Sunday, January 29, 2017

Melita von Stauffenberg

I'm preparing my The Freedom Seat: Women in Aviation presentation for February 25... It's quite a challenge condensing over 100 years of history into a 2 hour and 45 minute seminar.

I've been going through newspaper archives on, because I want to be able to share primary sources with my students.

And I was doing this last night and I can't remember now how it happened, but I came across a bit of information on the Countess Melita von Stauffenberg, sister in law of the von Stauffenberg who had tried to assassinate Hitler and had been executed after his failure.

She was also part Jewish, but because she was an excellent pilot, she was not sent away to concentration camps, but rather put to work as a test pilot.  I had never heard of her before, I thought only Hannah Reitsch was permitted to fly as a test pilot during Nazi Germany.

After her brother in law was convicted and executed for trying to assassinate Hitler, her family was sent to concentration camps but she continued to fly. She was loyal to Germany but not to the Nazis...

On 8 April 1945, she was flying a Bucker Bu 181 Besetman trainer to an airfield in southern Germany when she was shot down by an American fighter. She managed to land the plane but died of bullet wounds shortly thereafter.

There are a couple of books about her in German:
Bracke, Gerhard (2012). Melitta Gräfin Stauffenberg: Das Leben einer Fliegerin [Melitta Gräfin Stauffenberg: The life of an aviatrix] (in German). Herbig Verlag

Medicus, Thomas (2013). Melitta von Stauffenberg: Ein deutsches Leben [Melitta von Stauffenberg: A German life] (in German). Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag

and a page at Monash University's website on pioneer pilots:

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

WASP Museum at Avenger Field Needs Your Help!

I'm taking the liberty of sharing the e mail I received from the National WASP WWII Museum in Sweetwater Texas.

I redact a few paragraphs, but include the important links!

From the Desk of Sandra Spears
President, Board of Directors

As President of the Board of Directors, I'm pleased to report to you that construction of the Museum Expansion began on October 31st, thanks to the generosity of supporters like you.

I can’t thank you enough for the support you have given the National WASP World War II Museum. And I know it also means a lot to the Fly Girls who come to Homecoming every Memorial Day weekend.
...We had to cut back on vital parts of our Expansion due to a lack of funding.

...Your renewed support for 2017 is urgently needed today to fund the following items stripped from our budget:
  • $45,000 for new exhibits
  • $120,000 for a Memorial plaza to honor the WASP whose ashes have been spread over Avenger Field. The plaza will include a replica WASP Wishing Well, an Avenger Field bell, and new flagpoles; and
  • $250,000 to recreate the iconic Tower at Avenger Field that burned down in 1951;

Yes, I know this is more than you’ve given before, but we have a limited amount of time to raise this money while there are still a few Fly Girls living who could see the construction completed.

The good news is Museum Expansion construction is underway. The bad news is that we had to strip vital parts of the Expansion. My wish is that we will restore funding by Memorial Day.

Truly, I can’t express to you how excited I am by the progress we’ve made -- thanks to supporters like you. You and I are close to the finish line. Will you help us restore funding for the Tower and Memorial Plaza?

For the "Fly Girls,"
Sandra Spears, President, Board of Directors
Sandra Spears
President, Board of Directors
National WASP WWII Museum

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Aviation Glamor Photos: Amelia Earhart and Elinor Smith

Here's Amelia Earhart posing beside her plane - having women pilots pose with their arms stretched up to mimic their plane's propeller was a popular "schtick" in the 1930s.

and here's Elinor Smith

Aviatrix: The Story of Chinese Woman Pilot Katherine Sui Fun Cheung is the link to a site devoted to Chinese-American aviatrix Katherine Sui Fun Cheung. She was born in 1904 and died in 2003.

Here's a video of Cheung with her friend Amelia Earhart and other noted women pilots such as Louise Thaden.

There were a couple of Chinese women in the WASPs of World War II. (Cheung was not one of them, although she did serve as a flight instructor.) Ironically, there was less prejudice against Asian women and Native American women then black women - Janet Harmon Bragg applied to join the WASP but was refused.

There were plenty of black "Rosie the Riverter"s, by the way. But the WASP were fighting to stay in existence and they just weren't ready to start an integration fight as well. However, there were black pilots (and black women pilots) in the Civil Air Patrol, including Willa Brown.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Odyssey and Little Stinker

I've been reading Odyssey, by Susan Oliver, and Little Stinker, by Betty Skelton.

Both of these books are long out of print, and while they can be bought from Amazon or eBay, the sellers are asking exorbitant prices. For Little Stinker, $500 - albeit this particular copy has been autographed by Betty Skelton.

