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The amazing flying Miss Blanche Scott


One of Fort Wayne's lesser-known claims to fame is that the first flight by a female pilot in an air show occurred here, on Oct. 23, 1910.

And some consider the pilot, Blanche Stuart Scott, to be this country's first aviatrix. Others assign that honor to Bessica Faith Raiche.

In any event, Scott was certainly one of the first female fliers, and Fort Wayne played a pivotal role in her career.

Early in 1910, Scott, of Rochester, N.Y., contracted with the Willys Overland Co. to drive an Overland car from New York to San Francisco as a publicity stunt. It was the first transcontinental automobile trip by a woman.

Passing through Dayton, Ohio, Scott was fascinated by the activities of two brothers who had made the first heavier-than-air flight only seven years earlier - Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Excited by flying, Scott arranged her first airplane ride as soon as she got to California. Her pilot was Charles F. Willard, the first pupil of aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss.

Scott's cross-country drive gained her national attention. She was approached by Jerome Fanciulli, head of the Curtiss Exhibition Co., who persuaded her to join the Curtiss team for air shows and exhibitions.

Glenn Curtiss wasn't happy about women learning to fly, but, urged on by Fanciulli, he agreed to give Scott lessons. She was the first and only woman ever taught by Curtiss personally, according to Claudia Oakes, author of "United States Women in Aviation through World War I."

On Sept. 2, 1910, Scott became the first American woman to make a solo flight.

''Whether this flight was intentional or accidental is still open to speculation," Oakes wrote.

Curtiss had blocked the throttle of Scott's 35-horsepower airplane so it couldn't take off. But on that day "something happened" to the throttle block and Scott rose about 40 feet in the air.

She became a member of the Curtiss Exhibition Team, which found its way to Fort Wayne in October 1910.

Scott had made her public debut at a Chicago air meet the week before the team came to Fort Wayne, but she didn't fly.

The air show in Fort Wayne was held at Driving Park on the north side. The half-mile oval horse racing track had been created in 1889 by the Fort Wayne Trotting Association.

The outlines of the oval are marked today by East and West drives on the northern extension of Forest Park Boulevard.

The crowd at the park on Sunday, Oct. 23, 1910, was estimated at 10,000 to 15,000 people. Among the spectators was Art Smith, the famous early Fort Wayne pilot after whom Smith Field is named.

The Journal-Gazette reported the next day: "Starting from the east end of the center field, Miss Scott rose easily to a height of 12 feet, sailed across the field and made a successful landing. . ."

Scott told the newspaper after the flight, "I believe I could have turned and circled the track, but Mr. Curtiss has absolutely forbidden me attempting the turns until I have mastered the straightaway flights."

Stunt pilot Bud Mars, who was the featured attraction at the show, said Scott was "a daring little woman, and she will make some of the masculine flyers go some to maintain their prestige."

Scott flew a Hudson Flyer, an eight-cylinder, 65-horsepower airplane that was brought in on a railroad car and assembled on the field.

Scott retired briefly from flying at the end of 1910 but returned in July 1911, flying with the famous balloon and airplane pilot Thomas Scott Baldwin at Mineola, N.Y.

Flying in meets all over the country, Scott became known as "The Tomboy of the Air."

Among her stunts was flying upside down 20 feet off the ground, flying under bridges, and performing a "Death Dive" in which she would plummet straight down from 4,000 feet, not leveling out until she was 200 feet from the ground.

Scott eventually joined the Ward Exhibition Team of Chicago.

On May 31, 1913, a wing cable snapped during a performance in Madison, Wis. The airplane crashed into a swamp, and Scott injured her shoulder. The injury kept her from flying for almost a year.

By 1916, according to Oakes' book, Scott "began to be bothered by the public's morbid interest in crashes," and their "disappointment at air meets where no one was killed or injured.

''She was also frustrated that there seemed to be no place in aviation for women engineers or mechanics," Oakes wrote.

So, at the age of 27, Scott retired from stunt flying. She lived to see the era of modern flight before dying in 1970 at the age of 81.

--Oct. 19, 1994