In 1929, 86 women pilots met to form an organization that wasn’t named until two years later, when 99 female pilots met again.
The Ninety-Nines were born. The women, including famed pilot Amelia
Earhart, banded together to promote women in the aviation industry.
A copy of Amelia Earhart’s pilot’s
certificate is displayed at the Ninety-Nines Museum of Women Pilots in
Oklahoma City. PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OKLAHOMAN archives
Today, the Ninety-Nines Inc. International Organization of
Women Pilots has members worldwide with chapters scattered around the
globe and one in cyberspace.
Its mission is to promote advancement of aviation through education,
scholarships and mutual support while honoring their unique history and
sharing their passion for flight.
The group’s international headquarters is in a two-story building
near Will Rogers World Airport. Why here? Oklahoma City is centrally
The headquarters itself takes up most of the bottom floor, with
several exhibits scattered around, showing what the Ninety-Nines are
The second floor houses the 99s Museum of Women Pilots. It is filled
with mementos from aviation history, from the first female pilot,
Harriet Quimby, who got her license to fly in 1911, to displays of women
in the American space program.
Both floors have an afternoon’s worth of exhibits that not only inform, but enchant.
Earhart is well represented here, with pride of place given to a
scarf she often wore. There is no explanation why it wasn’t around her
neck when she left on that final flight 75 years ago. Her family donated
it to the Ninety-Nines museum.
Its aura is enhanced when you know that astronaut Marine Lt. Col.
Randy Bresnik took it up on the space shuttle Atlantis on STS-129 in
November 2009. Bresnik is the grandson of Earhart’s personal
photographer, Albert Bresnick.
Albert Bresnik wanted to go on Earhart’s final flight, but he was
denied a seat because she needed the space and weight for fuel.
A glassed display case has her scarf, photos of both Albert and Randy
Bresnik — Albert with Earhart and Randy in his spacesuit — a mission
patch, and a photo of Earhart and the scarf floating by the porthole of
the shuttle, clearly in space.
The museum also gives visitors a look at Earhart’s pilot’s license.
The one displayed now is a copy. The real one is on display at the
Hilary Swank autographed a poster from her 2009 movie about Earhart’s life — “Amelia” — and it’s on display too.
The older displays show just how far flight fashion has come. Flight
suits from the early days are there, some obviously made for men, but
the museum includes a getup that coverts from a skirt to a shirt and
back again so ladies are always property clothed when not in the
cockpit. The design is patented.
Mathilde Moisant, the second woman to get her pilot’s license, wrote
about women’s flying gear, saying, “A veil has no place in aviation,” a
somewhat scandalous statement at the time.
Also on display are the uniforms assigned to
members of the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs), women who
ferried planes around the world during World War II. They flew damaged
ones from battlefields to air bases for repair. They were given leather
jackets and pants and a regular flight suit. One also can see uniforms
worn by British women who served the same function for the Royal Air
Nearby is a piece of a current fighter jet, flown by fighter pilot
Kim Campbell. It’s full of real bullet holes from when she was shot at
over Baghdad, Iraq. She flew that plane to safety herself and donated a
damaged piece of the fuselage to the museum.
Did you know at one time two women flew in the Air Force’s
Thunderbird’s show flight team? There’s one of their uniforms on
The first all-women flight crew of a commercial 747 aircraft have a
uniform on display and information on the women who were in the cockpit.
One of those pilots, Valerie Walker, is the daughter of Clint Walker,
famous actor and member of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage
Museum. She came to Oklahoma with her father to visit both museums when
he was inducted into the hall in 2004.
Interactive displays give the history of women and airplanes, and
there is a flight simulator so visitors can try their skills at taking
off, flying and landing a plane.
On the way out, visitors can stop by the small gift shop for a souvenir.
The Ninety-Nines local chapters hold educational programs,
fear-of-flying clinics for airline passengers and safety programs. They
recently became a sponsor for a Girl Scout of America aviation merit
Members work with the National Intercollegiate Flying Association
student flying competitions. The organization gives full and partial
scholarships for many types of training.
The Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarships are given to qualified
members for fully funded advanced flight training, jet type ratings and
The group also gives research scholarship grants and new pilot awards.
Chapters raise money with flight races, including the upcoming Okie
Derby set for Saturday at Wiley Post Airport. This race, the nation’s
longest running proficiency air race, is not a speed race but one that
judges a pilot’s ability to judge time and fuel usage on a predesignated
fight path within about 200 miles of Wiley Post. Winners receive
trophies, and proceeds are used for “Wings of the Future” scholarship