If I was wealthy, it'd be worth buying these books so I could have them on my shelves and refer to them whenever I wanted, but I'm not!

So the easiest thing to do is borrow them from the library using interlibrary loan, which is what I've done.

What an interlibrary loan looks like! Odyssey by Susan Oliver and Little Stinker by Betty Skelton
I really enjoyed Odyssey by Susan Oliver, although I've mentioned in previous blog posts that I wish she'd gone into more detail in everything - she mentions various acting roles in a mere sentence and doesn't go into any details, and her preparations for her Russian flight are fascinating - and a little sad. She mentions that American pilot Jacqueline Cochran snubbed her, as did British pilot Sheila Scott.

I don't know anything about Scott's personality, but Jackie Cochran did have that 'queen bee' attitude - as her one-upmanship with Nancy Harkness Love during the time of the WASP demonstrates. Typical human behavior - but one does wish ones heroes (male or female) were above such pettiness.

Betty Skelton's book Little Stinker is a major disappointment. Oh, it's good for what it is, a 97-page memoir written by "Little Stinker" himself. Skelton - or her ghost writer - tells the story from the standpoint of Little Stinker!

So although we do get glimpses into Betty Skelton's flying skills, her way of doing things, her  feeling of joy in the air, and a few biographical details of her scattered throughout the book, we don't learn anything of substance about her!

She was only 4 foot 9 and weighed 95 pounds. She was a WASP, an acrobatic pilot in Little Stinker for a couple of years. Then she sold the plane and went on to other speed pursuits - driving fast cars, etc, before buying Little Stinker back and donating him to the Smithsonian Institution.

Such an opportunity lost!

Skelton published the book herself, I'm assuming.. it was published by CROSS Press, a subsidiary of Stinker, Inc.

I'm assuming that the Cross of Cross Press is the Christian cross. Skelton does seem to be religious throughout the book, and mentions the Airman's Cross several times - a cloud formation or something that looks like a cross.

Even though the books aren't available to buy, since they are accessible by library I will be reviewing them - eventually!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Susan Oliver and Serendipity

A couple of weeks ago, I had bought 3 Powder Puff Derby programs from eBay - the 22nd, 24th and 26th editions of the race.

Susan Oliver participated in the 24th edition, in 1970.

I hadn't looked at those programs after I bought them - it's enough that I had them!

But then I thought..Susan Oliver was in the 1970 race, now I have that program, I'll just take a look.

And believe it or not, her photo in the program was autographed!

I hoped that these three programs came from an actual participant in the races (or her estate), and I looked through my Powder Puff Derby Record, which gives the names and years flown for every pilot. 

While there were several women who had flown in 1968 and 1970, they'd all gone on to fly more than just in 1972. 

So it's impossible for me to deduce that these three came from an actual pilot, and not form someone who just attended the race takeoffs or finishes, and got Susan Oliver's autograph.

Still, talk about serendipity, since I've been reading Susan Oliver's aviation memoir for the last week, and here I buy 3 Powder Puff Derby programs at a bargain price ($21 for all three, plus postage).   (Try to buy her book Odyssey: A Daring Transatlantic Journey and the cheapest you can get it for is $100 - for an ex-library copy! - and one with her autograph in it is $500 (albeit perhaps because it is autographed to and thus owned by Rod McKuen the poet.)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Odyssey by Susan Oliver

I checked out Susan Oliver's book Odyssey via interlibrary loan and am reading it today.

She wrote it in 1983, about the 1967 transatlantic journey she made in her Aero Commander 200 in an attempt to fly around the world - stymied when Russia wouldn't let her enter their airspace. (She'd gotten permission, but was leaving a bit late, and although the Russian ambassador in the States said it wouldn't be a problem, the government in Russia wouldn't cooperate.)

I'm only about a fourth of the way through it. She's mentioned her role in Peyton Place a couple of times and that does seem to be what the people in the book know her from. She has yet to mention her role as Vina in the Star Trek pilot episode The Cage,  although I think this episode was never actually aired except to studio execs, so perhaps even in 1977 when she was writing the book she'd have no idea that most people today who know of her (if they know of her at all, sadly) would know of her from Star Trek.

Anyway, it's interesting. I'll be writing a review of it, even though it's not easily available. Long out of print, you'll have to get it from interlibrary loan if you want to read it.

As I said she's writing the book in 1983 about a 1967 journey...I wonder if she'll mention that in 1970 she was copilot for the plane - piloted by  Margaret Mead (a Piper Comanche) that won the 1970 Powder Puff Derby (All Woman Transcontinental Air Race).

(Oliver, born in 1932, was only 58 when she died of lung cancer, in 1990.)