The Ninety-Nines from 1929 to 1989
Sixty and Counting
60th Anniversary Commemorative Collection
TWENTY-SIX WOMEN gathered at Curtiss Airport, Valley Stream, New York. First order of business was selection of Neva Paris as temporary chairman. Business was conducted in a hangar above the din of a Curtiss Challenger engine running up as the work of the mechanics proceeded around them. Tea was served from a toolbox wagon on wheels.
Club eligibility and purpose were quickly decided upon. Membership would be open to any woman with a pilot's license, and the purpose was "good fellowship, jobs, and a central office and files on women in aviation." Choosing a name was a little harder. Some suggestions were The Climbing Vines, Noisy Birdwomen, Homing Pigeons and Gadflies.
Amelia Earhart and Jean Davis Hoyt put a stop to the nonsense, proposing the name be taken from the sum total of charter members. Thus, the group was momentarily the 86s, then the 97s and finally the 99s. Amelia Earhart became the group's first elected president in 1931.
Each member was an outstanding person in her own right. They made contributions to aviation totally out of proportion to their numbers.
OF THE FOUR who signed the original letter of invitation to form a women pilots' organization, Fay Gillis Wells has continued a lifetime involvement in aviation and service to her beloved 99s. She just happened to be living in Russia, working as a journalist, when her friend, Wiley Post, decided to fly solo around the world. Fay supervised his refueling in Siberia, no mean feat, contributing to his world record. He later invited Fay to accompany him on another record attempt, and Fay was forced to decide whether to fly with Wiley Post or honeymoon with Linton Wells in Africa. When she declined his invitation, Post took along the world-famous humorist, Will Rogers, and they were killed in Alaska, August l5, 1935.
On another occasion, Fay Gillis Wells proved that hers was a charmed life. The day after her first solo, she was flying an experimental airplane with her instructor. The craft was overpowered, and they literally tore it apart. Both fell out, and some 400 feet above the ground Fay figured out how to pull her parachute ripcord for a safe landing. Thus Fay qualified for membership in the Caterpillar Club, open only to those who have bailed out of an airplane to save their lives.
THE RACERS were the early women of the hour - those marvelous women and their flying machines. Amelia Earhart was to become the most famous woman pilot of all time, but in 1929 she was but one of a dozen glamorous, daring female aviators.
Amelia had flown the Atlantic as a passenger, gaining fame and adulation. In 1932 she realized her dream of crossing the Atlantic alone, for which she reaped international honors, and other record flights followed. A strong advocate of awakening women's potential, Amelia encouraged young girls to dream big. About women and aviation, she observed, "The more women fly, the more who become pilots, the quicker will we be recognized as an important factor in aviation."
Ninety-Nines who knew her remember her as warm and feminine, a catalyst for achievement. Her parting words to Louise Thaden were, "If I should bop off, it'll be doing the thing that I've always wanted to do."
ANOTHER SPARKLING STAR of the day was Louise Thaden, who had convinced Walter Beech that she should help him gain recognition for his airplane. She promptly gained an altitude record, an endurance record, and then a speed record in the Beech Travel Air. More records fell to this whirlwind, then in 1936 the all-male Bendix Trophy Race was opened to women. Along with Blanche Noyes, Louise flew to first place in a Staggerwing Beech. That year Louise Thaden was awarded the Harmon Trophy as the world's outstanding flier.
The late '20s was aviation's adolescence, a time to prove oneself and shout to the world, "Here I am!" Air races, endurance flights, altitude and speed records were the challenges. Engine failures and off-airport landings were expected. Aviators were colorful and adored, and Ruth Elder was a heroine.
FIVE MONTHS after Lindbergh's epic Flight, Ruth Elder and George Haldeman took off for Paris in a Stinson monoplane named "The American Girl." Encountering storms over the Atlantic, they made it to within 360 miles of the Azores, when an oil leak forced them to land in the water. Rescued by a Dutch oil tanker, the beautiful aviatrix went on to a successful Hollywood acting career.
Always an international organization, The 99s included Jessie Keith-Miller, an Australian, and Thea Rasche, a German, in their charter group. Keith-Miller competed in the 1929 Women's Air Derby, and Rasche, who became a famous stunt flier, was invited to fly air shows in America. Quotable offered sage advice, "Flying is more thrilling than love for a man, and far less dangerous."
