1st Female Pilot to Cross English Channel Was Not Named Amelia

The real first lady of flight

The real first lady of flight


One Hot Pilot

 On This Date In History:

Perhaps the greatest and most courageous aviators no one has ever heard of got her flying license on August 1, 1911. Harriet Quimby was a single woman working in New York, which at the time was a pretty tough thing to do. Quimby worked for Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly. She was an independent and strong minded woman but wasn’t cast in the role of the Suffragettes. Instead she wrote articles that focused on neglect of children, corrupt politics and over hunting of certain species of animals.  However, she went on to do spectacular things that hardly anyone knows about.  Fortunately, as a writer, she did leave behind the tales of Harriet Quimby adventures in her own words.

Quimby also must have had a thing for machines because in 1906 while covering a race at the Vanderbilt Race Track, she went for a ride in a high speed automobile. So enthralled was she that she purchased her own car. I wonder if she was the only female car owner in 1906 New York. She covered a flying meet in 1910 and decided to take flying lessons.   Quimby met Matilde Moisant and her brother John at the Belmont Park International Aviation Tournament.  John and his brother Alfred ran a flying school so Harriet signed up.  She said ” There is no more risk in an airplane than a high-speed automobile and a lot more fun. Why shouldn’t we have some good American pilots.”   She became the first American woman to get a flying license and the second in the world.   Not only did Harriet get her pilot’s license, but so did her friend Matilde, who became the second American woman to officially become a pilot just 10 days after Harriet.  Matlide went on to establish herself as a female aviation pioneer as she and Harriet had a friendly competition.  Just a month after receiving her license, Moisant defeated both Quimby and French pilot Helene Dutrieu in an altitude competition when she took her 50 hp monoplane up to 1200 feet.  I’ve driven go-karts with a 50 hp engine.  That’s really pretty incredible and the ladies were quite brave. 

Harriet Quimby and Matilde Moisant

In fact, it took quite a bit of bravery to take to the air in the early days of aviation. Perhaps she learned her daring from John Moisant who dazzled the world when he crossed the English channel only  a month after he learned to fly!  Nevertheless, in spite of Harriet’s claim that it was no more dangerous than driving a car,  John Moisant was killed in a flying accident not long after she made his acquaintance.   Then, on April 14, 1912, Matlide landed her plane after a performance and it burst into flames due to a leaky fuel tank.  She was pulled from the wreckage with her clothing on fire, but she survived.   Nevertheless, Harriet was not deterred.   Just two days after her friend nearly burned to death,  on this date in 1912 Harriet Quimby became the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel.   Her accomplishment went largely unnoticed because on April 16, 1912, the press was filled with details of the tragic Titanic sinking and her feat was left to the back pages and generally lost to history.  However, as  a journalist, Quimby decided to write the story of how Harriet Quimby flew solo across the English Channel.

A looker

A looker

A few months later, she turned her sights on the air speed record. Her plane was a two seat monoplane. When she flew this particular aircraft solo, she used sandbags in the passenger seat in order to maintain balance. For some reason, she took a man on a ride, presumably before she went for the record. The man won the opportunity in a coin flip with his son.   As the plane went on its journey, for unknown reason it pitched forward and the man was tossed to his death.   Harriet maintained control briefly before the plane pitched again and she was tossed to her death at age 37(NYTimes 1912 story/obit). Like the more famous, Amelia Earhart, I think that Harriet was quite the looker. Her flying outfit was a quite handsome purple silk jumpsuit. Earhart gained fame perhaps as much for her disappearance as for her flying feats. While Quimby has been largely forgotten, I have an idea that her death highlighted the need of seatbelts in planes. When you buckle up on your next flight, think of Harriet.

SPC slight risk for April 16 2010

Weather Bottom Line:  After a week of splendid weather, the big day is here.  Yes, it’s my birthday but to highlight it’s importance, I am getting a colonoscopy! That is a sure sign that age is creeping up and that I don’t count birthdays anymore.  Snow White already had my birthday party last week at Burger King.  I think that she’s getting me back for taking her to Golden Corral for Valentine’s Day.  Guys..don’t make fun of Valentine’s Day.  It will go on the “do not forget” list.  But, this evening, it will be interesting to see how my emcee appearance goes tonight for the Justice Racing Stables as they kick off the Derby season.   Hopefully, no one will strike a match.  And I hope that John Nolley has planned for an indoor event because the cold front will be coming through and I suspect it will be less exciting than my visit to the doctor, though the Storm Prediction Center is rattling our cage a bit.

SPC risk for gusty winds biggest threat

That 5% risk for severe weather that they had yesterday they upped to be a slight risk for severe thunderstorms.  They only claim a less than 2% risk for twisters and hail but are watchful for high winds.  As the front comes down, they are noting the amount of sunshine ahead of the boundary and that may increase the lapse rates sufficiently to team with a low level jet of about 50 kts and increasing dew points to produce a line of thunder storms.  We are on the extreme western tip of the risk area but nothing really jumps out at me.  The CAPE forecast is only 500 J/KG and, while  that is sufficient to produce some boomers, I’m not too impressed.  So, I wouldn’t head to the basement just yet.  Nevertheless, it’s out there so keep in mind, if we do get some storms this evening with the front, there may be some winds to contend with in individual storms.  Otherwise, Thunder Over Louisville weekend is upon us and the weather will be pretty good, though cooler than we’ve recently seen.  Highs in the low to mid 60’s.  Fireworks temperatures will be falling through the 50’s and the wind will be out of the North, meaning that if you are on the Louisville side of the river, be prepared for some smoke.


8 Responses

  1. Amelia had a much better press agent: George Putnam! I think that you’d better not let Snow White see this post, buddy. You seem to greatly admire this lady…and her looks!

    Happy belated birthday, buddy. I would say happy colonoscopy but I think that those two things are mutually exclusive!

  2. So glad to hear from you. I had pondered just this morning whether I should email to find out if you too got intimate with the doctor…or the other way around. As for Harriet, I bet her story would make a good movie. I’ve also thought that about Lorenzo the Magnificent and Don Carlos Buell. I thought that I had a unique way of celebrating my birthday. I told my students that was a sure sign of age.

  3. I was out-of-town this week. At a convention during the day and working on presentations for myself and my boss at night. Not a fun week! But I got home safe so no complaints. Anyway, I hope that you had a good birthday, under the circumstances!

  4. There was a comment about Harriet Quimby, her being the first woman to cross the English Channel, and a movie should be made about her life. Just want to let your readers know that a movie IS being made about Harriet Quimby’s life, by us (Biograph Studios). Harriet worked for our company back in 1910 as a screenwriter, five movies she wrote and one she was in. Her fascinating life and making aviation hostory for women will be told in this wonderful film starring DonnaMarie Recco. We just finished shooting the trailer for the film, which will be online soon. Thanks for ALL your interest and check our website, as well as the movie’s website at http://www.harrietquimbymovie.com


    Thomas R. Bond II
    Biograph Company

  5. Thank you for your contribution and filling us in.

  6. We want everyone to know that in 2012 Biograph Company is finally in the pre-production stages of the ‘Harriet Quimby’ movie, with a preliminary relase date for 2014/15. This will be an amazing and detailed bio-pic made by the company Harriet worked for in 1911/12. here is more info…

  7. If its done well, it could be a success because hers is a great, if not sad, story and its also little known.

  8. She actually wasn’t the first woman “pilot” to cross the channel. That title fall to french balloonist Marie Marvingt. I would update your title to say “Airplane Pilot.” You can read more about her in this article (http://bit.ly/2lhyxbE).

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