The Ninety-Nines from 1929 to 1959
Commemorating the 30th Anniversary of
THE NINETY-NINES, INC. 1929-1959
A Sabrejet roars over the Mojave desert to break a record; a Cub putts along over Oregon and reports a death-dealing wisp of smoke in the dense forest below; a Moth is deftly settled to a paddock in the Australian wastelands and a member of the Aerial Baby Clinic dashes out to save a child's life - all flown by Ninety-Nines.
The humble though appropriate birthplace of The Ninety-Nines was a hangar on Curtiss Field, Valley Stream, Long Island, New York. Born in the din of a Wright Whirlwind being torn down and the hiss of a spray gun, the words they spoke were all but silenced, but the deeds, like the cumulus, have built ever upward.
In 1929 the skeptics as to the future of the airplane applied their disdain no less fervently where women were concerned. They looked at the 26 fair young women pilots with their fragile teapot and cookies on the spare parts wagon; they looked at the chrysanthemums being presented to the girl with her arm in a sling from an accident sustained in an endurance flight; and one noted columnist bluntly wrote, "The women are going to organize. We don't know what for."
But non-flyer Clara Trenckman Studer envisioned the future ahead for pilots like her friends Margery Brown, Neva Paris, Frances Harrell and Fay Gillis (Wells), and together they communicated with all 117 licensed women pilots in the United States. The 26 who gathered on November 2, 1929 set the pattern for The Ninety-Nine Club.
In business-like fashion they discarded such names as Gad Flies,Climbing Vines, Angel's Club, Bird Women, Skylarks. Amelia Earhart, who was to become the club's illustrious first president, suggested naming it for the number of charter members. Affirmative replies rolled in from "76", then "86" which was all but settled on until some belated but properly postmarked letters boosted it to "97" and finally to "99". The Ninety-Nines Club is constitutionally The Ninety-Nines, Inc., having been incorporated in 1950.
The original purpose of the organization was to coordinate the interests and efforts of women in the aviation field. In an ever broadening sense it proposed "to assist them in any movement which will be of help to them in aeronautical research, air racing events, acquisition of aerial experience, maintenance of an economic status in the aviation industry, administering through the air in times of emergency arising from fire, famine, flood and war, or any other interest that will be for their benefit and/or that of aviation in general."
How do you recognize a Ninety-Nine?
Not by any uniform, though back in 1932 slacks and windbreaker of tan gabardine were considered. The trend from open cockpits to cabin jobs shows its influence. Newsmen covering aviation events frequently make such comments as "the pilots might have stepped out of a painting by LaGatta.' If she wears a small gold pin, two 9's, square cut, superimposed with a spinnable prop in the center, she's a Ninety-Nine. If the hub bears a diamond she's a Charter member; and if the gold numerals "25" are attached by guard chain it denotes she has 25 years of active flying as a Ninety-Nine to her credit; a sapphire in the hub and you know she has been elected to the of office of International President.
It is said that "Ninety-Nines have friends at every airport." The fun of finding fellow members extends around the world to every continent. Members are currently flying in Africa, Alaska, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Great Britain, Hawaii, French West Indies, Israel, Japan, Korea, Portugal, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey. Ninety-Nines feel that contacts with these members and the resultant exchange of ideas with flying women of other countries create a closer understanding among people through the common bond of aviation.
The United States is divided into eight geographic sections which are further divided into some 70 chapters which have anywhere from 5 to 80 members each. Sections are presided over by Governors while chapters are directed by Chairmen. Canada and Australia are the only other countries yet to warrant sections. In 1950 a contingency of Ninety-Nines flew to Ottawa to present the Ninety-Nines Canadian Charter. While there they were honored by the Governor General of Canada, the United States Ambassador and the United States Air Attache. Australia officially became a section at The Ninety-Nines convention in Spokane, Washington in 1959.
