she says, she flew to where she thought the airport should be, saw some lights through the fog, started a descent and there it was, Caddo Field with two beautiful runways. Her passenger was blissfully unaware that there was any kind of problem.
She loved her Jenny. It’s what she learned in back in 1923. As she said, “I could imagine that I was sitting on the edge of a cloud, looking out over the whole world…In those days there was no smog, and you could smell fragrances of oranges, or whatever you were flying over, at all altitudes. The scenery was fantastic.”
Achsa was a Charter Member of The Ninety- Nines, being one the original 99 (out of 117 licensed women pilots at the time) to respond to an invitation to organize in 1929. She told us of her friends Bobbi Trout, Amelia Earhart and Pancho Barnes to name a few. She talked about the early years of The Ninety-Nines and the Southwest Section.
Changes in aviation? Mind-boggling. Taildragger to tricycle planes was a change that she regretted. She feels that everyone needs to learn in a taildragger — you have more feel for the plane. And all those instruments. When she learned, it was altimeter, airspeed indicator, tach and oil gauge, nothing like today’s aircraft. And she loved an open cockpit with the wind surging around her head.
“I had no sense of fear. In fact…when they learned about it (first flight), my family said I had no sense, period.”
May 1, 2003
You are so dear and precious to each and every one of us, The Ninety-Nines. May this day be so very, very special for you.
As President of The Ninety-Nines, it is my greatest pleasure to wish you a happy, happy birthday from all of us who can’t see you get your surprise. To reach one of our most favorite numbers, 99, is a wonderful achievement, and I know from your flight record of life you have made the very most of each day and moment of it.
Blue Skies and Tailwinds,