Louise Thaden

In 1933 it was the consensus of male pilot opinion that women had no place competing against their opposite sex in the National Air Races. After the tragic death of Florence Klingensmith at Chicago in her Gee Bee racer during the Frank Phillips Trophy Race, Henderson ruled them out of the 1934 Nationals. The women would not be denied, and the ban was lifted in 1935 after considerable pressure on Henderson from some of the Nation's top female pilots.Still, the ageless question remained, are the women as good as the men?

Louise Thaden

Louis Thaden

The question was answered on September 4th, 1936 when Louise Thaden, with copilot Blanche Noyes, became the first woman to win the Bendix Trophy Race. Flying a modified Beech C17-R, in which the back seat had been removed and an extra 56 gal. Gas tank installed, Louise's only fuel stop was planned at Beech Field in Wichita. Plagued by extremely high headwinds and turbulence after Albuquerque, she began to doubt that they would reach LosAngles before the 6 PM deadline. As they began the long decent toward the finish line at Mines Field the blinding glare of the late afternoon sun, combined with smoke from nearby forest fires and the normal Los Angles haze made navigation by looking ahead impossible. It became necessary to look backward over the tail to see where they had been in order to determine position. After landing, she was amazed to learn that she had won the race. Placing second, behind Louise, was her friend Laura Ingalls flying a Lockheed Orion.

While fortune smiled down on Louise and Blanche during the race, misfortune frowned on others. Roscoe Turner wrecked his Wedell-Williams Racer in New Mexico enroute to the race start at New York's Floyd Bennett Field, a victim of carburetor ice. Benny Howard and his wife Maxine crashed in New Mexico when their DGA-6, "Mister Mulligan", lost a propeller blade. They were lucky to survive. Joe Jacobson had to bail out of his Northrop Gamma after the loss of a wing during an encounter with severe air turbulence. Even fifth place finishers, Amelia Earhart and Helen Richey, flying a Lockheed, experienced difficulty securing an emergency hatch, which had blown, open in flight. Had it blownoff, they would have undoubtedly had to jump.

1999 dgraves549@aol.com

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Written & Edited by Darrell Graves

1997 dgraves549@aol.com