OUR GIRLS ARE FLYING NOW (Sep, 1930)
OUR GIRLS ARE FLYING NOW
By Louise Goddard
AVIATION chatter—it’s everywhere! Spot landings. Solo flights. Aerodynamics. Ground school. Taxiing. Gliders rapidly multiplying. And above it all trills the feminine voice.
If anyone doubts this, he has but to keep an ear open in places where young women gather: the luncheon halls of big office buildings, club verandas during the Saturday night dances, classrooms of high schools and colleges. It is not difficult to learn which way the thought goes. Up!
For everywhere women are becoming air-minded and they intend to fly!
Hardly a daily newspaper rolls from the presses without head-lining some feat clocked off by women aviators. Amelia Earhart establishes a new speed record for women. Billie Brown sets a new mark for women parachute jumpers. Elinor Smith and Bobbie Trout make a thrilling contribution to aeronautics.
At the moment, there are two hundred and three licensed women pilots in the United States. Before this magazine is on the news stands, others will be added. Before another year is gone, there will be scores more.
Flying classes for women have been organized by the local women in such cities as Houston, Kansas City, and Minneapolis. A woman flyer on a tour of the South tells of landing in a stubblefield to find herself soon surrounded by farm girls and women who wanted to know how they might go about learning to fly.
Meanwhile, the new fever for “gliding” has struck the girls as well as the boys of the country. For years the Germans have been perfecting themselves in this wonderful art of motorless flying. Finally, the movement has struck America with a bang. It is more than a craze. It is an expression of the air-mindedness of our young people, feminine as well as masculine. From the day that Mrs. Charles A. Lindbergh took up a glider successfully and was the first to win a woman’s glider license, girls the country over have recognized that here is both a desirable new sport for them and a means of preparation for the more ambitious occupation of flying a powered airplane.
And so the feminine youth of today answers the call to become an active part of the world’s most glamorous, romantic, and fastest-growing industry.
But while youth beats a path to the flying fields, the older generation, fearful for all activity outside the element it understands, is asking questions.
IS AVIATION safe for our girls? Is there any future in it for them? Are the women of today, who, after all, are not so many years removed from the creature of wasp waistline that swooned at the sight of a balloon ascension, physically fit to fly?
To learn the answer to some of the questions these level-headed elders are asking, I called on Roland H. Spaulding, Specialist in Aeronautical Education for New York University and the Daniel Guggenheim Fund Committee on Elementary and Secondary Aeronautical Education. Under his direction, an aviation ground school for women was opened at New York University, September 10, 1929.
This was the first of its kind in the world and he also has the distinction of organizing the first course in aviation ever placed in an exclusive girls’ school in this country. Twice a week he lectures to the sub-debs at Mason Junior College and School for Girls, at Tarrytown-on-Hudson, N. Y.
I found Mr. Spaulding in his office at the Washington Square Branch of the University a half hour before class time.
“Is flying safe? What types of women have joined your classes? Is there a future for women in aviation? Are the women who apply for admission to your classes as fit to fly as the men?”
He held up a protesting hand. Then good-naturedly: “One question at a time, please.”
“Is aviation safe? You ask that question, first, because anything new is under suspicion—bath tubs were, trains, automobiles. You ask it, second, because the hazards and fatalities in aviation have received emphasis in the blazing headlines of newspapers, while the thousands of uneventful hours in the air have gone unheralded. You read of some crack-up by a student pilot, but did you read of the twelve hundred actual flying hours flown in one month by students at a prominent field without a single accident?
“Here are a few figures furnished by the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce that may interest you. Last year 52,934 Americans flew 10,472,024 miles over regular scheduled air lines and only twenty-two met death. And this mileage figure does not include the flying done by privately owned or chartered planes or in aerial service. Further, ninety per cent, of all accidents occurred during stunt flying, sightseeing, and independent flying by unlicensed pilots.
