By RICHARD BATTIN
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
''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
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
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
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