Saturday, January 4, 2014

Pioneer female aviator was from Berks

From the Reading Eagle: (Nov 7, 2013)

In 1948, the Jacqueline Cochran All-Woman Transcontinental Air Race marked the formal beginning of the All-Woman Transcontinental Air Race, or AWTAR.

Women pilots in Los Angeles drafted the first set of rules and regulations for air racing and developed an official timekeeping system, the old system being honor based.

The AWTAR became affectionately known as the "Powder Puff Derby," based on comedian Will Rogers' reference to the 1929 Women's Air Derby.

Frances W. Nolde, a Berks County aviator, won the 2,540-mile cross-country race from Palm Springs, Calif., to Miami.

Nolde flew her crimson Ryan Navion, a civilian version of the P-51 Mustang fighter plane, cross-country in 17 hours, 10 minutes, landing on Amelia Earhart Field on June 4, 1948. Her plane, purchased by Aviation Consultants of Reading, was temporarily grounded in Waco, Texas, with engine trouble.

At age 46, Reading's Bicentennial "Sky Queen" completed the impressive feat flying without a co-pilot.

During the race, Nolde carried U.S. mail bearing the Amelia Earhart memorial stamp seal. The seals were sold to collectors to raise money for the Amelia Earhart Memorial Foundation for Women Pilots. Cochran, a pioneer woman aviator who sponsored the race, met Nolde to offer congratulations when she landed.

In 1949, Nolde finished third in a Powder Puff Derby from Canada to Florida.

Nolde, wife of Reading hosiery manufacturer Hans W. Nolde, had a brilliant career in aviation.

In World War II, she held the rank of colonel, the highest available to a woman at the time, as commander of the Civil Air Patrol courier base, flying cargo and personnel to war industries. She was the first national director of CAP's Women in Aviation.

In 1949, she became the first woman to sit on the Reading Airport Commission and worked to have the airport named for Gen. Carl A. Spaatz of Boyertown, the first commandant of the U.S. Air Force Academy.

"She made unique contributions to the field of aviation as a pilot, Civil Air Patrol leader in World War II, visionary and achiever," the Congressional Record said in a tribute on her death in 1995 at age 93.

Over her career, Nolde logged 10,000 hours of flying time and held a commercial pilot's license.

She served as vice president of the National Aeronautics Association, was a governor of the International Association of Women Pilots and was a member of the President's Women's Advisory Committee on Aviation.

A talented musician and actress, she was in the cast of "Lady Be Good" on Broadway, starring Fred Astaire, and acted in a radio soap opera under the name Gloria Gay.

Active in civic affairs in Reading, Nolde was a board member of the Junior League and founded The New School, a country day school.

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