Approaching and after the outbreak of World War II, 99s devoted themselves to the war effort. American socialite Ruth Nichols founded Relief Wings, which she turned over to the Civil Air Patrol after the outbreak of the war. The Tennessee Bureau of Aeronautics named Phoebe Omlie to supervise a program to aid the war effort by training a select group of women as flight instructors, replacing the men gone to war.
In 1942, Betty Huyler became one of the original group of 25 women forming the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) organized by Nancy Harkness Love. They ferried aircraft for the Army Air Corps, and later became WASPS, ferrying fighters, bombers, transports, cargo and utility aircraft to England. For nine years following her move to the Ryan Aeronautical Company in California, Betty directed the Powder Puff Derby.
A charter member of 99s, she served as president and helped establish the Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarship.
Jacqueline Cochran's credentials and fame had been solidly established before the war. Yet she went on to fly a Northrop T-38 jet and break every speed, attitude and distance record for women. In 1962 she established over 30 speed records in a Lockheed Jetstar. Later she flew 1,429 mph in a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter.
A large number of pilots seem to have come from nursing ranks and Edna Gardner Whyte, who started flying in 1926, takes pride in the R.N. after her signature. She has taught thousands of people to fly. Her passion has always been competition and she has over I00 trophies testifying to her piloting skills. She served 99s as president in the mid-fifties and continues to take great interest in job breakthroughs for women pilots.
Edna tells the story of the student who said she had taught his instructor's instructor and asked what relation that made them. "You are my great-grand pilot," she laughingly replied.
NINETY-NINES have consistently had many special interests. Two which have remained strong for most of the organization's life are Amelia Earhart/99s Scholarships, which have been financially able to grow into more productivity every year since their inception April 7, 1940, and the Air Marking Program.
If you haven't wielded a paintbrush or roller on an air marking exercise, you're either a new 99 or a lazy one! With Blanche Noyes as president of The 99s in 1935, air marking began when pilots didn't have OMNI, ADFs or DME, and even the charts were doubtful. Where a pilot WAS could be a major problem. Many of those who pushed for the program were charter 99s and Noyes remained as the FAA's chairman of airmarking until the '70s.
As a living memorial to the first president, Amelia Earhart, 99s established the AE Scholarship program to strengthen and cement women's permanent place in aviation. The governing body is a Board of Trustees, two of whom are permanent; three are elected by the 99s. They have the responsibility of investing and acquiring the monies to continue the Fund and, through the efforts of outside judges, dispersing scholarships to the most deserving candidates.
BY 1942, women were finally being taken more seriously as good professional pilots. Paths of succeeding women pilots were smoothed by the courage of women who were flying in the '30s.
The first All-Woman Air Show at Tampa, Florida, in March 1947, was sponsored by the Florida Chapter of the Soust Section; Jeannette Lemke Sovereign was president of the 99s. It was reported that over 13,000 people watched as Marge Hurlburt set a new international women's speed record of 337 mph.
AIR RACES have been of supreme interest to 99s since their beginning. Endurance races, then big ones like the Bendix or Cleveland, and the transcontinental air races, small ones staged for section meetings and conventions, the All-Women's International Air Race, the Angel Derby, have had many enthusiastic boosters.
Other races 99s have originated, developed and flown in are Formula 1, many proficiency air races, the Kachina Doll Air Race in Arizona, the Indiana Fairladies Air Races, the ever-popular Palms to Pines Air Race, and likely the largest and oldest proficiency race, the Michigan Small Race. Dozens of others, like the New England Air Race, have drawn competitors from many states and from Canada. Of major importance is the AWTAR, the Powder Puff Derby.
It was almost a tradition that, wherever the Powder Puff Derby touched, a new chapter was born. On June 29, 1974, the day which had been scheduled for the Powder Puff Derby takeoff from Riverside, the Winners' Wall was dedicated. Throngs enjoyed the events, which included chartering of the Inland California Chapter of The 99s.
PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON announced the formation of the FAA's Women's Advisory Committee on Aviation, May 4, 1964. Most of the 27 non-government members, including Jane Hart and Jean Ross Howard, co-chairman, and five government members, were 99s. Although members of this committee pushed for admission of women to NASA, they were 17 years too early to become astronauts. In 1961, Jerrie Cobb was the first female to pass all three phases of the Mercury Astronaut Program. Twelve other 99s passed the series of 75 exhaustive physical competence tests and laboratory tests. They were rejected, and the first female in space was Russian.
Jerrie Cobb was deeply discouraged by the failure of NASA to put a female in space, and the same year (1964) became a jungle pilot in the Amazon. She has devoted all her resources and talents to helping Indian tribes in unexplored parts of six countries.
Through years of dogged, persistent persuasion, Clara T. Studer, first editor of the 99 NEWS, prodded the United States Post Office into issuing the Amelia Earhart eight-cent commemorative stamp on her birthday, July 24, 1963. Before that, honorees were restricted to those who had been dead for 25 years.
The 99s' humanitarian work is legion. Happy Flyers, Flying Samaritans, Blood Flights and medical airlifts are good examples.
Happy Flyers, an international organization of hams and pilots, was co- founded by Janie Postiethwaite, receiver of her chapter's Pilot of the Year Award in 1976, and her husband, Hartley. For the first time, through development of new techniques and special equipment for ELT monitoring and DF radio location, rescuers could be led to a crash site accurately and quickly.
Powder Puff Derby winner Aileen Saunders, another honors recipient, was at the controls of a plane weathered-in in El Rosario, Mexico, in 1961. She and the 99s with her found a desperately poor village in need of food, clothing and medical supplies. Their first pre-Christmas airlift included a doctor, and from this experience grew the bi-weekly airlifts, year-round, of the Flying Samaritans.
Blood flights, carrying donated blood from outlying towns to city processing centers, have spread to 99 chapters all over the country since they were begun in 1975 by the Minnesota Chapter.
Ninety-Nines have also set up, through DRF, an informal transportation of medicines cross-country, eventually going into Mexico. A 99 flies her own aircraft full of medical supplies to another 99, who flies the next leg. Pat McEwen, for instance, former international president, at one time used her hangar as a way station loaded with donated medical supplies to be ferried on west.
IN THE 60s, military services began opening more doors to women, including positions as jet pilots. Pioneering in this arena were Naval aviators Rosemary Conatser and Judith Ann Neuffer. Many women, including Lorraine Jenick and Jan Dietrich, began flying more sophisticated planes as corporate pilots. In 1968, Dietrich was the first U.S. woman to receive an ATP in four-engine jets.
IN JANUARY 1978, the first group of six women scientists were selected for astronaut training: Anna Fisher, Shannon Lucid, Judith Resnik, Sally Ride, Margaret Seddon and Kathryn Sullivan.
DISTINGUISHED AUTHOR, Mardo Crane reported on the changes that she had seen in the first 50 years of The 99s for a special issue of THE 99 NEWS in November 1979. Crane learned to fly in 1933. She joined the WASPs in 1943, and two years later became a 99. Her works include "Fly Down of the WASP" and "Ladies! Rev Up Your Engines," a story of the Powder Puff Derby, which she founded in 1947.
A number of "firsts" were marked by 99s in 1979. Kathleen Snaper captured two endurance records, one for low- altitude flying and the other for covering the longest distance in a closed course at low altitude. Susan Horstman became the first woman copilot for National Airlines. Jerrie Cobb and Ida Van Smith received Bishop Wright Air Industry Awards. Carolyn Curies was named Educator of the Year by the American Society for Aerospace Education. Joyce Case became the first and only woman on the Beech production flight test team, and Betty Roberts became the first female airworthiness inspector for the FAA.
WHEN, in 1980, the first Women's Aerobatic Team was fielded, 99s Betty Stewart and Paula Moore, along with team member Patti Johnson, swept many awards at the World Competition.
Julie Clark Ames became the first woman to fly with the Confederate Air Force as a pilot, and Janice Brown, chairman of the Bakersfield Chapter, piloted the Solar Challenger, setting records for solar flight in altitude, distance flown and time airborne. In December 1982, Janice received the Harmon Trophy in a presentation at the White House by President Ronald Reagan. The Harmon Trophy, named for pioneer aviator Colonel Clifford D. Harmon, is awarded to outstanding aviators.
