Women were among the earliest aviation pioneers in the United States – some do it because they had it all planned out, and some do it by accident.
Blanche Stuart Scott (April 8, 1885 – January 12, 1970) accidentally became the first American woman pilot in 1910 – sort of. It might not have been an accident.
First – some background on the tomboyish woman who had to be sent to a finishing school by her parents to turn her into a regular lady.
Lady or not, the Rochester, NY-born Scott became, in 1910, the second woman, after Alice Huyler Ramsey, to drive an automobile across the U.S. and the first to do it driving westward from New York City to San Francisco, California.
I’m unsure what the big deal is driving one way or the other, still it was and is a big deal to drive cross country in a car in 2014… more so in 1910.
Scott and her passenger, a woman reporter called Gertrude Buffington Phillips, left New York on May 16, 1910, and reached San Francisco on July 23, 1910. The New York Times wrote on May 17, 1910:
Miss Scott, with Miss Phillips as only companion, starts on long trip with the object of demonstrating the possibility of a woman driving a motor car across the country and making all the necessary repairs en route. Miss Blanche Stuart Scott yesterday started in an Overland automobile on a transcontinental journey which will end in San Francisco.
Great – cars… I love’s, but what about the flying?
The publicity surrounding the automobile journey brought her to the attention of Jerome Fanciulli (early aviation journalist) and Glenn Curtiss (who also loved motorcycles and was already by this time an aviation genius designing and flying some of the best of the earliest airplanes around).
Curtiss agreed to provide her with flying lessons in Hammondsport, NY – in fact, she was the only woman to receive flying instruction directly from Curtiss.
To be safe – as with all his students – he placed a limiter on the throttle of Scott’s airplane to prevent it gaining enough speed to become airborne while she practiced taxiing on her own.
But, because stuff happens, on September 6, 1910, either the limiter moved or a gust of wind lifted the biplane and she flew to an altitude of forty feet before executing a gentle landing.
Her flight was short and possibly unintentional, but Scott is credited by the Early Birds of Aviation as the first woman to pilot and solo in an airplane in the U.S.
With that first bit of air under wings, Scott decided to become a professional pilot, making her debut on October 24, 1910, as a member of the Curtiss exhibition flying team at an air meet in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
This made her the first woman to fly at a public event in America.
Remember that finishing school she attended – well, thanks to her skill with the airplane, she became known as the “Tomboy of the Air“. Take that! mom and dad!
Stunt flying? Sure! The great Scott (I’m not calling her ‘Tomboy of the Air’) would fly upside down and do death dives from an altitude of 4,000 feet (1.22 kilometers) and then pulling up only 200 feet (61 meters) from the ground.
In 1911 she became the first woman in the U.S. to fly long distance when she flew 60 miles (96.6 kilometers) non-stop from Mineola, New York.
In 1912 Scott contracted to fly for Glenn Martin and became the first female test pilot when she flew Martin prototypes before the final blueprints for the aircraft had been made.
If the name Martin makes you curious, yes… this is the same Glenn L. Martin who was an airplane designer, founding his own company that, after amalgamations et al is part of the same Lockheed Martin company.
And Scott was one of his test pilots. Suck on that Hal Jordan.
Man… the more I learn about Scott, the more I like her!
In 1913 she joined the Ward exhibition team.
Now get this… in 1916 she retired from the flying – the stunt flying – because she felt that the public was mow interested in seeing plane crashes (kind of like those people who only like car races for the fiery crashes). As well, she hatted the fact that women – even in 1916 – were not allowed to work in aviation industry as mechanics or engineers.
Yeah, I get it. Still… by saying screw you, she deprived herself of the joy of flying. While not involving flying, I’ve done stuff like that, and with hindsight, it makes for a lot of lost opportunities.
So… what becomes a semi-legend most? Well… Hollywood beckoned – sort of.
By the 1930s Scott was working as a scriptwriter for RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) Pictures, Universal Studios and Warner Brothers in California, as well as doing some writing, producing and performing on radio shows.
On September 6, 1948, Scott became the first American woman to fly in a jet when she was the passenger in a TF-80C piloted by Chuck Yeager. Knowing Scott’s history as a stunt pilot, Yeager treated her to some snap rolls and a 14,000 foot dive.
A few years later in 1954, Scott began working for the U.S. Air Force Museum, helping to acquire early aviation materials.
Scott died on January 12, 1970 at the age of 84. Should wish to pay your respects, her grave is at Rochester’s Riverside Cemetery.
Or… you could seek out a postage stamp.
On December 30, 1980, the U.S. Postal Service issued an air mail stamp commemorating Scott’s achievements in aviation.
As for her rebellious nature, just note that Scott never applied for a pilot’s license, and, it is claimed, never had a driver’s license either. Love it!