Saturday, April 16, 2016

N is for Blanche Noyes - Pioneer Women in Aviation: A-Z Challenge

Blanche Noyes (1900-1981)

Blanche Noyes knew that pilot safety in the air could be better. After her husband’s fatal crash in 1935, she decided to make air safety her life’s work. 

Blanche was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1900. As a young girl, she often dreamed about her future, but piloting an airplane was the farthest thing from her mind. She wanted to be actress, not just any actress, but one who performed on live stage.

Blanche got her wish and performed in numerous Broadway plays. Her starring role was in a Pittsburgh play called “White Cargo” in 1927. She loved her profession and, perhaps, no one could have convinced her otherwise. So few had made it this far. 

However, life turned on a dime one night at a Pittsburgh dinner party in 1927. Blanche was among the guests invited to honor Charles Lindbergh for his record flight across the Atlantic. A handsome young airmail pilot named Dewey Noyes was also invited and it only took one look before Blanche knew her life had changed. They talked for hours that night, mostly about aviation, and in 1928 married. 

She told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1962: 

"Dewey didn't have any difficulty persuading me to give up the theater and movies, for when a girl falls in love, that's it."

Airmail pilot Dewey Noyes

Dewey taught Blanche how to fly the following year. She soloed after only 4 hours instruction, and in 1929, became Ohio's first woman to receive her pilot's license. Enjoying her new sport, Blanche was thrilled with the new airplane Dewey bought for her. She started entering flying competitions, 18 races over the next several months, including one that nearly killed her. In the Women's Air Derby race in August 1929 (Los Angeles to Cleveland) Blanche's plane caught fire over El Paso, Texas. Landing the plane quickly, she managed to put out the fire in the baggage compartment and fix the damaged landing gear. She actually finished fourth in the race. Blanche later said that someone handling her baggage had packed a lit cigarette in her flying suit. 


Blanche became known for her aerobatics and consecutive
turns in a spin, once setting a record for the most turns.


1929. Postcard of Dewey and Blanche after one of her races.

She sometimes rode with other pilots, which explains sitting in back. 
In 1936, Blanche flew with Louise Thaden in the Bendix Transcontinental Air Race 
(New York to LA), becoming the first women to win that race. 

In 1931 Blanche took a job with Standard Oil as a demonstration pilot, which meant flying a Pitcairn autogiro (with the company's logo) for different aviation-related organizations. Meanwhile, her husband was busy flying mail around the country. He also taught her how to fly with instruments and the two had talked of flying around the world. But in 1935, while flying mail over Nunda, NY, ice started coating the windows and wings of his Beechcraft Staggerwing. Forced down by the ice storm, Dewey's plane crashed and he was killed.  

Friends, among them pilots Amelia Earhart and Louise Thaden, tried to comfort her but Blanche was devastated by his death. In 1936 she made a decision, one that would change her life, to explore safer air travel for pilots. She joined the National Air Marking Program and began working as a pilot for the federal Bureau of Air Commerce. 

The Air Marking Program was an important start in helping pilots navigate routes. Pilots typically relied on landmarks to find their way to airstrips, for instance following a road or railroad track. Pilots do the same today, but with the aid of GPS. But in the days before GPS, pilots could easily get lost. Blanche's job, and other air markers, was to travel around the country and train people to paint markers on rooftops, airstrips, and any other structure that made sense, with airport names, mileage and directional arrows (eventually latitude and longitude). 

Blanche and others (many were women pilots) oversaw the painting of 13,000 markers in the U.S. before the outbreak of World War II, but after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Civil Aeronautics Administration ordered the markers be erased. U.S. airports were now too visible! It took a month to cover most of the markings. Then, after the war, the work had to be repeated. Blanche was chosen to head the Air Marking Division and saw to the painting of more than 46,000 air markings by 1962. 

Retiring in 1972, flying had become a way of life. She continued to fly. As Blanche once said in 1966:  
"Most women take time out to keep the house and have babies. I'm pretty near making my office in the air. I don't think I would want to live if I couldn't fly."


Some awards and honors:
--1956, Gold Medal from the secretary of Commerce for Air Marking work
--1964, Woman of the Year in Aviation
--1970, Aviation Hall of Fame
--1948-1960, served as President of Ninety-Nines





Sources:
https://airandspace.si.edu/explore-and-learn/topics/women-in-aviation/Noyes.cfm
http://epa99s.org/events/air-marking/; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blanche_Noyes
http://www.atca.org/from-the-archives-early-earhart-rival-leaves-legacy-of-safety
http://www.dantiques.com/sohio/sohioan/10-1929/p2.pdf







22 comments:

  1. What a wonderful lady, she spent her life making dlying more safer after her husband's death. An extremely good read and wonderfully written.
    Yvonne.

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    1. Thanks Yvonne. She and all the other women (many were members of the Ninety-Nines) did a great service for the country--even if they had to do it twice!

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  2. What a great theme! She must have been so disheartened when all the markings needed to be covered...only to have to go do them all over again! That's government for ya!
    Great read.

    Michele at Angels Bark

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    1. I agree it may have been disheartening, but I think it was necessary. No one knew at the time if our country was about to be attacked. My mother likes to remind me of that...she lived on the west coast and everyone was worried. Thank you for reading and visiting :)

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  3. What a remarkable woman! She seemed to love what she did and had a wonderful marriage. Too bad it ended on such a sad note. I know there writings on roofs etc....

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    1. I'm usually looking at the scenery when flying. I'll pay more attention next time we're up. Thanks Birgit!

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  4. Wow, what an inspiration! Her passion for flying and keeping it safe is so evident in this post. So tragic about her husband, though...

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    1. Hi Heather! I like what she did for aviation. She turned something bad into something good.

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  5. What an amazing story. I must confess, I'd never heard of her.

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    1. So many in the list are new to me as well. Thanks for stopping by Julia!

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  6. What an impressive lady. These women are so awesome.

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    1. I love that she helped make flying safer for pilots. Sad she and Dewey never made it around the world.

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  7. She is amazing. I am glad I found your blog again because I'd lost track of which blog was doing the women in aviation. I love it!

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  8. Another one who survived her years of flying! I think we forgot how dangerous it was back then for pilots. Lots of trial and error.

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    1. I like that she lived a long life and contributed so much to aviation safety.

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  9. Tragic loss of her husband. But how much her life would have been different if she'd never met him.

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    1. Her life was never the same. She and Dewey had talked about traveling around the world too. They might have been like the Lindberghs.

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  10. Brave woman and such a tragic loss of her husband. I had never heard of her. I popped over from Arlee's blog, during the challenge and very glad I did. Nice connecting with you.

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    1. Hi! Nice to see you again. Glad you found me and enjoyed Blanche's story.

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  11. I particularly like dhtis story. She took the safety of other at heart. It was wonderful of her.

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter - Jazz Age Jazz

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    1. Yes, so true. She took a bad situation and turned it into something good. Life is all about choices. What an admirable choice she made!

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