Monday, April 16, 2012

100 Years Ago Today - Harriet Quimby

Timing is everything, so discovered Harriet Quimby, an Aviation Pioneer you have probably never heard of.

Harriet was a force to be reckoned with. She was a journalist and theater critic in New York City in the early 1900’s. She even wrote early screen plays. When she discovered aviation she entered that world with the same intensity as everything else in her life.

Her first major accomplishment was getting flight training. The Wright Brothers did not teach women to fly in 1910. It seemed no one would even discuss it. At long last she convinced Alfred Moisant to be her instructor after meeting him and his sister Matilde. As a result Harriet was the first American Woman to become a licensed pilot. But the license was only the first step. She needed to make her mark in aviation and thought she knew just how to get everyone’s attention.

In March of 1912 Harriet set sail for England with a letter of introduction to Louis Bleriot. Louis had thrilled the world on July 25, 1909 when he became the first man to cross the English Channel in an aircraft of his own design. In a series of meetings Harriet persuaded him to lend her a Bleriot XI similar to (if not the) one he had crossed the Channel with himself.

This was a different era in aviation. The fifty horse power Bleriot had no ailerons. Banking was controlled by a system called wing warping, changing the shape of the wing to control roll. I’ve known a number of pilots who have flown older planes with this type of control. NO ONE prefers it! The plane Harriet used was equipped with a compass. Louis assured her he wished he had one when he made his crossing. Harriet was taught to use it the morning of her channel flight.

On April 16, 1912 Harriet took off in the Bleriot XI for the first time and headed across the English Channel. The weather was dismal, but she plowed on through poor visibility and fog. Louis Bleriot’s flight took thirty seven minutes. Fifty nine minutes after Harriet took off she touched down near Hardelot, France. The crowd greeted her wildly, but that was about the only recognition she received.

Timing is everything.

You must remember dear reader; the RMS Titanic had just sunk the day before. News papers all over the world were printing every scrap on information they could find and the public was clamoring for more. Harriet did have enough clout with in New York to have the story run, but the best they could manage was page 17 in the New York Times.

Harriet Quimby would have overcome this in time, but that was a luxury she didn’t have. Three months later to the day - July 16, 1912 – she was involved in a fatal flying accident. One can only wonder what she could have accomplished with more time.

1 comment:

  1. Poor Harriet! Such a promising career cut short besides. Disasters trump acheivements every time, dont they. Not to belittle the sinking of the Titanic and the monumental loss of life.