BY THE EARLY '80s, opportunities for women pilots in the military had sharply increased. The Air Force accepted 30 to 50 women per year for pilot training, while the Navy flying program was training about 15 women a year in 1981.
IN SEPTEMBER 1981, Australian Senja Robey was invested with the livery of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigation. She was only the fourth woman to be so honored.
In November, the International Board of the 99s accepted management responsibility for USPFT, which was previously managed by the National Pilots Association. Hazel Jones, who served on the International Board of 99s at that time, saw this project as an exciting opportunity for the organization.
The 50th anniversary of Amelia Earhart's 1932 solo flight across the Atlantic was celebrated at Forest of Friendship ceremonies in Atchison, Kansas.
PROVING THAT DISABLED doesn't mean unable, Handi-Flyers, Inc., the creation of Jack Gentry based in Hawaii, was Eleanor Sharpe's "ticket to ride" to her private pilot's license. After several years of medical problems, during which the FAA denied her recertification, she set a precedent by becoming the first person to be recertified after having had an artificial heart valve implanted.
The 99s' Aerospace Workshop joined the National Congress on Aerospace Education, April 1-3, 1982, at Atlanta, Georgia. This Congress provides 99s the opportunity to offer their services to hundreds of educators. and community members, pilots and non-pilots, as well. At the same Congress, the 99s received the Crown Circle Award.
A GALA RECEPTION, featuring the unveiling of a stainless steel sculpture of Amelia Earhart, was held at 99s' International Headquarters in Oklahoma City March 25, 1983. Many city officials and aviation friends attended. Debbie and Jack Scharr, St. Louis art patrons, commissioned artist Don Wiegand to create the sculpture in memory of Earhart's contributions to aviation.
Fiorenza de Bernardi was elected president of the European Women Pilots Association, and Pat Dennehy set five world-class speed-over-distance records in a flight from Wichita, Kansas, to Morristown, New Jersey, in her 30-year-old C-170.
SAFECON '83 was held at the Air National Guard base at Kellogg Field, Battle Creek, Michigan. Competing were winners of regional National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA) contests. A computer program for scoring SAFECON was tested; this gift was developed to enable judges to arrive at the awards banquet with the correct scores.
The 99s' first Flyaway, in 1963, honored the AE eight-cent commemorative airmail stamp. In 1973, the second Flyaway celebrated groundbreaking ceremonies for the International Forest of Friendship, a gift to America on her 200th birthday from the 99s and the City of Atchison. Pine seedlings were flown to all the state capitals as a bond of friendship from the Forest for the greening of America.
June 17, 1983, Dr. Sally Kristen Ride, NASA astronaut and member of The 99s, made history as the first U.S. woman in space, serving as a specialist for STS-7 on the six-day flight of the orbiter, Challenger.
ANNOUNCEMENT WAS MADE in January 1984 of a $25,000 gift from Gerry Mickelsen for The 99s' Oral History Program. A former international president, Gerry donated the fund for the specific purpose of taping oral histories of early 99s and other women pilots. Completed histories are placed in the Resource Center at International Headquarters. Gerry's gift was a huge boost to the preservation of women's role in aviation history.
In August 1984, three 99s held positions on the nine-member U.S. Aerobatic Team which competed in the World Championships in Hungary. They were Brigette de St. Phalle, Judy Pfile and Debby Rihn, all of whom were veteran pilots with a special love for flying aerobatics. Two 99s, Dr. Hope Isaacson, Minnesota Chapter, and Chanda Budhabhatti, governor of the India Section, presented papers to the World Aerospace Education Congress in Washington, D.C. A highlight of 1984 was the acquisition of the birthplace of Amelia Earhart in Atchison, Kansas.
COMMEMORATING Amelia Earhart's historic January 1935 flight as the first pilot to solo from Hawaii to the Mainland, 100 of the original 1963 AE eight-cent stamps were recanceled in Honolulu January 11, 1985. Fay Gillis Wells hand-carried the 100 covers, formed with the Eleanor Roosevelt stamp added, to Honolulu. (Eleanor Roosevelt was a great admirer and close friend of Amelia Earhart.) Wells worked with the Aloha Chapter to get the covers canceled and off to the Mainland.