1941-that critical year
In July, just prior to Pearl Harbor, The Ninety-Nines held their annual meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, away from the pleasant distractions of the National Air Races. The challenge which heralded the very first meeting was strongly felt again by all. A resolution was drawn up publicly deploring the exclusion of women in the Advanced Civil Pilot Training Program. A letter was sent to the President of the United States wherein "loyal American Ninety-Nines pilots offered to serve individually and collectively" in whatever crisis lay ahead. Trustees of the Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarship Fund, which was first created by The Ninety-Nines to honor Amelia, named the first recipient out of 29 applicants who was to receive advanced flight training. The "Song of The Ninety-Nines" was officially adopted. An agreement with the National Aeronautics Association to provide a National Headquarters and handle the mechanics of operation was adopted "for a year and as long as mutually agreed upon."
The Ninety-Nines flew back home, many to coastal areas where private flying was soon drastically curtailed. But overnight the Civil Air Patrol was organized and welcomed women pilots. They also became Link trainer, ground school, and flight instructors; they manned air warning posts.
Then the opportunity to "serve in emergency from war" became more real. The American contingency, "Pilots to Britain," was taken overseas by Jacqueline Cochran to fly as part of the Air Transport Auxiliary, Women's Section. Meanwhile, the United States Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron began operation at Wilmington, Delaware headed by Nancy Love. By November 1942 Jacqueline Cochran had returned from England and had the first Women's Airforce Service Pilot class in full swing. These services drew heavily on The Ninety-Nines who had been preparing themselves over the years. Ruth Cheney Streeter, flying grandmother, became head of the Women's Marine Corps. And Jacqueline Cochran, war-time President of The Ninety-Nines, was later awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by the United States for her leadership of America's women pilots.
Paradoxical as it may be, during the darkest hours of war, some of the brightest pages in the history of women in aviation were written. They ferried the fastest pursuits; flew the giant B29s. For anti-aircraft they towed targets, flew searchlights at night, flew simulated strafing missions, laid smoke screens, flew photographic and radio controlled missions. Some flew engineering test flights while others pushed the cargo-laden carriers around the sky. Many Ninety-Nines taught Army and Navy cadets on Civilian Pilot Training and War Training Service programs through primary, advanced, instrument and stage B cross country courses building a great reserve of pilots. Ann Baumgartner Carl became the first American woman to fly a jet-the experimental YP-59 in 1944. They dispelled forever the misconception that great physical strength is mandatory in a pilot. In the first year of activity the women set a new safety record in military aviation, flying the equivalent of 3,000,000 miles for each fatal accident. Their rate was .02 less than that of the overall fatality rate in the United States for the Air Force.
Several Ninety-Nines, too "old" to enter the WASP, became pilots for Grumman Aircraft, testing the performance of new top naval aircraft. Many entered non-flying branches where their knowledge of aviation was indispensable: in the WAVES; the Bureau of Aeronautics; in the control towers; as flight nurses; with the Red Cross; in the WAACS.
While some decided to remain in aviation professionally, more elected to dedicate their lives to families and the community. They tried to dispel the warlike aspects of aviation and promote the benefits to mankind brought by wings.
They have sought to prepare youth to live intelligently in the Air Age. All over the United States and Canada, Ninety-Nines act as leaders in Wing Scouting and Air Rangers, the aviation program for Senior Girl Scouts and Guides. Although cooperation between the two organizations existed for years, it was not until 1948 that The Ninety-Nines officially endorsed the Wing Scout program. Many scouts have been given their first flights; some trained to the point of receiving licenses; others have participated in air-camp projects in which Ninety-Nines flew planes filled with scouts, tents and bed-rolls for week-end camping trips. Ninety-Nines not only serve as local aviation consultants to Wing Scout Troops, but one served as Chairman of the National Wing Scout Advisory Committee and another, who was instrumental in initiating the program for Senior Scouts, serves as Wing Scout Consultant to the national organization.
