Friday, May 13, 2016

2016 A-Z Reflection: Pioneer Women in Aviation

I survived! My thanks to Arlee Bird and the April Challenge team for another successful year. I am proud to say this was my fourth A-Z. 

As was the case last year, I nearly backed out, and perhaps should have this time. When you live in the desert, April is your best gardening month. I wrote most of my posts the night before and gardened somewhere in between. Each post took 6 to 8 hours to research, write and edit, which meant a few all-nighters, and believe me, I’m getting too old for all-nighters. Talk about brain drain! Although not physically exhausted in body and limb, I sure slept a lot afterward.

Once I made the commitment, I stayed the course and focused on that 'waving raised flag' at the finish line. I have always been motivated by deadlines imposed by others apparently, but not so much when self-imposed. This brings up an interesting discovery about myself as a writer. I am not very self-motivated when writing toward a goal I have personally set. I don't know why. A flaw of mine (yes, I have my share) and one I regret. But I think I need a more tangible goal, one that spells S-U-C-C-E-S-S.

Accountability to the publishing community, which for me, the A-Z certainly qualifies, has a tangible finish line. Success awaits me! A work-for-hire writing experience is another case in point. I wrote and had a book edited over a four-month deadline once, for the educational market. I had an editor cracking the whip the entire time. Today, I still hear her voice in my head: ”stay focused, don’t go off on tangents.” It has helped me tremendously in writing nonfiction for the A-Z. The jury is still out on whether it has helped my fiction. I need to ponder this some more.

I loved my topic this year, almost as much as last year’s “Inventions by Women.” Why, you may ask, do I write specifically about women? First of all, I enjoy history and learning about the different events that have shaped our culture and world, but to be honest, most history is based on male achievement and told from a male perspective. I knew from college that women did indeed contribute a lot to world history and culture, but you had to sign up for the right history class to discover this, none of which was a required course. This is not to say that male achievement is any less worthy or important!! I could have just as easily written about “Pioneer Men in Aviation” and thoroughly enjoyed the process.

However, given the history of women with low self-esteem (my family included) who felt oppressed as girls (and adults), blocked from their full human potential, and as late bloomers struggled/struggle, I wanted to show that realization of dreams is possible at any age. I wanted to show that others have struggled in their pursuits and made a lasting mark on history. I wanted to inspire and encourage both young and old that they could too. 

My niece Jammie joined the Air Force and achieved her dream to fly at a young age, and has made aviation history as the first female F-22 pilot. We are all so proud of her. Today she is home raising two young children, another great feat in her list of achievements.

2008. First Female F-22 pilot Capt. Jammie Jamieson
with husband Capt. Kevin Jamieson

Despite the craziness of the April Challenge, I am retired from my day job, so trying to garden and write on the fly certainly had their perks. Ten arborvitaes are now in the ground and the vegetable garden is fully planted. I visited a large number of blogs too, but unfortunately, most were ones I knew. There just wasn’t enough time to strike up new blog friendships. I hope that those visiting for the first time will return. I regret not having more time.

Below are some photos of my husband and me in the RV8. I guess you could say we are the latest pioneer aviators on the list. Vince built our plane over a twelve-year period in the garage, and took several months more to paint it. (I take credit for the upholstery). He is the first member in our family to build an airplane. He was inspired to fly by the old “Sky King” TV series in the 1950s. We laugh sometimes, because the geography of our new home and location looks very much like Sky King’s ranch land. Vince never stopped dreaming, even when it meant building a plane himself to bring the dream to realization.  


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Z is for Berta Zeron - Pioneer Women in Aviation: A-Z Challenge

Berta Zeron (1924-2000)

Berta Zeron was the first woman in Mexico to earn a commercial pilot's license and the first woman to pilot a jet airplane. She logged over 10,000 hours flight time. You might say she was Mexico's Amelia Earhart.

Berta Zeron was born in Pachuca, Hidalgo, Mexico, but learned to speak English at the age of eleven in Hawaii where her father had enrolled her in school for two years. On the return voyage home by ship, she discovered an airplane on board that had been flown by Amelia Earhart. The memory stuck with her and later became her inspiration to fly.

Berta finished high school in Mexico, and being bilingual, found jobs with different companies, one at the Benito Juarez International Airport. An airline pilot offered her a ride but she turned the offer down, a choice that bothered her a lot later. More jobs would follow and several years would pass before she could seriously consider becoming a pilot. In 1947 she applied for a permit to fly and had her first official flight, but it would be 1964 before soloing in a Cessna 170. With the owner Capitan Francisco Lopez's support, lessons were 100 pesos an hour and apparently, affordable. (Cost is a common drawback to getting  a pilot's license, even today). Berta received her private pilot's license in 1965 and logged 200 hours in Lopez's plane that same year. 

Berta and the Cessna 170
She went on to learn night and instrument flying skills and how to fly twin engine planes. Logging 282 flying hours in a Beechcraft Baron 55 and a PT-17 Stearman for aerobatics, she earned her commercial aviator license in 1966. She then taught others how to fly in Cessna 150s. Berta also took up parachute jumping and entered an air race in a Cessna 150, taking third place. More races followed, the largest being the (women's only) Powder Puff Derby in the U.S. (1969), where she flew a Mooney.

