Saturday, December 10, 2016

A Lady Aviator You Should Know

Cornelia Fort, Pilot, Witness to History (Source)
If you've seen the movie Tora! Tora! Tora!, you might remember the scene in the movie where it's the morning of the 7th of December, and...

Well, why don't we just watch the scene, sorry, I couldn't find it in English...

That scene is based on a true story, the lady instructor pilot, shown in the movie as a middle-aged woman, was actually the lady pictured in the opening photo, Miss Cornelia Fort, 22, of Nashville, Tennessee. The aircraft in the movie is also not quite right. The movie has a Stearman Kaydet, Miss Fort and her student were actually flying one of these -

Interstate Cadet (Source)
I came across Miss Fort's story the other day while reading up on Pearl Harbor. Seems she was quite a woman. Here's part of her story, from a Sunday morning in December of 1941 -
Fort noticed a military aircraft approaching from the sea. At first that didn't strike her as unusual; Army planes were a common sight in the skies above Hawaii. But at the last moment, she realized this aircraft was different and that it had set itself on a collision course with her plane. She wrenched the controls from her student's grasp and managed to pull the plane up just in time to avoid a mid-air crash. As she looked around she saw the red sun symbol on the wings of the disappearing plane and in the distance, probably not more than a quarter mile away, billowing smoke was rising over Pearl Harbor. (Source)
Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Miss Fort was contacted by Jackie Cochrane, another female aviator, asking her to join the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Service. Which she did, going on to serve her country for just a short while until she was involved in a mid-air collision during a ferry mission to Love Field in Dallas.

That's Jackie Cochrane on the right.
Display at the San Diego Air and Space Museum.
In those days women weren't allowed to fly on active duty, of the 38 women flyers who perished in the line of duty while performing duty as ferry pilots during World War II, none received any recognition for their service, the Army wouldn't even pay for their burial costs!

We've come far since those days, female pilots are not rare at all these days. The ladies have shown they can hold their own. In fact, were Miss Fort alive today, no doubt she would be flying fighters. Here's what a nephew remembers of her -
In Dr. Fort’s telling, Aunt Cornelia emerges as a feisty, very modern woman who drank scotch, smoked cigarettes, and fought with Dr. Fort’s father over politics, religion, and whether any member of the Fort family, let alone a woman, should be flying when their father (also a physician) had been so against it. In the 1920s, the first Dr. Fort had summoned his three sons into his study to take an oath that they would never fly. Soon after her father’s death, in 1940, Cornelia announced that, because she had been too young and a girl, she was exempt from the Fort family oath. She then revealed that she’d been taking flying lessons. (Source)
Sounds like a fighter pilot to me!

There are some good articles about or with references to Miss Fort, here, here, here, and here. Cornelia Fort is a lady we should be familiar with and whose memory we should honor.

If the ladies want to fly, they should fly.

Right ladies?

Damn straight!


  1. My mother is friends with Barbara Kennedy, one of the original WASPs. For those women who were WASPs most likely they had fathers who told them that they could do anything they wanted and be anything they wanted to be, rare in the 1930s and 40s. Barbara was saying that by the 1970s the WASPs were virtually forgotten, and it took Jimmy Carter, praising one of the "first" female Air Force pilots in the 70s, before the country realized that there were trail blazers a generation earlier.

    IIRC they had so little support that the govt gave them used men's coveralls - all one zie - too big for the ladies - theat they called "zoot suits".

    But Walt Disney gave them a cool logo - look up "Fifinella"

    1. That is a cool logo. Thanks for that link William!

  2. You always have the best stuff my friend!

  3. Thanks for informing us/me about such important parts of our history.

    Paul L. Quandt

    1. Thanks Paul, as I find them, I share them. There is always something new to learn in our history.

  4. There used be a Cornelia Fort Field in Trashville--private ownership, public-use. I think the flood wiped it out in 2010, as so much else.
    Growing up around here, her name came up at times. Good post!
    --Tennessee Budd

    1. That's what I read, not used anymore.

    2. We still have John C. Tune airport, out on the west side, downriver & across from the old prison. It doesn't get mentioned much nowadays, which I consider a good thing: if any airfield gets in the news, it isn't for a good reason. I'm old enough to have grown up hearing about Berry Field, but haven't heard it mentioned in years. It seems to have been eaten up by Nashville International. Don't know if there's still a distinction between them. I should ask the next time I do an onsite at one of the companies out there.

    3. Berry Field seems to have been engulfed by Nashville International. I did find a reference to 118th Wing of the Tennessee Air National Guard being referred to as the "Berry Field Airmen."

  5. Women simply do not belong behind the wheel in aircraft!

    They should sit up front.

    Thanks for the history. Next time I go to Burke Field I'll see if the Women's Museum of Aviation has anything else.

    I think in the realm of aviation there is almost nothing better than perishing at the ripe age of 95. I'm kind of surprised about John Glenn. When you think about it now, and the history, he never stood a chance of living to a ripe old age, or that other Ohio native who was first on the Moon. Lucky......and, perhaps, good at it.

  6. A cherished signature in my logbook is Betty Clark's.
    Needed proof I landed as part of a cross country solo as a student pilot. The two airport dogs wet the wheels of the C-150 I was flying. My first reaction was my brakes were leaking. She had to set me straight.


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Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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