Along military lines, Ninety-Nines hold reserve commissions in the United States Air Force as high as the rank of Lt. Colonel, and some are currently on active duty. Many also hold commissions in the Civil Air Patrol, auxiliary of the USAF, a civilian volunteer organization and youth training vehicle. A Ninety-Nines has served on the CAP Staff as Advisor on Women's Activities to the National Commander. Instruction in ground school subjects, flights of all kinds from observation to search and rescue (SARCAP) are included in the program. Ninety-Nines are serving on many state wings, three serving as Wing Commanders. Whenever feasible, Ninety-Nines coordinate the services of CAP and Wing Scout members in their air races and shows
If you want information on aviation, find a Ninety-Nine. This is a fact on which The Ninety-Nines pride themselves. Next to flying they love to share their enthusiasm by talking about it. One chapter contacted every women's organization in the state and furnished illustrated talks. Lectures are constantly being given before school, church and civic organizations.
The welfare of the nation is dear to Ninety-Nine hearts. The organization stimulates its members to serve in any civil defense capacity for which aviation especially qualifies them. Many have manned observation posts and filter centers, served on State Air Defense Advisory Councils, and one is serving as Director, General Aviation Division, Defense Air Transportation Administration.
For many years Ninety-Nines have realized the importance of "Airmarking the Skyways like the highways." In 1936 the Bureau of Air Commerce selected five outstanding Ninety-Nines to work on its new air marking project. The present Chief, Air Marking Staff, FAA, is one of these first five. During World War II all of the progress made was wiped out so that no assistance would be available to an enemy overhead. When The Ninety-Nines held their first postwar convention in 1946, emphasis was placed on this worthy project. Everywhere Ninety-Nines work to convince community leaders of its importance, select strategic areas and buildings needing marking, and actually team up and do the painting themselves. The Texas Chapter members have painted more than 185, and the Kansas Chapter over 156 markers.
The mantle of national leadership has fallen on other Ninety-Nines. The first woman in governmental aviation was a Ninety-Nine appointed Special Assistant for Air Intelligence with the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics. The only woman aeronautical engineer on the FAA administrative staff, Chief of Specifications Section, and past President of the Society of Woman Engineers, is a Ninety-Nine.
Other Ninety-Nines captain charter flights and non-scheduled airline craft. They operate control towers, serve as airline dispatchers, and aerial photographers. One day you read about a California girl flying from institution to institution to inspect kitchens for an insurance company. The next it's a girl who is flying in Virginia with coffins aboard. In Texas a Ninety-Nine is crop dusting, probably the most hazardous type flying today. In Indiana a Ninety-Nine skywrites the name of a well-known car. In Illinois another with a Ph.D. degree has observed and guided a student in flight as part of a university psychological research program developing better instruments for the military. In Brazil a native Ninety-Nine is decorated by her government for her goodwill solo flight in a light aircraft over the Andes to Alaska,across the U.S. and return via the East coast Another Brazilian Ninety-Nine, who has also been highly honored, holds the oldest continuously active woman's pilot license in the world. In London and Paris the only American woman licensed balloonist coordinated her hobby with her profession of theatrical producer by participating in balloon flights, publicizing a famous movie. In France another in her role of Executive Assistant to the Director of Flight Safety Foundation, U.S.A., has set up a Safety Seminar which representatives of seventeen nations attended. In Washington, D.C., a Ninety-Nine, through her close association with helicopters as Assistant to the Director of the Helicopter Council, Aerospace Industries Association, founded the Whirly Girls, an organization open to all licensed woman helicopter pilots.
Ninety-Nines are parachute riggers and jumpers, aeronautical engineers, airline hostesses, air show performers, flight nurses, ground school and simulator instructors, aviation writers and artists.
The avenues to these jobs were achieved only through persistence. Ever since its founding, The Ninety-Nines organization has sought to keep up the proficiency of its members through sponsoring races and shows. It has assisted NAA in setting up qualifications for safe racing and speeded the acknowledgment by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale of records achieved by women. The current President of FAI, the only woman ever to hold this post, is past Ninety-Nines President, Jacqueline Cochran. In 1933 the Annette Gipson All-Woman Air Race held at Floyd Bennett Field, with Amelia Earhart as starter, Ruth Nichols as scorer and Evelyn deSeversky as timer, included the largest closed course race on record. A series of All-Woman Air Shows were held in Florida from 1947-50 in which the versatile developments in modern air maneuvering were witnessed in such stunts as jet-assisted take-offs, an AT-6 being flown through a "wall of fire," a roadable Ercoupe being driven and flown. Two of these shows were held at the Amelia Earhart Field in Miami. In 1947, through the efforts of Ninety-Nines, this field from which Amelia took off on her last flight, was dedicated to her memory. Following the shows of 1948 and 1949, Ninety-Nines made mass flights across the 90 miles of water from Key West, Florida to Cuba at the invitation of the Cuban government.