A Beechcraft Baron 55

A PT-17 Stearman
The Cessna 150 - Berta taught others how to fly.
The Mooney. Plane flown in Powder Puff Derby
Berta went on to fly several more planes, working for Commander Mexicana as the executive pilot and flight instructor. She flew a Commander Lark, the Commander Shrike twins, Douglas DC-3 and Beechcraft Twin Bonanza.

The Commander Lark
The Commander Shrike Twins
The Douglas DC-3
The Beechcraft Twin Bonanza
Berta continued her training, obtaining an Unlimited Public Transport Pilot License next, the first of its kind given to a woman in Mexico, and was awarded the 'Emilio Carranza' medal. This allowed her to fly executive jets at Commander Mexicana: the Rockwell Sabreliners and the Sabre 40 (XA-APD (as first officer). She became the first woman to achieve this rank flying an executive jet. Some planes flown during this period:

Turbo Commander 680 (and Turbo Commander 681)
Rockwell Sabreliner
Sabre 40
Berta really wanted to work for a commercial airline. She quit Commander Mexicana, and believing she had the right credentials, applied to a commercial airline, but was rejected based on her age. Had she been hired, she would have been the first woman pilot in Mexico to fly for a commercial airline. Undaunted by it all, it would seem, she received more training in 1982, flew a C-182, and won first place in a Mexican air race. By then she was 58. Over her lifetime Berta piloted 46 airplanes and jets, participated in 8 air races, and jumped in 2 parachute championships. If ever there was a Mexican Amelia Earhart, it had to be Berta Zeron. 

(only source found in English)

Still swimming everyone?

You made it through the April A-Z Challenge!!!

As this is my final post in the series, I want to say THANK YOU TO EVERYONE from the bottom of my heart for stopping by to read Pioneer Women in Aviation, even if you could only read one or two posts (I know that most were l-o-n-g).

I leave you with a song by Eizaveta Icarus from the Miss Todd film soundtrack (a story based on the life of E. Lillian Todd). If you missed Miss Todd, you can click on "T for E. Lillian Todd" to watch (13min). The film is delightful and won the 2013 Academy Awards Gold Medal for best foreign film.

Bye for now......

Friday, April 29, 2016

Y is for Hazel Ying Lee - Pioneer Women in Aviation: A-Z Challege

Hazel Ying Lee (1912-1944)
Hazel Ying Lee grew up in a large family with seven brothers and sisters in Portland, Oregon. As the daughter of Chinese immigrants, to dream of flying an airplane was an unrealistic goal. For one, she was Chinese-American, and two, she was a girl. But dream she did, and when a friend treated her at 19 to a ride at an airshow, it seemed she might fly after all.

Saving her money for flight lessons, Hazel started training at an airfield on nearby Swan Island and joined the Portland Flying Club (one of two girls). Her mother was opposed to the lessons, but according to a sister, Hazel "enjoyed the danger and doing something that was new to Chinese girls." One year later (1932), Hazel became one of the first Chinese-American women to earn a pilot's license and was eager to put her flying skills to work.

With the Japanese invasion of northern China (1932-1933), Hazel joined other Chinese-Americans in the fight. Thinking she would join the Chinese Air Force, she was promptly turned down (twice) in 1933. Female pilots were not allowed. Instead, she accepted an office job with the military and briefly flew for a private airline. [An interesting aside is Korean Kwon Ki-ok's experience in 1925 as China's first female pilot; see K post]. In 1938, the Japanese launched a full scale attack, and after witnessing the deaths of hundreds of civilians, Hazel was forced to return to the United States.  

World War II and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed the playing field for female pilots in the U.S. The demand for male pilots was impossible to meet, and although support by the military command and the media was mixed (opposition was high), the Women Airforce Service Pilots (known as WASP) was formed in 1943. Hazel was among the recruits accepted and became the first Chinese-American woman to fly for the U.S. military. More than one-thousand women would join the WASP. Although under military command in every way, the WASP were classified as civilians and did not receive military benefits. That said, military assignments were less than desirable. Their missions as transport pilots often meant flying in open cockpits in bad weather.
Hazel (on rt) with other WASP receiving training. 
She flew P-51s, P-47s and P-39s, one of 132
female pilots, selected to "fly pursuit."
Hazel was assigned to the third Ferrying Group at Romulus, Michigan. Automobile factories had been converted into full scale aircraft factories and it was her group's job to deliver new aircraft to designated sites for shipping to war fronts in Europe and the Pacific. Work schedules were full, a "7-day workweek, with little time off," Hazel's sister later described in an interview.

Lifelong friendships were forged. Hazel was known for her sense of humor.  
Proud to serve. Fellow pilots described her as "calm and fearless."
One story told was of Hazel's forced landing in a Kansas wheat field.
A farmer was certain the Japanese had landed. Frightened,
he held a pitchfork in hand and yelled for his neighbors. Hazel calmly convinced him she was not the enemy.

 Older than most of the WASP, Hazel was considered a leader

Unfortunately, a second forced landing November 1944 in Great Falls, Montana took Hazel's life. More than 5000 fighters had been delivered to the Great Falls airfield at that juncture in time. It was not an unfamiliar setting. Hazel was in the process of delivering a P-63 (a large group had also arrived to land), but due to radio failure in a second P-63, the control tower directed both planes to land on the same runway simultaneously. The planes collided and Hazel died from burns in the collision two days later.  

Thirty-eight women would die before 
the disbanding of WASP in December 1944. 
Hazel, the first Chinese-American woman 
to fly for the U.S. military, was the last to die.