|Bessica Raiche (1875-1932)|
Somewhere in this vast sea of interests, Bessica developed an interest in aviation along with her husband, and the two became biplane builders, setting up shop in their living room.
When it came time to test fly the third plane, September 16, 1910, Bessica became the first woman in the U.S. to fly solo.
As Bessie later said, ". . . I enjoyed life, and just wanted to be myself."
|Bessica as a young woman.|
Bessica Faith Medlar was born near Beloit, Wisconsin. She had one sister. Her father owned a photography studio that both her parents ran. Bessica was raised in a refined home. She studied ivory miniature painting in France after high school and then went to medical school, graduating in 1903. With a background in obstetrics, she opened a general practice in 1904. She was 29.
While in France, Bessica had met Francois 'Frank' Raiche, an attorney, and both were fascinated with aviation. The two married (1904?) and settled in Mineola, New York, where inspired by the Wright Brothers flight in 1903, decided to build a Curtiss type biplane in 1907 . . . in their living room. Apparently, the grand piano made a perfect carpenter's table. The final construction was completed outdoors, but to get the plane out, Frank and Bessica had to remove the front of the house. Inspired by one plane, they formed a company in 1910 to build more and offered flying lessons.
A Curtiss biplane in 1910, the type built by the Raiches.
Four people were needed to hold the plane in place.
(It's not clear if Frank Raiche is the pilot)
|Bessica in the biplane that made her famous in 1910|
Between 1907 and 1912, three biplanes were constructed. According to Bessica in an interview (Omaha World-Herald, March 31, 1929), the third biplane was all hers. She designed it, made all the patterns, and supervised the construction. The plane was extremely light weight for better lift, or so the thinking was back then. The frame was made with bamboo covered in silk
"To see it shiver with every puff of wind was enough to convince the average mortal that it was a rather light craft to entrust with all of one's earthly hopes," Bessica said.
"However, when the plane was ready for flight it did not occur to me that my trip skyward might be my passport to eternity. Adventure was calling me and I readily obeyed."
Without flying lessons Bessica took the aircraft up, becoming the first woman in the U.S. to fly solo. She landed and took off four times without incident. On the fifth attempt the plane crashed, but she was unhurt. A few days later she was back at it and flew seven short flights successfully. She kept trying and got better. She made twenty-five flights in one week alone. By 1914 she could fly in circles. The plane had a 40 hp motor and could fly 35 miles an hour. Her best distance was one and a quarter miles at a height of thirty feet. Higher and longer flights followed, but after more than four years, Bessica lost interest and decided to call it quits. She had a new daughter to raise and wanted to return to her medical practice, which had ended with the plane building project.
|A very serious shot of Bessica in her pilot outfit.|
Bessica spent the remainder of her life in California as a physician, practicing obstetrics and gynecology. (She and Frank divorced in 1925). Later, when people learned of her record as the first woman to fly solo in the U.S., many expressed surprise. Bessica was rather modest about her accomplishment. Although proud of the jewel-studded gold medal (inscribed, "First Woman Aviator in America"), given to her by the Aeronautical Society of America, she felt that Blanche Stuart Scott "deserved the recognition."
Scott had soloed before Bessica, but a technicality barred her from the award. Scott's plane had been lifted up accidentally in the wind, resulting in an unplanned flight. Therefore, Scott's flight was "accidental" as opposed to Bessica's "intentional" flight. What do you think? Online the credit is still debated.
[Quotes by] Bessica Raiche from Omaha World-Herald, March 31, 1929; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bessie_Raiche;