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The most unusual story in aviation history
08/03/18

Pioneering women in aviation is not something new, think Amy Johnson (the first female pilot to fly solo from London to Australia) or Amelia Earhart (one of the most famous female pilots of all time).

However, on International Women’s day, we decided to share with you an unusual story about a woman who not only contributed significantly to aviation but who is an exemplar to the evolution of women. What makes this story unusual is not her achievements in aviation nor her passion about flying but the determination she had to stand out from the crowd.

Blanche Stuart Scott (also known as Betty) was born on April 8, 1884 in Rochester, New York. In 19th century America women’s rights were far from equal; they did not have the right to vote or ask for divorce. Education for women during this period was limited and it was commonly believed that a woman’s place was in the home. In this era an unusual woman was born. Her destiny not only left a legacy on aviation, but truly inspired women for generations to come.

The story begins with Betty Scott’s father, John Scott, a successful businessman who manufactured and sold patent medicine. He acknowledged that his daughter was not just a regular girl. Betty was regarded as a “tomboy” and later became known as “the tomboy of the air”. Although she was the first American woman to fly an aircraft her passion, in the beginning, was not aviation!

At the age of thirteen, Betty’s father bought her a one-cylinder Cadillac car. At that time there was no legal minimum age for drivers. However, a thirteen-year-old GIRL who dared to drive throughout the city couldn’t help but attract public attention.

Unfortunately, Betty’s father passed away in 1903 when she was only 19. Her ongoing boyish behaviour made her mother register her at finishing school, as an attempt to embrace her femininity.

After graduation Betty decided to do something even more unexpected, disrupting the status quo of her society. She convinced Willys- Overland Motor Company to sponsor her to drive one of their cars across the north American continent from New York to San Francisco. The president of the company agreed, the potential publicity of a young lady driving coast to coast was appealing. Thus, Betty Scott started her automobile journey on May 16, 1910 accompanied by Gertrude Phillips a young woman reporter. Their journey came to an end 67 days later. This was a significant challenge; the route was 5,393 miles with only 220 miles on paved roads.  Her automobile was subsequently named "Lady-Overland".

Betty’s next adventure gave her an uncredited title of the first American woman to take a solo hop into the air, whether that was intentional or not we will never know (the block on the aircrafts throttle jolted out of place, lifting her into the air during practice). It was a short flight and wasn’t credited, but technically she was first! She was the only female to be taught by Glenn H. Curtiss (an aviation pioneer) and he supported her to fly for the Curtiss Exhibition Company.

After that she flew again during an exhibition in Fort Wayne, Indiana before she settled down and married Mr. Stuart, Overland's press agent in Ohio where her life adjusted according to her era’s expectations but…not for long.

In July 1911, she joined Thomas Scott Baldwin's air show troupe flying one of his Red Devil biplanes at Mineola, Long Island. That accomplishment was recognised it as “the longest flight ever made by a female”. Nevertheless, this happened by accident. She flew over the scheduled time after being distracted following a heated argument before her flight. By accident or not, she was a thrilling performer known for her “Death Dive” from 4,000 feet. After several exhibitions in the air she worked with Glenn Martin, the famous airplane designer and builder as a test pilot. She became the “first woman test-pilot” in USA.

Despite her success as a pioneering aviator Betty retired at the age of 30 after having acquired several “first” titles and broken a total of forty-one bones - her accomplishments didn’t come without danger!

Betty then changed career to be a movie producer, screenwriter, radio announcer and program director. For the rest of her life her career moved to public relations and she appeared on TV and radio shows by describing her previous accomplishments while she was hired to promote United States Air Force Museum. She was honoured several times by The Aeronautics Association of the United States, the Antique Airplane Association and even after her death she was honoured by the U.S. Postal Service with a commemorative stamp in 1980.

Blanche Stuart Scott was an extra ordinary woman who chose a life based on her passions. She ignored what was socially acceptable, personally and professionally. She divorced once, she married twice and despite her career in aviation she had no pilot's license nor a driver's license! A great attribute should also be paid to her father who accepted his daughter’s unique personality and instead of persuading her to conform, he blew the fire she had in her heart.

 

“My interest in life comes from setting myself huge apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them”.

Richard Branson

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