Thursday, March 27, 2008

Wingwalking women

I decided to see today what kind of information the web had on women pilots, and barnstormers, during the pioneer years.

PBS.Kids has a page on barnstormers.
In most barnstorming shows, men piloted the planes. When women participated, they most often performed stunts such as wing walking. Gladys Ingle was famous for shooting arrows at a target while standing on the top wing of a Curtiss Jenny--and for changing planes in mid-air. Georgia "Tiny" Broderick was the first woman to parachute from a plane--at 2,000 feet--in 1913. She went on to perform over 1,110 jumps.

Some women, such as ...Bess[ie] Coleman, didn't want to walk on top of airplanes--they wanted to fly them. Coleman's performance at the Chicago Checkerboard Airdome in 1922 was the first ever given by a black woman. Mabel Cody competed with men as well--by running her own flying circus. She performed stunts as well, including dancing on the wing of a flying plane. has several photos, and an interview with, a modern-day wingwalker, Margaret Stivers, as well as a few paragraphs on the pioneers:

Ethel Dare was the first woman to change planes in the air. Pretty and petite she was billed as the "1920 Aerial Sensation," the "Queen of the Air" or provocatively as "The Flying Witch." She had been a flying trapeze performer with the Barnum And Bailey Circus.

Miss Dare delighted in standing on the edge of a wing and then would suddenly fall backwards into space. A length of rope would suddenly hault her death plunge. Then she would climb back, hand over hand, to perform other stunts. Her specialty, and all of the daredevils had specialities, was the "Iron Jaw Spin." Dangling from the end of a rope with a special mouthpiece clutched between her teeth, Ethel would twirl dizzily in the plane's propwash. Up the rope she would climb for a daring series of calisthenics as the plane circled the fairgrounds. has a brief mention of Rosalie Gordon.
Obviously, it was also a dangerous pursuit. As barnstorming's popularity grew, the performances became increasingly elaborate and risky. In 1924, stuntperson Rosalie Gordon's parachute was tangled in the landing gear of a plane; she was rescued by fellow barnstormer Clyde "Upside-Down" Pangborn from the Gates Flying Circus. Most barnstorming accidents, however, ended less happily.

Readers of the forums give this info about the colors of planes in which the women flew:
Gladys Roy. Entire airframe apparently covered with exotic murals! Only thing clearly visible looks like a lion's head, but ortho film shows little detail.

Mable (sic) Cody Flying Circus. Dark fuselage and vertical tail, remainder apparently natural fabric. Illegible inscription on rudder. Polished metal cowling.

Lillian Boyer. Tinted photo shows bright green fuselage and tail, wheels in an indeterminate colour, red or orange. Any underside detail?

Gladys Ingle often worked with a Jenny shown in a painting as having blue fuselage, wheels and fin, yellow wings and tailplane, and red-white-dark blue striped rudder. No. 27 in circle on fuselage. Reproduced too small on the Internet for heraldic-style fuselage badge and white inscription across upper wing to be legible.

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