1930s Flyer With 21stCentury Attitude
Yours truly has introduced you to original WAFS Nancy Love, BJ Erickson, Teresa James and Dorothy Scott through books. How would you like to meet some more of them? Original WAFS Dorothy Fulton, for starters.
No pilot expects the propeller to drop off an airplane. But that is how nineteen-year-old Dorothy Fulton came to be hanging, without power, 2,000 feet in the air over populous Teaneck, New Jersey, her hometown.
“I heard the motor ‘rev’ — that means speed up,” Dorothy told reporters. “I cut the switch. That’s drilled into us at school. Then I saw the propeller moving away from the ship. I should have been scared, but I didn’t have time. I just had time to lift the wing so the prop could get past. If I hadn’t, it would have torn the wing apart and I’d have crashed.
“I dropped the nose of my plane to keep up my flying speed — eighty miles an hour. The challenge was to stay in the air for five miles, the distance to the airport. You have to know your angles, and we learned gliding angles well at school.” Spoken like a true pilot, and Dorothy Johanna Fulton was just that — a real, honest-to-goodness pilot with the cool head under pressure to prove it.
Broken Crankshaft, Sheared Propeller
The propeller crankshaft had broken in midair and the propeller sheared off. The errant propeller ended up in a backyard on Bell Avenue. Dorothy managed to hold the airplane aloft long enough to make it back to Bendix/Teterboro Airport where she landed it without further mishap.
Dorothy planned to go looking for the propeller the next day, but the man who lived in the Bell Avenue house retrieved it and sent it over to the airport where he figured it belonged. Said Dorothy, “The only thing I was worried about was that it might have hit somebody. I’ve made plenty of forced landings before.”
Amelia Earhart flew the Atlantic in 1928 — as a passenger. Immediately she became an international heroine. In 1932, AE — to prove to herself and to the world that she could do it by herself — flew the Atlantic solo. In doing so, she inspired dreams of flight in countless young women of future generations. Dorothy —13 in 1932 — soon would soon become an aviatrix like Amelia.
A Two-Year High School Flying Course
As fate would have it, in 1933, Teaneck High School became the first high school in the country, possibly in the world, to offer students a two-year flying course that allowed them to work toward a private pilot’s license — for credit. The school’s founder and instructor was Major Arthur G. Norwood — a World War I pilot, one-time operations manager of the Bendix/Teterboro Airport, and local aviation enthusiast.
Dorothy — with a few flights in a neighbor’s small airplane under her belt — enrolled in the two-year aviation course at the beginning of her junior year at Teaneck High School. To be eligible she had to have her parents’ permission, pass the required physical, and have exceptional grades. Friends and neighbors were horrified that the Fultons would allow their eldest daughter to fly, let alone enroll in an aviation course, says Dorothy’s younger sister, Harriett “Honey” Parker. “They didn’t think such pastimes were appropriate for a young lady. But our parents let us make our own choices.”
Honey Fulton Parker is a personal friend of this author/blogger. It is she who related Dorothy’s story to me.
Seventeen-year-old Dottie Fulton soloed on March 27, 1936, was granted her amateur license on November 9, 1936, and earned her regular private pilot’s license on August 4, 1937. To secure her private license, Dottie and Major Norwood took off from Teterboro and flew to Roosevelt Field on Long Island.
Second Teaneck Girl to Graduate
Dorothy had 52 solo hours when she passed her flight test. Major Norwood told reporters who came to interview them that Miss Fulton “was right at the top of the class.” She was the second girl in Norwood’s classes to get her private license.
“I want to start courses like we have in Teaneck all over the country some day,” Dottie told the same reporters. “I want to teach kids who want to fly and who can’t afford the expensive schools to get up in the air and handle the airplane. Pretty soon planes will be as common as the auto.” And, she added, her next goal was 200 solo hours and her transport license.
Dorothy entered New York University in the fall of 1937 where she took special aviation courses. And she kept building her time in the cockpit with that transport license as her goal. She had her sights on her flight instructor rating as well as the transport rating. Both required 200 solo hours and she was closing in on that magic number.
The day she lost the propeller — July 10, 1938 — she was building her time with that goal in mind.
Original WAFS #22 in the Fold
In September 1942, with America now embroiled in World War II, Dorothy received one of the 83 telegrams sent out by Nancy Love on September, 1942, asking her to come to New Castle Army Air Base in Wilmington, Delaware, to join the fledgling Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS). Dorothy went, and became the 22nd woman to qualify for Nancy’s original WAFS. She had 1,966 flying hours.
See more of Dottie’s story in my first book: The Originals. Incidentally, she is the third from the left on the cover of The Originals
THANK YOU so much for reading my blog. Hope you’ll read my many books on the WAFS and WASP of World War II. And look for more mini-bios about the Original WAFS here.
Sarah Byrn Rickman