Category: Aviation

Flying Into History

 A while ago, when I was knee deep in research for my latest sweet historical romance, I happened across the mention of a woman who made history. Only I’d never heard of her.

I quickly became quite interested in learning more about her contributions to our past, though.

You see, her big historical moment might have been touted around the world, but fell by the wayside when a much bigger event took place at the same time.

Harriett Quimby was born in May 1875 on a Michigan farm.  She was in her early teens when the family moved to San Francisco. With dreams of becoming an actress, she was listed as one in the 1900 census.

She began writing for magazines.  In 1903, she moved to New York City and became a theater critic. Reportedly, she even authored a few screenplays that were turned into a silent films.

Harriett eventually turned to photojournalism as a career and leaned into adventure and excitement. She enjoyed travel, theater, and automobiles. In 1906, after a ride on an automobile racetrack, she bought her own car. At that time, it was unheard of for a woman to do such thing.

Through her journalism work, she covered an aviation tournament at Belmont Park in 1910. Harriett was friends with siblings John and Matilde Moisant. John ran a flying school and produced his own monoplane. Harriett enrolled in the school, along with Matilde. In  the summer of 1911, Harriett became the first American woman to be licensed as a flyer by the Aero Club of America, the U.S. branch of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. A few women had flown before her, but none at that time were licensed.

Tall and energetic, Harriett was hard to miss, especially when she created a flying costume that became her trademark. She wore a purple satin jacket and matching riding pants with high laced boots and a soft cowl around her head.

Seeking more excitement, she went on the barnstorming (a form of flying in which stunt pilots performed tricks, either individually or in groups called flying circuses) circuit where she became quite popular.

In the spring of 1912, after weeks of preparation, she traveled to England to purchase a Bleriot airplane. She borrowed one in Dover, England. Early on the morning of April 16, Harriet became the first woman to fly across the English Channel, landing in France.

Unfortunately, just a few hours after her history-making flight, the world discovered the tragic news of the Titanic sinking the previous day and poor Harriet was obliterated from the headlines.

She returned to America and barnstorming, joining in several air meets. On July 1, 1912, she was paid handsomely to participate in an air show near Boston. In front of the gathered spectators, her plane lurched, throwing her lone passenger to his death. Although she struggled to gain control, Harriett was also thrown from the plane and was killed.

Harriett had been a pilot less than a year, but her impact on the aviation industry, particularly for women, continues to this day.

As I was working on my book, I thought about how young women of 1912 may have looked up to Harriet, found inspiration in her achievements. You can read more about her impact on my fictional characters in Quinn (Pendleton Petticoats Book 9).  The sweet historical romance releases tomorrow.

She’s waging a war for women’s rights

He’s fighting a battle to win her heart…

There’s nothing typical about Quinn Fairfield. The outspoken suffragette spends her days writing sensational headlines as a newspaper reporter and indulging her natural curiosity. She’s much more likely to be found riding a bicycle around town than learning the social graces at which her sister, Caitlyn, excels. When Caitlyn announces her plans to wed a man Quinn doesn’t trust, she sets out to find a reason to break up the happy couple. In the process, she finds herself falling for an intriguing, kind-hearted man.

After spending several years in Portland at college, Walker Williams returns to Pendleton, eager to make his mark on the world. He’s determined to become a legendary architect despite the challenges that arise from his upbringing on the nearby Umatilla Reservation. When a feisty red-headed newspaper reporter catches his eye and captures his heart, Walker fights his growing feelings for her. He’ll do anything to shelter Quinn from the prejudices aimed at him and his heritage.

Can the two of them overcome their fears, set aside the burdens of the past, and surrender to the sweet romance blossoming between them?

Filled with laughter, adventure, and historical tidbits from 1912, Quinn is a sweet historical romance brimming with hope and love.

You can find Quinn on Amazon: http://a.co/2MX4ewF

To enter to win a digital copy of the book, answer this question:

Name a woman who has inspired or influenced you in a positive manner.

 

Notes on another ‘famous’ Winnie Mae

Photo WG2 smallHi, Winnie Griggs here.  Today I’m going to forgo my usual western historical themed post to share a historical tidbit of a different kind.

The other day I was researching something for an upcoming book when I came across a very brief reference to a plane named the Winnie Mae.  Now Winnie is not a very common name so when I see it it of course catches my eye.  But the fact that my middle name is also Mae made this doubly relatable to me.  So of course I immediately (if temporarily) abandoned my other research endeavor to go down this intriguing rabbit trail.  And here is some of what I found out about my namesake.

The Winnie Mae is a Vega six passenger monoplane built by the Lockheed company.  Vega aircraft were used by several record-breaking pilots, including Amelia Earhart and Wiley Post.  These planes were high-wing aircraft that were beautifully streamlined, unlike the more ‘draggy’ biplanes or planes with exposed wing struts.

In 1928 Florence Hall, a Chickasha, Oklahoma oilman, purchased one of these Vega aircraft so he could fly to important meetings that were some distance away.  Hall named the plane after his daughter, Winnie Mae.  When the market crashed a year later, Hall was forced to sell the plane back to Lockheed, and he requested they remove the name from it.  But one year later, 1930, Hall was ready to purchase another Vega, and he decided to name this new plane Winnie Mae once more.

Hall’s pilot was the one-eyed aviator Wiley Post.  Hall had a keen interest in finding ways to further aviation developments and so it was easy for him to agree to let Wiley prepare the Winnie Mae for the LA to Chicago race that was part of the 1930 National Air Races.  Several modifications were made to the plane and despite a delayed start, Wiley and the Winnie Mae won the race.  In an interesting side note, Art Goebel, who was flying what had been the first Winnie Mae, came in second.

 

In 1931, Post wanted to make a go at flying around the world.  Hall again allowed him to use the Winnie Mae.  Additional modifications and improvements were made to the plane and Post recruited navigation expert Harold Gatty to accompany him.  Post and Gatty’s route took them from New York, to Newfoundland, England, Germany, Russia, Siberia, Alaska, Canada, Cleveland and finally back to New York.  Their official flight time was 8 days, 15 hours and 51 minutes, a new world record.  Through it all, the Winnie Mae performed flawlessly, a testament to both Post’s preparedness and the Vega’s aerodynamic efficiency.

But Wiley Post had even greater ambitions.  He decided that, by taking advantage of new and emerging advances in flight and radio technology, he could make a solo around the world flight and maybe even beat the record time he and Gatty had set.  He purchased the Winnie Mae from Hall and took off  for this second round the world trip on July 15, 1933.  He followed basically the same route as he had the first time, but made fewer stops along the way.   Post and the Winnie Mae managed to break the previous record by an impressive 21 hours and in doing so, Wiley Post became the first man to fly around the world twice, and the first man to do it solo.

But Wiley Post and the Winnie Mae, were not through with setting records.  Looking to push further advances in round-the-world flight capabilities, Post looked for ways to achieve stratospheric flight.  Post created a number of aircraft innovations to achieve his dream, including a completely enclosed pressure suit to wear that would still allow him to manuever well enough to pilot the plane.  As of late 1954 Post unofficially reached an altitude of an estimated 50,000 feet, which allowed him to confirm the existence of the jet stream.

Post subsequently attempted four transcontinental flights through the stratosphere all of which were unsuccessful.  In 1935 the Winnie Mae was retired and sold to the Smithsonian Intuition for $25000.

So what about you?  Had you hear of the Winnie Mae before?   And are there other famous ‘namesakes’ of yourself you’ve run across?

Updated: January 5, 2018 — 1:38 am
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