“Yes, flying is safe if one observes a few bits of sane advice. If one is to fly as a passenger, fly only in a licensed plane, with a licensed pilot, over established airways between two established airports. Short passenger hops away from first-class fields in a licensed plane controlled by a licensed pilot are also safe. If one is learning to fly—study only with schools recognized by the Department of Commerce. Beware of shyster schools that promise to teach you to fly quickly and cheaply. Lindbergh and other well-known flyers have issued warning against these quacks. Congress has recently passed the Bingham Bill which will force the shyster schools out, inasmuch as it gives the Department of Commerce the authority to rate civilian flying schools. Women are to be warned particularly against these shysters, because, usually knowing little about things mechanical, they are more easily ‘taken in’ than men.”
He hesitated, and I was about to remind him of my second question, when he interrupted me.
“You want to know what types of women have joined the aviation classes here. The same types who are going in for aviation everywhere: those who want jobs as commercial flyers; those who want positions in the business end of the industry; and, last, women of means and leisure who regard flying as wholesome sport and a real adventure.
“Personally, I believe the opportunities for women as commercial pilots are not numerous at present. However, the prospects in the business end of the industry are very bright. A woman may sell planes, accessories, or flying instructions; she may become an airport hostess, editor of an aviation magazine, publicity writer or photographer for a flying field, lecturer before women’s clubs, or secretary to aviation executives.
“I I AM particularly keen to see more women take up flying as a means of recreation, an outlet for energy, a builder of bodily and mental health.”
He stopped and smiled.
“And that brings me to your last question: Are women fit to fly?
“That query is put to me daily in connection with women in aviation. My answer is yes, a woman who can pass the physical examination required by the Department of Commerce has the same chance to become a good pilot as a man.
And women pass that examination every day.
“However, it has been my observation that it requires a little longer for a woman to learn to operate a plane than a man. I believe this is explained by the fact that she has played fewer athletic games and indulged in fewer sports as a child than boys. For this reason, her muscular coordination and her judgment of speed and distance are somewhat inferior to a man’s. If, on the other hand, a woman has had athletic training, played games, and gone in for sports, she shows the same aptitude as a man in handling a plane.
“Losing one*s head, becoming panicky in emergencies, is no more feminine than masculine, in spite of popular belief. I have seen women steady, stable, superb in emergencies. I have also seen them ‘go to pieces.’ Yet, for every case of stability or instability in women, I can recall the same number for both classifications in men.
AND right here, I might say that while aviation does not need ‘nervous people,’ neither does it need stolidity. Flying a plane calls for a high degree of sensibility. A good pilot is a person well sensitized, who registers acutely, responds quickly and accurately.
“When a woman enrolls for ground work here at the University, we encourage her to take the physical examination immediately, rather than wait until she is ready for flying instruction. We do this so she may be warned in advance of any physical deficiency. Often this deficiency may be overcome. If not—then the student should in all fairness know she is unfit to ‘take the air.’ “I believe that flying is a splendid builder both of health and constructive mental attitude.
“The check-up made in the course of the physical examination required by the Department of Commerce stresses in a student’s mind the desirability for physical fitness and health. If a woman fails to pass the examination and the deficiency is one she may conquer, she usually goes out and does so. As a result, health is benefited. Once accepted, once having experienced the incomparable thrill of soaring in the clouds, she keeps constantly alert about her health. She does not want to lose what she has gained.
“As for promoting splendid mental attitude, I believe flying has no rival. I have seen women of slight confidence, showing tendencies toward timidity and reluctance to meet situations, change almost miraculously after their first solo flight. They have proved to themselves that they can face and master situations. They have felt the thrill of about the only pioneering feat left for Americans today. A new confidence is born, timidity vanishes. I have often wished that poor Timid-Soul, that mouse-like creature of the comic strips, could take up aviation. It would change his whole outlook and add materially to his happiness.”
The recent achievement of Amy Johnson, twenty-seven-year-old English girl, is a complete vindication of woman’s place in aviation, and certainly justifies Mr. Spaulding’s faith in their courage and ability. It is doubly impressive coming, as it did, close upon the flight of the sixty-four-year-old Duchess of Bedford, who created a new record for elapsed flying time on her trip from London to Capetown and return in twenty days, and a new record for flying between London and Karachi, India.
