Betty Gillies – First to Join Nancy Love’s WAFS

Her Story, Written for Young Women, Debuts Oct.15

On October 15, my tenth published book, Betty Gillies WAFS Pilot: The Days and Flights of a World War II Squadron Leader, makes its debut. It will be available on Amazon as both a paper back and an e-book. As you might guess, I am thrilled to make this announcement. This book is aimed at young women ages 12 and up, but makes really good adult reading as well. Betty was a “doer.”

My first book, The ORIGINALS, debuted 19 years ago this week. What a journey this has been! And it took me a long time to get here.

 I Found My Calling at Age 5

I’ve wanted to write books from the time I was 5 years old. I made up my own Pooh Bear story, dictated it to my aunt, who was visiting at the time, and then illustrated the book with crayon drawings of Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga and Roo. Did I mention I was sick in bed with the measles at the time and very bored?

From the day The ORIGINALS was published, I wanted to write Betty Gillies’ story. I also wanted to write about Nancy Love, Nancy Batson Crews, BJ Erickson, and Dorothy Scott. I have since written those four, but others are still on my radar screen. Why? Because their stories reached out and grabbed my attention, unlike many other stories I have heard over a lifetime.

In 1942, when the WAFS and subsequently the WASP began, women had been flying almost as long as men. Men, since 1903; women, since 1910. [And Katharine Wright flew WITH her brother Wilbur in 1908 in France.]

 Meet the First Women to Fly in America

American women Bessica Raiche and Blanche Stuart Scott both “flew” in 1910. In fact the dates of their first flights are at best two weeks apart. On September 16, 1910, Bessica flew her husband Frank’s homebuilt aircraft, and she did so with no prior instruction or experience. Between September 2 and 12, 1910, Blanche Stuart Scott put an aircraft into flight, but it may have been by accident.

Blanche was the only woman to whom aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss ever gave flight instruction. Curtiss didn’t think women belonged in aircraft. [How ’bout that ladies!!!]

Curtiss blocked the throttle of her biplane to keep it from gathering sufficient speed to take off. However, Blanche was taxiing the aircraft when something, possibly a gust of wind, lifted the aircraft from the ground and it flew to an altitude of forty feet and then settled gently back to earth. [Take that, Glen!!]

Sources place the date between September 2 and 12, 1910, but, according to those sources, most likely it took place on September 2.

Did Blanche Intentionally Remove the Block?

In one account, Scott takes credit for intentionally removing the block from the throttle, unbeknownst to Curtiss, and taking off. [Hee hee!]  Not the first woman to take the initiative to get what she wanted. Gutsy Blanche never did get her pilot’s license but continued to do stunt flying until 1916, when she quit by choice.  One of her favorite stunts was flying upside down under bridges. You go girl!!!

The Aeronautical Society of America credits Raiche as the first woman to pilot and solo an aircraft in America. The Early Birds of America gives that honor to Blanche Scott. The Early Birds of Aviation is an organization devoted to the history of early pilots. It was started in 1928 and accepted a membership of 598 pioneering aviators.

Bessica Raiche herself said: “Blanche deserved the recognition, but I got more attention because of my lifestyle. I drove an automobile, was active in sports like shooting and swimming, and I even wore riding pants and knickers. People who did not know me or understand me looked down on this behavior. I was an accomplished musician, painter and linguist. I enjoyed life, and just wanted to be myself.” [Again, you go girl!]

The First Four Licensed American Women Pilots

The first four American women to obtain pilot’s licenses from the Aero Club of America and the prestigious Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) were Harriet Quimby, #37, on August 1, 1911; Mathilde Moisant, #44, on August 17, 1911; Julia Clark, #133, on May 19, 1912; and Katherine Stinson, #148, on July 24, 1912. Katherine’s younger sister, Marjorie, was not far behind. The sisters later trained English and Canadian pilots to fly in World War I.

This information on early American women pilots above is taken from the  Introduction in my 7th book, Finding Dorothy Scott: Letters of a WASP Pilot. More to come in future blogs.

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Watch for Betty October 15th!

And thank you for reading my blog!

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