Betty Huyler Gillies
Her lifetime accomplishments certainly out-sized diminutive Betty Huyler Gillies; a 1958 newspaper article described her as a 5-foot-1-inch, 100-pound dynamo who served as chairman of the All Woman Transcontinental Air Race (AWTAR) from 1953 - 1961.
That chairmanship, according to Betty, was one of her most important achievements because it promoted the average women in aviation. Requiring detailed organization and attention, under her supervision the race grew from 49 aircraft (90 pilots) in 1953 to 101 aircraft and 201 pilots in the 1961 race.
But AWTAR was only one of the "feathers" in Betty's cap; she began flying in 1928 when she was a student nurse at Presbyterian Hospital in New York City and obtained license #6525 May 6, 1929, after a total of 23 hours of flying time, including instruction. She immediately began building time toward a commercial license and joined The Ninety-Nines when it was formed in November of that year.
She served as president from 1939-41 and was flying for Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation when the United States entered World War II. Having logged approximately 1,400 hours by September 1942, she became one of the original 25 Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) members. By December of that year, she was named commander of the WAFS stationed at New Castle Army Air Base in Delaware. In 1943 the name was changed to Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS). "Just as well I was in on the ground floor...I was too short for WASP entry requirements," she would later say.
Betty was part of an aviation family. Her husband "Bud" was a naval aviator and vice president of Grumman Aircraft. They had three children: A son and one daughter became commercial pilots. Another daughter, Barbara, died at the age of 4 of leukemia. Four grandchildren are pilots. One, Glen, is a member of the Palomar Chapter 99s.
In 1964, Betty was appointed by President Johnson to the first FAA Women's Advisory Committee. She received a Paul Tissandier Diploma from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale in 1977 and the National Aeronautic Association Elder Statesman of Aviation Award in 1982, to name a few of her honors.
During her term as president of The Ninety-Nines, the Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarship Fund was established. Betty also worked with Charter Member Fay Gillis Wells on the AE Commemorative Stamp and The 99s flyaway of first-day covers.
After garnering more than 50 years in the air, Betty stopped flying in 1986 due to vision problems. In later years, she continued to attend the annual Forest of Friendship celebrations in Atchison, Kansas, and became known for meeting friends on Saturday afternoon at the local drugstore for chocolate sundaes.
Betty's life is celebrated by each of us every time we become airborne -- or enjoy a chocolate sundae at a small town drugstore on a Saturday afternoon in June.