About a month after receiving her license, Miss Johnson conceived the idea of flying to Australia, but could interest no one in the venture, with the exception of Sir Charles Wakefield, noted gasolene magnate, who supplied the gas for the trip.
For eleven days she broke the record, arriving at Rangoon two days ahead of the time made by Bert Hinkler in 1928. A slight mishap in landing caused a three days’ delay and spoiled her chance of setting a new record.
When she arrived at Timor, she landed twenty miles south of the regular airdome, and for a time it was feared that she was lost. From Timor she took up the most dangerous stretch of her trip—5000 miles over the shark-infested sea—and on the nineteenth day reached her objective—Port Darwin, Australia.
In recognition of this feat, the King, on the Birthday List of his 65th birthday, bestowed upon her the title of Commander of the British Empire, which virtually corresponds to knighthood for a man.
Miss Johnson used a de Haviland Gypsy Moth plane, which is the outstanding light sports plane of the British Empire.
Mr. Spaulding then invited me to visit the classroom used for ground school. It is a hall of huge dimensions accommodating several small planes, models, and devices used in instruction.
After the class, I chatted with several of the women students while they donned cover-alls preparatory to posing for a newspaper photographer. I learned that there were artists among them, secretaries, brokers’ clerks, saleswomen, women lawyers, and teachers. They were all of a high type, alert, trim, vital.
Some of them take flying lessons along with their ground work, they told me, as they find that the practise with the theory clarifies the whole subject for them.
One woman demonstrated for me a model which the University has installed to teach the theory of flight. Sitting in a full-size cockpit which is placed in front of a small wind tunnel, she operated the controls. A model airplane, fixed on a spindle, responded to the controls exactly as in real flying. She took the plane into ground loops, made it stall, spin. The model did not complete these revolutions but suggested them so vividly that the effect of a false move was sufficiently realistic to give the student a start.
My next call was at the office of Dr. Ermin L. Ray, official Medical Examiner, Aeronautics Branch, United States Department of Commerce, who has examined hundreds of men and many women to determine if they are fit to fly.
I was permitted to glance over the form supplied by the Department which covers a complete physical check-up. It included tests for eyes—color-blindness, diseases, acuity of vision, etc.; tests for diseased conditions of ears, nose and throat: for organic troubles with particular attention to the lungs, heart, and kidneys. Tests were included for reflexes, motor disturbances, and equilibrium, as well as the nervous system in general.
“Are the women you have examined on the whole as fit to fly as the men?” I asked him.
“Yes,” was his prompt answer. “I have found as high a degree of physical fitness in women as I have in men. There is probably no fundamental physical difference between men and women which should make one a better flyer than the other. The best pilots are always the motor types: those types who easily translate thought into action and perform finely coordinated acts with skill. But you find motor types among women as well as among men.
“Here is an observation that may be of interest. The best types of women I have examined have been athletic, keen about sports, who included physical culture in their daily lives.”
RECALLING a certain flying field manager’s remarks about women aviators, I put this question to Doctor Ray: “Why has it been said that a woman over thirty requires more time to learn to fly than a younger woman, or a man of thirty?”
“Perhaps it is because women mature more quickly than men. Habit formation after a certain age usually becomes a slower process. Unless women have formed habits in muscular coordination before thirty, they will be slow in attaining them later. Men have the advantage here. They have usually formed such habits young. Also, because their maturity comes about more slowly, they are more pliable material at thirty than a woman, more adjustable.”
I asked him next: “What percentage of your applicants for flying permits is women?”
“At present, less than five per cent., but I believe that figure will increase steadily. Women have been slow to take up aviation because it offers them just now less in a business way than it does men. By that I mean that their chances for jobs as pilots are not so numerous. Also, there has been the prejudice against a woman doing anything venturesome or new. But women are becoming more and more air-minded and I believe more of them will apply for permits as time goes on.”
