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Breaking Through The Clouds — The Story
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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 no bulls.

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.