Tag Archives: Early flight

Amazing Female Aviators in the Early 20th Century ~ Harriet Quimby 1875-1912

Whilst researching for ‘Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home’ I read a great deal about early aviators and was exciteded to read about Harriet Quimby, even though it had nothing to do with my novel. Anyone writing a novel knows how easy it is to get sidetracked and it led to me finding out about other female pioneers in aviation. After all, everyone has heard of Amy Johnson and Amelia Earhart from the 1930’s, but I was surprised to discover many women whose endeavours matched those male counterparts of their era as far back as 1910! Their daring to venture in what was seen as a man’s world accomplished much more than their achievements in flying alone, although these were certainly remarkable. They also designed clothes, opened factories, begun flying schools and fought prejudice at many levels. They were not, as I had imagined, all rich young ladies with plenty of time on their hands, but women who dared to be different.

I’d like to share this in posts over the next couple of weeks. If you enjoy my posts then please let your friends know and share it on twitter and facebook.

Harriet Quimby 1875 – 1912 ‘The Green Eyed Beauty’

Background and inspiration to fly ~ Harriet Quimby came from a poor American family, but by working herself up from journalism and theatrical writing she became a competent and successful screenwriter for the silent movies of her time. It was after attending the Belmont Park Air Tournament on Long Island that she decided she must learn to fly.

Aviation achievements ~ In 1911 she gained her pilots licence and became the first female American to gain an Aero Club of America Certificate. As many pilots of her day, Harriet gained experience and a way to fund her ambitions by participating in several air shows, but her main achievement was in April 1912 to be the first woman pilot to fly across the English Channel.

Death ~ Unfortunately she met her early death as a passenger in a two-seater Bleriot, only three months later in July 1912.

Notable difference ~ Harriet was also noted for her beauty and her dignified manner, but her other notable legacy was that she designed a suitable style of dress for women pilots of her day. She was known for her purple satin one piece flight suit which converted into pants (trousers) when flying but to a skirt when out of the aeroplane so that she did not offend the dress expectations of her era.

Harriet Quimby certainly moved the women’s movement forward in her own way and her fashion sense would amuse and please a friend of mine I visited recently who still keeps up to date with what is fashionable.

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Filed under Early Flight, Frivolous Flying Facts, Research, Role of Women

The Solent and Beyond ~ Virtual Social History Tour Post no 2 ~ Fort Grange

Solent map googleFG

For my second post in this series we are going to travel a short distance along Stokes Bay and follow the route of main road, until we pass Fort Grange, the second in a row of five Palmerstone fortresses. Four of these forts are still within the grounds HMS Sultan Naval Base, Gosport.

The Aero club were given permission to use the base as far back as 1909 and when my characters moved to Gilkicker in 1910, flights over their heads would have been exciting, but relatively frequent. In 1914 the forward thinking members of the military at the War Department authorised the use of Fort Grange and neighbouring Rowner, to accommodate squadrons from the Royal Flying Corps, formed in May 1912, but what stands out as the significance of the base at Fort Grange was one of its pilots, a Lt. Col. Robert Smith-Barry. On his arrival he was extremely critical of the standard of flying and in particular the training of these poor souls, who were all too quickly sent to France to meet their fate. I quote here from ‘Wings Over Gosport’ compiled by Lesley Burton who describes the training techniques he observed:

“It involved the trainee pilot sitting in the observer’s seat watching points until he transferred to the pilot’s seat and it was his turn to see if he had absorbed the instruction given by his instructor. Directions were conveyed to him by hand signals, loud bawling and by flag waving signals from the ground!”

It was not until 1917 though, that Smith-Barry introduced what became known as the Gosport Tube, a mouth piece which linked the instructor to an early ear piece on the trainee pilot  by a tube.

In fact, the Grange became well known for its excellent training and both novices and experiences pilots benefited from time spent there. As you can imagine, in the early days of flight, people learnt by trial and error, much as they did riding a bicycle, and so a more methodical approach was vital if these young men were going to play an effective role in World War One, and impress the more sceptical elements of the War Office, who saw aeroplanes more as frivolous toys for the rich, who wanted a thrill greater than the motor car.

The location of Fort Grange, not far from the newly refurbished married persons barracks at Fort Gilkicker, made this an exciting location for my newly married couple, where the regular flights overhead inspired Anthony, my young officer, to dream of being able to learn to fly.

If you would like to know more about The Grange, I can recommend ‘Wings Over Gosport’ which is a Gosport Society Publication.


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Filed under Ancasta, Early Flight, Research, Virtual Tour of the Solent and Beyond

Harriet Quimby ~ First woman to fly across the English Channel in 1912 ~ another 100yr old flying fact

I am just reading a biography of Jean Batten, one of the famous female world aviators of the early thirties and fascinating it is too, but it got me thinking about the pioneers in the era of my second novel, Ancasta (out very soon.) Although I have no women flying in my novel, I do have women whose roles in life change without recognition, due to their personal circumstances and also the aftermath of World War One.

Thus I was excited to discover Harriet Quimby, the first woman to fly over the English Channel, who did so as early as April 2012 and, since her birthday was in May, I think a blog to celebrate her life is appropriate.

An Amercian and already a screen writer of silent movies, she passed her  pilot’s test in August 1911 in the USA. The Wiki biography of her is brief, but it does say that she gained little media attention for her achievement, due to the devastating news of the sinking of the Titanic at the same time. Taking only 59minutes for the journey from Dover to Calais, I feel her achievement is all the more remarkable since it was a matter of only eight months after her success in gaining her pilot’s licence and she had travelled over the Atlantic for the successful attempt.

What strikes me about the characters of these early aviators is their single minded determination to break records or rise to the next challenge. Their challenges appeared to totally dominate every moment of their lives and, although each appeared to be ruthless, to the exclusion at times of others and any sense of a normal life, you could not help but admire them greatly!

I found a group who have already celebrated Harriet’s achievement, incidentally the namesake of my primary character in my novel Riduna, Women of Aviation, and so if you’d like to know more it is worth checking out.


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Filed under Early Flight, Frivolous Flying Facts