Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pilot 'did things people were timid of doing'

From the London Free Press: Pilot 'did things people were timid of doing'
A pioneering pilot for women in Southwestern Ontario, Hilda Mickle was a fun-loving adventurer who mentored many female flyers.

The London woman, a Cherryhill resident, died Feb. 10. She was 90.

Her memory endures through a London aviation club for women and an award for Canadians in aviation, both of which she established.

Born June 19, 1921, Mickle was a late-bloomer, her friend and fellow pilot Pat Crocker said. She was in her mid-40s when she learned to fly in 1964. Seeing her son get his pilot license inspired her to do the same.

“She wasn’t a scaredy-cat. She was very confident,” said Crocker.

Mickle joined the First Canadian Chapter of the Ninety-Nines (99s) in Toronto after learning to fly.

An organization of women pilots worldwide, the Ninety-Nines was founded in 1929 with American aviation trailblazer Amelia Earhart as its first president.

“It’s women learning from women,’’ said Peggy Smith, a fellow 99 member. They fly together, learn from each other, share flying stories, and organize competitions and fundraisers.

After missing too many 99s meetings in Toronto due to bad weather, Mickle decided to form a London chapter.

“We’d had enough of missing the winter meetings,” said Crocker, one of the founding members of the Maple Leaf Chapter of the 99s, London’s first organization of women pilots. They started with eight members in 1969 and have grown throughout the years.

Mickle rose through the ranks of Canada’s 99s, becoming the governor for East Canada in 1971. The governor acts as an international representative and keeps all the chapters informed.

One of her biggest legacies will be the Canadian Award in Aviation, said Grace Howell, the award’s trustee. The money is given to anyone trying to “promote, improve or preserve” aviation in Canada. The prize of $1,000 to $2,000 is often awarded to museums, writers and historians.

“She really pushed for this idea,” said Howell. The international 99s wanted to keep the money within the organization, but Mickle persisted and the award was created for any groups or individuals in Canada.

When reminiscing about Mickle, her friends often speak of the 1970 Angel Derby, an air race to the Bahamas.

Dressed in matching plaid skirts and jackets, Mickle and her co-pilot Joan Corbett flew a Commander 100 plane from Toronto Island to the Bahamas. The four-seat, single-engine plane got them through the derby’s series of flying challenges, landings and navigation.

“The point that she liked to make, and I don’t blame her, is she not only flew it, she finished it,” Crocker said. “Because not everybody finishes a race.”

It wasn’t common in those days for Canadian women to compete in air races, said Sue Ehrlander of New Brunswick, a 99er who knew Mickle well. Mickle’s experience made others realize they could compete, too, and many sought her advice, said Ehrlander.

She filled the role of mentor to many within the 99s organization up until her final years. Even after retiring from flying, she’d was a “hangar-fly,” said Crocker, meaning they’d get together and talk about flying.

“She was always very accessible. She would always be there to lend her camaraderie, her expertise, her advice, and her encouragement,” Crocker said. “Which is exactly what the 99s is for.”

Flying was a hobby for Mickle, who held a commercial pilot’s licence and instructor licence.

“Flying was the love of her heart,” Crocker said. “It’s not what you do for a living. It’s what you are.”

Friends said she was a delightful, friendly person who always warmed up a room.

“She was a lot of fun. She lived every minute,” said friend John Getliffe. He remembers hearing her sing with the big bands at the Wonderland Gardens in London.

“She did things people were timid of doing,” Getliffe said.

She will not be soon forgotten, said Howell. “She was a real pioneer for women in aviation. A real historical figure.”

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