PICTURE: Being in an open cockpit plane, 1,000 feet in the air, with the
sun blazing down on you. You're racing against 19 other pilots as you
try to open a road map to calculate your route when all of the sudden,
you hit turbulence. The map flies out of your hands and into the vast
sky, falling to the earth below.
IMAGINE: Finding out days before this race that your brand new airplane
has a faulty exhaust system which is blowing carbon monoxide directly
into your face. The solution is the installation of a pipe along the
leading edge of the airplane, bringing fresh air into the cockpit. The
only catch is that you must keep your nose stuck to the pipe the entire
time you fly in order to breathe.
VISUALIZE: Making an emergency landing in a field where all you can see
are cows. As you descend in your bright red plane, you pray there are
These are just a few of the challenges that happened over a nine day
period in 1929 during the first Women's Transcontinental Air Race,
officially known as the National Women's Air Derby. Participants
included headline aviatrixes Amelia Earhart, Pancho Barnes, Bobbi Trout
and Louise Thaden. In all, there were twenty qualified pilots who
entered this ground breaking race which was dubbed the Powder Puff Derby
by columnist Will Rogers.
During the race, there were emergency landings, damaged planes,
rumors of sabotage and plenty of public scrutiny to contend with on a daily basis.
There was even a case of Typhoid Fever, a wayward trip or two into Mexico and ultimately,
a tragic death. However, the women also had strong support from many, including some
of the best known pilots and celebrities of the day. There was also glamour, humor
and a strong camaraderie between the women that balanced out some of the challenges.
This race became one of the most pivotal and significant events ever
to take place in women's aviation. It was, after all, more than just a race;
it was a chance to show the world that women can be independent, competitive,
self-sufficient, intelligent, competent, graceful and really good pilots.