The United States Precision Flying Team (USPFT) championships were held June 5-8 in Kissimmee, Florida, to select five pilots to represent the U.S. in the Sixth World Precision Flying Championships. Foothills Chapter 99 Carolyn Pilaar was the overall winner to lead the U.S. team. Eight out of the 32 competitors were women, all 99s. Starting in May, 99s from the area pitched in to help.
The World Precision Flying Competitions (WPFC) in August were also hosted by The 99s. Jody McCarrell, USPFT and WPFC chief navigation Judge, reported that the chief of the World Jury, Peter Nissen, observed, as 99s came from everywhere, that he had never seen so many women involved in such an event and doing such a great job.
The Frank G. Brewer Award, highest honor given in the U.S. for significant contributions of enduring value to aerospace education, was awarded to Washington, D.C. 99 Mary Jo Knouff on September 18, 1985. Her impressive credentials testify to her lifetime dedication to aviation and space education. After gaining a most respectable national and international reputation, she retired in 1985 from her position as education specialist of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
THE FAA and 99s joined hands to promote a three-year program designed to promote the most intensive aviation safety effort ever undertaken by either organization. "Back to Basics," a concept born from the realization that most general aviation accidents are the direct result of not using basic flying skills learned as a private pilot, has been supported by all U.S. chapters.
On Sunday, November 2, 1986, the 57th anniversary date of The 99s, groundbreaking ceremonies were held at the International Headquarters located on the grounds of Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City. Civic and state leaders were present.
On December 29, 1986, for the first time in America's history, and possibly in commercial aviation history, an all-female flight crew, led by a woman from Arlington, Texas, was in control of the cockpit and cabin of a Boeing 727 jetliner. About 150 passengers and spectators crowded around the gate to welcome the crew to the DFW Airport. The captain, Beverly Bass, had been flying for 16 years, 10 of them for American Airlines.
NINETY-NINE JEANA YEAGER and fellow pilot Dick Rutan completed a nine-day, non-stop, around-the-world flight in January 1987 in a cabin the size of a telephone booth. Yeager, an engineer, worked on the drafting for Project Private Enterprise, -an attempt to build a commercial rocket. She co-founded Voyager Aircraft, Inc. with Rutan in 1981. She has experience in mechanical, structural, architectural and aeronautical design, as well, as commercial illustration. With more than 1,000 hours of experience flying various general aviation and experimental aircraft, Jeana holds eight world records for flight distance and speed.
IRIS HARRIS, Alabama Chapter 99, received the prestigious A. Scott Crossfield Aerospace Education of the Year Award in 1987 at the 20th National Congress on Aviation and Space Education. She was cited for developing "Fantastic Flight," an educational aviation awareness program. An early element school program designed to teach aviation awareness and its impact on society and the economy, the program uses the students' natural fascination for aviation to make learning more meaningful and exciting.
Formed the same year as The 99s, in 1929, the National Intercollegiate Flying Club (NIFC) allows students from across the nation to compete in a wide range of areas, with special awards for individual and team championships. In 1979, The 99s and NIFA agreed that 99s would provide half the judging staff and all of the support staff for the National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA) nationals.
When The 99s assumed responsibility for USPFT, they also agreed to invite the top five pilots from the national SAFECON each year to try out for the USPFT team. The team that represented the U.S. in 1987 came from the NIFA ranks. NIFA graduates are found in all branches of military service, and many return each year to help The 99s with the SAFECON.
As a finale to Australia and New Zealands bicentennial year, the December 1988 issue of the NINETY-NINE NEWS was dedicated to the Australian chapters.
All Australian 99s are members of the Australian Women Pilots Association, Inc., was founded with 49 women pilots on September 16, 1950; membership currently totals some 600. Numerous awards, scholarships and grants are presented women pilots each year.
The first lady of Australian aviation is Lores Bonney, who was 81 on November 20, 1988. She was the first to fly solo in a DH-60 Moth from Australia to England in 1933 and from Australia to South Africa in 1937.