Through the years periodic "Powder Puff Derbies" have been held in different sections of the country. The current All-Woman Transcontinental Air Race, popularly called the "Powder Puff Derby" by the press, is today the largest aviation sporting event in the world for women. The thirteenth race, held in 1959, had 66 entries with 129 pilots representing four countries. Some 500 members throughout the country are also involved in planning each race. Sponsored by The Ninety-Nines, this popular race is sanctioned by the NAA and conducted under the rules of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, as is the International Air Race, six of which have been flown between Florida and Canada, one terminating in the Bahamas and three in Cuba.
In the helmet-and-goggle days Amelia helped stimulate cross country flying by conducting a "Hat-of-the-Month" contest. The Ninety-Nine who flew into the largest number of airports won a Stetson hat designed by her. Since then many silver trophies, trays and awards have been offered and won by Ninety-Nines. A permanent All-Woman Transcontinental Air Race trophy reposes on exhibit at Smithsonian Institution; the names of successive winners are engraved thereon.
Practically all feminine aviation records have been set by Ninety-Nines. Best known winners include Amelia Earhart, Jacqueline Cochran, Ruth Nichols, Louise Thaden, Jerrie Cobb, Betty Loufek and Betsy Woodward, the latter two in soaring. The International Harmon Trophy for Women has all but twice been awarded to Ninety-Nines. The first women ever to win the famed Bendix Transcontinental Race away from men pilots were Louise Thaden and Blanche Noyes.
Many a year races and air shows are coordinated with the annual meeting as was the Transcontinental Friendship Tour which began in California and gathered members as it flew across the nation to the 20th Anniversary Convention held in New York City in 1949. In 1940 the convention was held coordinately with the National Aeronautics Association Annual Congress. This was the first year in ten that it was held away from the National Air Races.
Following resumption of conventions after World War II and a grand reunion of aviation friends at the annual meeting held in conjunction with the National Air Races in Cleveland in 1946, Ninety-Nines voted to hold future meetings in various parts of the country. The growth in chapters (27 in 1947, over 70 in 1959) made this advisable. From flying to conventions alone, members have excellent knowledge of the terrain throughout the United States. In 1947 they flew to Denver and in subsequent years to Kansas City; New York City; Brackettville, Texas; Mackinac Island, Michigan; Boston, Mass.; San Diego, California; Asheville, N. C.; Springfield, Mass.; Harbor Springs, Michigan; McAllen, Texas; Montgomery, Alabama; Spokane, Washington.
In 1956 an independent headquarters was established at Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma City. It contains many treasured memorabilia given to the organization by such people as Mrs. Amy Otis Earhart, Mother of Amelia. In 1954, "Mother Earhart," as she is known to all Ninety-Nines, presented an oil painting of Amelia, the silver wings, bracelet and scarf which Amelia wore on many record breaking flights, numerous photographs, and the first copy of Amelia's book, "Twenty Hours and Forty Minutes," to the organization.
In the Silver Anniversary Year, 1954, The Ninety-Nines presented a 24 volume history of the organization to Paul Edward Garber, Head Curator of the National Air Museum, Washington, D.C., at the request of Smithsonian Institution. Each year one volume is added. In accepting the cedar-bound volumes prepared by Ninety-Nines' Historian Ruth Rueckert, Mr. Garber stated that they will provide "authentic reference material" to be housed in the Reference Room of the National Air Museum.
Here, then, is the record! The skeptics of yesterday may read how the Ninety-and-Nine left the sod of Curtiss Field, reached out to serve mankind and touched the highest spheres yet known to man —
And they are STILL young!