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. 


Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for X-Wing Starfighter - Pioneer Women in Aviation: A-Z Challenge

The X-Wing Starfighter of the fabled Star Wars movies was the aircraft flown by the fighter pilots in the Rebel Alliance.

Versatile, equipped with deflector shields and hyperdrive, it was exceptional in combat. The X-Wing Starfighter was flown by Luke Skywalker in the climatic scene where he destroys the Death Star.

That's about the most you'll get from me on the description of this fictional starfighter, and I only mention it, because I am desperate for an "X" post for my aviator series, and discovered something curious about the Star Wars pilots in my search.

The X-Wing fighter pilots were all male, at least in the original Star Wars trilogy, but did you know that the third film, Return of the Jedi, had cast three female rebel pilots in the attack against the Death Star? George Lucas cut their scenes at the last minute.

So if I may jest, pardon my corny attempt at a poem. Kenda at Words and Such has been instructing me on the basics of haiku. I have the 5 - 7 - 5 syllable rule down, but the rest is a bit of a stretch. I've combined two sets.   
Hello George Lucas
I hope you'll forgive my fuss 
Females you chose not

Not one girl aboard
Those X-Wing fighters that soared
In your lofty corps
 --Sharon Himsl