On March 19, Elinor Smith, the extraordinary female pilot known as the “Flying Flapper of Freeport”, died in a nursing home at 98 years old.
Born in 1911, Elinor Smith fell in love with flying airplanes as a very young child, and was flying solo by the tender age of 15. Always a daredevil, she dared to fly her father’s Waco 9 plane up to higher and higher altitudes, eventually setting a record for light plane altitudes of nearly 12,000 feet just three months after her first solo flight.
On a dare at age 17, she flew under the four bridges on New York’s East River, the only person in the world to do so to this day; though she was ‘grounded’ by the Department of Commerce for ten days, her stunt brought in massive publicity; according to legend, the letter of ‘grounding’ was accompanied by a request for her autograph.
In January 1929, Elinor set the record for women’s flying endurance at a groundbreaking 13.5 hours, despite freezing temperatures and what she called “a blend of incompetence and arrogance” in her autobiography. Three months after she set this record, she broke it again—this time with a 26.5 hour flight.
Within a year of setting her first record for altitude, she broke that with an extraordinary record of 32,576 feet—almost at the cost of her life. By 1930, before her twentieth birthday, she was called “The Best Woman Pilot in America” and her celebrity and carefree attitude gave her the famous nickname “The Flying Flapper of Freeport.” In 1934, she became the first woman to be on a Wheaties cereal box, proving that women could be champions just as well as men!
PeaceKeeper mourns the death of such an extraordinary American aviatrix, and is confident that this new century will invite such courageous hearts and minds as Ms. Smith proved to be in her time!
The PeaceKeeper Team
(Writer: Renee Estey. Editor: Jessica Smith.)