Several times this summer, women aviators were on my mind. Most recently, the news that Mary Ellis, one of the last living female WWII pilots has passed away. This BBC article gives a summary of her wartime service and her life after the war, when she was put in charge of Sandown Airport on the Isle of Wight.
Amelia and I were born more than six decades, but only about 50 miles apart. Hers was one of the first biographies I read as a young girl.
Her accomplishments as an aviator are universally known. But did you know:
- She sewed her own clothes
- She designed practical flying attire for women pilots, and
- She launched her own line of women’s clothing designs.
She pioneered the use of ‘Lastex’ yarn, that may be a sort of precurser to the now-ubiquitous and indispensable Spandex.
From the Merriam-Webster dictionary–“Lastex”:
During the Great Depression, she made her designs available as sewing patterns.
It’s more well known that Amelia had a line of suitcases.
The suitcase line bearing her name continued after her disappearance. Below is a May 1947 ad; ten years after her disappearance.
Before she became a pilot, she served as a nurse during WWI. During this duty, she contracted pneumonia. The pneumonia treatment left her with a sinus injury that plagued her with headaches and other complications, requiring occasional treatment and hospitalization for the rest of her life.
From the time I was little, she inspired me with her independence and determined character.
More reading about Amelia’s sewing and designing:
- The History Channel
- Huffington Post, March 2010
- Huffington Post, January 2011
- Messy Nessy Chic — A cool blog
- The Amelia Earhart Museum
- Henry Ford Museum collection
Amy was a British pioneer aviator. I’d never heard of her until I one day looked up the meaning of Al Stewart’s song, Flying Sorcery. Wow, what a lovely tribute. Amy Johnson is another person I wish I could have known. In 1930, she became the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia. She set other flight distance records as well. Like Mary Ellis, she flew for England in WWII; ferrying planes to the war front. While on one of her missions in 1941, she died in a crash in the Thames Estuary. The circumstances of her crash have never been fully explained. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amy_Johnson
So, why women aviators, and why now? The answer is that on the same day I read the news about Mary Ellis’ passing, I was talking to an acquaintance who’s had a long career as an aviation engineer. She casually mentioned being able to ‘cross another thing off her bucket list’. That ‘thing’ was an emergency landing she’d made a few days before, while flying alone through rural Oklahoma. (By crossing it off her bucket list, she meant she never wants to experience it again.) She told the story calmly and technically, how the engine started acting up, so she maydayed the nearest manned air traffic control tower, which was an entire state away, in Fort Worth, TX. The controllers stayed in continuous contact with her and talked her through the entire process. Long story short, she safely landed at an unmanned airstrip in rural Oklahoma. I was hanging on every word she said; my mouth probably gaping open in awe. She immediately shot to the top of the list of women badasses I personally know.