When I mentioned the fact that one of the nation’s largest air transport companies has asked the Department of Commerce to have its pilots examined each month. Doctor Ray replied: “This is a splendid move. Imperfect pilots make imperfect planes. Flying requires more of a person than anything I know of. Controlling an airplane demands continued and concentrated effort and an ability to resist fatigue. A pilot must have mental alertness, keen eyesight, and good muscular control. He must be able to stand sudden changes in atmospheric pressure, recover quickly from loss of balance, and respond instantly to stimuli. Regular periodical physical inventories insure continued good health and efficiency among flyers. If all pilots would undergo more frequent examinations there might be fewer ’cause unknown’ accidents, and ‘crack-ups, pilot’s fault.’”
“What physical deficiency is most common in the women you have examined?” I asked him.
“Deficiency in vision,” he answered promptly. “I find it equally among men and women, although less than half normal vision is acceptable and is safe for flying.”
With my head full of these interesting generalizations, I next decided to call on a number of young feminine flyers who constitute what the elders term “our youth that is rushing into aviation.”
I purposely went to new flyers instead of to Amelia Earhart, Ruth Nichols, Phoebe Omlie, or other women who have established themselves in the field, for the “slant” of these recent recruits indicates the real attitude of American women toward aviation.
Frances Harrell, I chose first, because she represents that classification of women who go into aviation to make a living as a pilot.
Miss Harrell is a Texan. While working as credit manager for a large furniture store in Houston, she received a sufficiently ample legacy to cover the purchase-price of a ticket to New York and flight lessons at a recognized field. Having become an able pilot, she was one of the first women to be employed by a large flying organization to do jobs of ferrying— transporting planes from one part of the country to the other. She has her eye on the transport license, the coveted goal of all serious aviators, and will stand an examination soon.
“Is there a future in aviation for women?” I asked her.
“Certainly,” she answered spiritedly. “My first reason for taking up flying was because I loved it. But my second was a practical one: I believed there were splendid opportunities in it for women. If a girl is a quick thinker, well-balanced emotionally, and willing to work hard, aviation offers her a better future than anything I know of. In spite of much that is being said to the contrary, I believe women may qualify not only for jobs in the business end of the industry, but as pilots as well, both commercial and transport.”
“Is there any reason why a woman should make a less capable pilot than a man?” I asked her.
She seemed genuinely astonished at the question.
“Emphatically not. The important physical requirements for becoming a good pilot are a woman’s as well as a man’s. The eyesight is the same, the muscular control, and as for nerves being exclusively feminine, that is one of the myths that should exit along with Santa Claus and the storks.”
I HE following day I walked into the show room of a large flying company to chat with Fay Gill is. She was my representative in class Number Two: women who find flying a stepping-stone to positions in the business end of the industry.
Slim, bright-eyed, Miss Gillis is in her very early twenties. She flys like a veteran, I was told by a seasoned pilot, and also has keen business ability. This combination was responsible for her appointment as the first woman member in the sales department of the organization with which she learned to fly. Incidentally, she has designed a flying suit for women which was exhibited at the recent aviation show held at the Hotel Plaza, New York.
“There certainly is a future in aviation for women,” she told me. “My job here is a partial proof of it. Of course, there is now some prejudice against women as commercial and transport pilots. Many people have pointed out that women do not become locomotive engineers or deep sea navigators and seem to believe this is evidence that they will not pilot transport planes. I disagree with them and feel the comparison is in no sense parallel. Women undoubtedly have a future as pilots. But in the meantime, the business end of the industry offers fascinating opportunities. I wish I could reach every girl who is sunk in a routine job and tell her how she may increase her zest in living and create a great future for herself at the same time.”
I brought out my stock question: “Are women fit to fly?”
SHE laughed brightly at the inquiry— but then Fay Gillis would, for she is the physical culture girl gone into aviation. In fact, she planned to teach calisthenics in public schools when the lure of the clouds overcame her. She excels at many sports: soccer, volley and basket-ball, and baseball. She bowls, swims, and runs.
