Celebrate 60 Years With the Women of Mercury 13!

 In Sarah Byrn Rickman

Join the 99s Museum of Women Pilots

in a February 27 Salute to the Mercury 13

After the 1962 Congressional Hearings ended their dreams of space travel, the women pilots who made up the Mercury 13 went on with their lives. Some brushed it off and forgot about it, others never really shook the resentment, but did move on. Yes, some bitterness remained.

Wally Funk never gave up her dream of going into space, and she continued to push forward in her chosen field, aviation, and carved for herself a multifaceted career. Wally’s story is told by author Loretta Hall, Higher, Faster, Longer: My Life in Aviation and My Quest for Spaceflight, released last summer. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=higher+faster+longer+wally+funk&

WALLY models a Space Suit.

I was fortunate to get to know another of the Mercury 13 women, B Steadman.

In 1964, I was a reporter/special writer for the Women’s Department at The Detroit News, the afternoon paper that covered Detroit and its vast network of suburbs. I spotted a one-inch story about a Royal Oak woman, Lorraine McCarty, who had won the Michigan SMALL Race. I considered it an insult that a woman from Royal Oak (a large suburb) had won an air race and the City Room thought the story was worth only an inch of copy. And it was buried on the back page.

I went into my editor’s office and showed her the article. “Can’t we do better than this?” She looked up at me and said, “find her.”

I did. Using Detroit’s huge phone book — we had neither computers nor the Internet in 1964 — I found a McCarty listed in Royal Oak. My call to that number was answered by Lorraine herself.

“I’m Going to Flint With Them!”

The next day, a News photographer and I drove to Detroit City Airport. Lorraine and Pat Arnold — she was the pilot and owner of the winning aircraft and Lorraine was the copilot — planned to pick us up and fly us to Flint Michigan to do the interview and take photos.

My photographer refused to get in an airplane flown by women. We had to stage our photos at Detroit City Airport. “I’m going to Flint with them,” I told him. He climbed back in the Detroit News car and drove off. I climbed into the backseat of the Piper Comanche and we took off for Flint.

We parked at Trimble Aviation, an FBO (Fixed Base Operator) at the Flint Airport. Both Pat and Lorraine hangered their airplanes there. Then I met the woman who ran the FBO and Trimble Aviation — B (nee Trimble) Steadman. I soon learned “who” she was. “B” was one of the 1961 female-in-space guinea pigs. A doctor in New Mexico, Randolph Lovelace, was testing women’s reactions to physiological simulations of what scientists thought would be “life in space” for human travelers. He was one of a few physicians who thought this was a worthwhile idea

Thank you Dr. Lovelace!

“B” Trimble Steadman

The meeting between B and me was a meeting in time that would return later in our lives.

When the interviews were done, Lorraine took me up for a flight in her single-engine, two-seater Piper Colt. My FIRST really small airplane! I was wearing a tight skirt and high heels – that’s what we wore to work back then.

Sitting in the right seat, the copilot’s seat, I was so terrified of touching the rudders with my feet and throwing the Colt into a spin, I sat with my feet frozen the entire flight. I could hardly walk when we got down!

My Story on Lorraine and Pat Ran in Sunday’s Detroit News

Lorraine drove me back to her home in Royal Oak, where my husband picked me up. “I want to learn to fly,” I said.  Of course lack of money made that impossible. I wrote my story and it appeared in the Sunday Women’s Edition of The Detroit News, along with great photos of Lorraine, Pat and the Piper Comanche.

I met B Steadman again 25 years later.

The International Women’s Air and Space Museum (IWASM) had located three blocks from my home in Centerville Ohio. When I left my job as editor of the Centerville-Bellbrook Times in 1989, IWASM hired me to help them get better known in Dayton Ohio’s south suburbs.

B was IWASM’s executive vice president. I would be working with her, as well as with Joan Hrubec, the museum administrator. I also would be working with Nancy Hopkins Tier, the President of IWASM AND a Charter Ninety-Nines who had known Amelia Earhart. Women in Aviation became my job, my passion, and a few years later would lead me beyond journalism to what I had wanted to do since age 5 — write books.

Jerrie Cobb

In 1991, the Mercury 13 pilots would mark their 30th anniversary. The museum planned to have a Reunion for them. By then, Joan and I had established the museum’s annual Monday night FILMED Women in Aviation Series. We planned to kick off the 1991-92 year with a Mercury 13 panel. Note: they were called FLATs then: First Lady Astronaut Trainees.

The weekend, before the presentation, we hosted Jerrie Cobb, Myrtle Cagle, Rhea Woltman, Irene Leverton, and of course B Steadman. Wally, no longer in Dayton, could not come. By then, Jean Hixson and Marian Dietrich were gone. Jan Dietrich, Janey Hart, Jeri (Sloan)Truhill, Gene Nora Jessen and Sarah Ratley were unable to attend.

Sarah Gorelick Ratley

Unfortunately, before we got to the taping of the lecture Monday evening, Jerrie Cobb had to leave. Bummer! But, the show must go on, and did!

Eileen Collins

Now — 30 years later — a VIRTUAL 60th anniversary celebration of the Mercury 13 is happening.

On February 27, Mercury 13 fans will be able to meet Gene Nora and Wally. Via film clips from the October 29, 1991, IWASM Reunion, they will meet B Steadman, Myrtle Cagle, Rhea Woltman and Irene Leverton.

Eileen Collins, the first woman astronaut to command a space flight, is our Keynote Speaker. Janet Ivey, of PBS’s Emmy-winning Janet’s Planet, is our Emcee. Alyssa Carson, a 19-year-old aspiring astronaut, is also our guest. Time: 11 am to 1 pm Central Time! Those in other time zones, please take note!!! PLEASE JOIN US!!!

Tickets $25 for adults; $15 for youngsters through 12th grade.

Here is your invitation:

Here’s a link: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-mercury-13-sixty-years-after-tickets-131127197979

Photo credits: IWASM, 99s Museum of Women Pilots, Wally Funk Personal Collection, Eileen Collins

See you February 27th!!!

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