“A woman in condition makes as good a pilot as a man in condition. There is no difference. I find flying less of a strain than driving a car. I experience no tenseness in an airplane, no nervousness. I have no traffic to think of. The women I know who have gone into aviation are fine types and the question as to limitation because of their sex is never raised.”
While I chatted with Miss Gillis, my eyes inevitably picked out that tiny gold caterpillar pin crinkled on her blouse. She did not tell me but I learned later that she is the second woman to qualify for membership in the Caterpillar Club—to qualify meaning to save one’s life by emergency parachute jumps. While flying in an experimental plane, she and a test pilot ‘schuted to safety when the machine was blown to pieces.
Fay Gillis was born in Minneapolis and attended Michigan State College.
As a representative in class Number Three—women of means, who, while not having to earn a living, go into aviation for sport—I sought the opinion of Betty Huyler Gillies, daughter of the late Frank De Klyn Huyler, president of the Huyler Candy Company.
Mrs. Gillies, I found, while belonging to the group usually described by the words “of wealth,” certainly does not go in for leisure. Like Amelia Earhart, she graduated from Ogontz’ School at Rydal, Pa., and has managed to keep interested and busy since. She thought she would like nursing, but gave up her starched bonnet after having read an article by Miss Earhart on women in aviation.
“Pint-size,” and barely voting age, Mrs. Gillies has already her limited commercial license. She flew to the Cleveland Air Races last August and then to Chicago. Recently she won a spot landing contest in competition with twenty men at Camden, N. J.
“I see no reason why a woman can’t become as good a pilot as a man if the doctor passes her. You often hear women say that you can fly a good airplane with your fingertips. Women seem to realize this truth keenly because they are highly sensitized, imaginative, and register sensation instantaneously.”
So—Miss New York, Miss Tulsa, or Miss Bisbee, with the questions of safety, future and fitness answered, if you really want to learn to fly, here is what you must undergo to reach your goal: Ground school such as the one described above at New York University.
Flight school. A typical schedule which leads to a private pilot’s license follows, though if you are very clever, you may progress even faster than it indicates.
FIRST Hour—Rear cockpit. Pilot instructor in front cockpit. Test flight. Control of elevator and ailerons. Level flight, teaching student how to hold ship on point on the horizon. Ground instruction in signals. Use of parachute. Demonstration of effect of controls.
Second Hour—Rear cockpit. Stick and rudder control. Straight and level flying. Straight and normal climb.
Third Hour—Rear cockpit (instructor in front cockpit). Observing instruments showing air speed, temperature, oil pressure, tachometer, banks and turns; glides to the landing field.
Fourth Hour—Rear cockpit. Gliding approaches. Landing and taking off, taxiing, etc.
Fifth Hour—Instructor in front cockpit.
Sixth Hour—Figure eight, spiral flight.
Seventh Hour—Practise on recovery from tail spins, loop, vertical banks, cutting throttle, steep turns.
Eighth Hour—Emergency landings. Routine of inspection of plane and engine.
Ninth Hour—General review and check for solo.
Tenth and Eleventh Hours—Solo flight.
Twelfth Hour—Inspection tests called check flights.
Thirteenth to Seventeenth Hours—Solo flight.
Eighteenth Hour—Air brakes, side slipping and check on technique, fishtail landings, spot landings.
Nineteenth Hour—Solo flight. Check on Department of Commerce requirements.
Twentieth Hour—Test private pilot’s license.
As I put the finishing touches on this story which tells what women may do and have done in aviation, a plane hums overhead.
I quit my typewriter. That droning calls me to the window more urgently than does the clang of fire engines, or the raucous jollity of a circus parade, or glittering demonstration for royalty.
That gray dot up there glides, soars, sings to me. It stands for adventure, opportunity, freedom, health.
I look. I listen. I thrill!
For I too am young, and I want to fly!