National Air and Space Museum, Archives Division

Betty Skelton Collection

Accession No. 2002-0002

NASM ref no. 9A06060

National Air and Space Museum
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, DC

Jordan Ferraro

© Smithsonian Institution, 2008

Historical Note

Betty Skelton Frankman, noted aviatrix, automobile test driver, race car driver and business woman, was born in 1926 in Pensacola, Florida. Her interest in aviation was kindled at a young age while watching Navy stunt pilots practice. Soon, she and her parents began taking flying lessons and Betty soloed for the first time at age 12, four years before the legal age. As soon as she was legally able, age 16, Betty got her pilot's license. At age 19 she joined the Civil Air Patrol while also working as a flight instructor at her father's aviation school. She began a professional career as an aerobatic pilot in 1946 flying a 1929 Great Lakes 2T1A biplane. In 1948, while flying that aircraft, Betty won her first International Aerobatic Championship for Women. She would repeat this achievement in 1949 and 1950 while flying a Pitts-Special S-1C that she nicknamed "Little Stinker". By 1951 Betty realized that she had gone as far as a woman could go in aviation and retired.

Through a chance meeting with Bill France, the founder of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), Betty began a second career as a test and race car driver. She set multiple land speed records and two transcontinental speed records. Her work with Dodge and Chevrolet led her to her next career as an advertising executive for Campbell-Ewald Advertising Agency, the firm that handled Chevrolet advertising.

In 1959, Betty was given the opportunity to train with the original Mercury 7 astronauts. She completed the same physical and physiological tests as the astronauts, but knew a woman was not destined to be the first American in space. The experience resulted in only a cover story in LOOK magazine (Vol. 24 No. 3 Feb. 2, 1960). In 1965, Betty married Donald Frankman and, eventually, the two moved to Florida and started a real estate business.

Betty holds more combined aviation and automotive records then any other person. Her aviation achievements include: a world speed record for piston engine aircraft (unofficial), two light plane altitude records, and three international aerobatic championships. Her achievements in the automotive field include a women's closed course speed record (144.02 mph), a speed record for 200-249 cubic inch piston displacement (105.8 mph), a 24-hour stock car endurance record, a transcontinental record New York to Los Angeles (56 hrs 58 mins.), four land speed records, a South American transcontinental auto speed record, and multiple Bonneville Speed and Endurance Records.

She has also been inducted into many halls of fame including, the International Aerobatic Hall of Fame, the NASCAR International Motorsports Hall of Fame, the Corvette Hall of Fame, the Tampa Sports Hall of Fame and the Florida Women's Hall of Fame. In 1985, Betty and Don donated her Pitts Special "Little Stinker" to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum (NASM). It currently hangs at the entrance to NASM's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Virginia

Scope and Content Note

In 2002 Betty Skelton donated a collection of materials outlining her career as an aviatrix and race car driver to NASM. The donated material consists primarily of news clippings, pamphlets, magazines, photographs and scrapbooks covering the span of Ms. Skelton's career thus far. The collection has been divided into three series. The first series contains information on her personal life, including birth and wedding announcements and family photos. The second, pertaining to her professional life, spans a broad range of materials covering the various careers pursued by Ms. Skelton. The third series consists of oversized items such as scrapbooks and large format magazines. Each series is further divided by format (i.e. news clippings, brochures, and photographs) and then chronologically.

Timeline of Betty Skelton

Timeline of Betty Skelton

The following timeline covers key events in Skelton's life, as well as in the aerospace and automotive industries. Events involving Skelton are shown in normal type while those of the latter are shown in italics.

6/28/1926Betty is born in Pensacola Florida
May 1927Charles Lindbergh makes the first solo west to east transatlantic flight
May 1932Amelia Earhart becomes first woman to solo across the Atlantic
1937Amelia Earhart and Captain Fred Noonan go missing
12/07/1941Bombing of Pearl Harbor forces American entry into World War II
1942Officially soloed and received pilot's license at age 16
1944Women's Airforce Service Pilots program ends
1945Joins the Civil Air Patrol, eventually achieving rank of Major
May 1945End of War in Europe
August 1945Atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki followed by Japanese surrender and end of World War II
1946Begins career as aerobat at Southeastern Air Exposition in Jacksonville, Florida
1947The United States Air Force becomes an independent military service
1947Chuck Yeager breaks the sound barrier becoming the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound
1948Becomes International Aerobatics Champion for women
Buys "Little Stinker"
1948Orville Wright dies at age 76
Berlin Airlift begins operation
NASCAR is formed
1949Retains title as International Aerobatics Champion for women
Unofficially sets world Speed Record for engine aircraft (426 mph)
Represents United States in International Air Pageant London, United Kingdom
Pilots the smallest plane to cross the Irish Sea
Represents United States in RAF Pageant Belfast, Ireland
Sets World Light Plane Altitude Record (~26,000 ft)
1949First non-stop round the world flight is made by Capt. James Gallagher
1950Retains title of International Aerobatics Champion for women
Becomes hostess of radio program "Van Wilson's Greeting Time"
1951Sets World Light Plane Altitude Record (~29,000 ft)
Retires from flying
1951Four monkeys become the first living creatures to travel in space
1953Meets Bill France and takes first ride in pace car
Stars in a movie short about motor boat jumping
1953Jacqueline Cochran becomes first woman to fly faster than the speed of sound
1954Sets new world women's closed course record (143.44 mph)
Sets new world women's closed course record (144.02 mph)
Sets Stock Car Flying Mile Record (105.88 mph)
First woman to drive an Indy Car
1955Participates in Stock Car Endurance Run
1956Becomes an advertising executive for Campbell-Ewald
Sets new land speed record (145.044 mph)
Sets transcontinental record New York to Los Angeles (56 hrs 58 mins)
Participates in Stock Car Endurance Run
1956First successful launch of a Chrysler Redstone Rocket from Cape Canaveral
1957Participates in Mobilgas Economy Run
1957Sputnik is launched by the Soviet Union
Sputnik 2 carries first dog into space
1958South American Transcontinental Auto Speed Record (41hrs 14 mins)
1958United States launches Explorer 1, the first US satellite to enter Earth's orbit
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is established
1959Trains with Mercury 7 astronauts
1960Participates in Mobilgas Economy Run
1961Participates in Mobilgas Economy Run
1961Yuri Gagarin becomes first man in space
Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space
1962Participates in Baja Run
1962Cuban Missile Crisis
1963Valentina Tereshkova becomes first woman in space
John F. Kennedy is assassinated
1965Marries Don Frankman
Sets new land speed record (315 mph)
1967An accident during testing of Apollo 1 kills Virgil Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Edward White
1969Becomes Vice President of Campbell-Ewald's new Women's Market and Advertising Department
Successfully lobbies to end discrimination against female pilots in air racing
1969Apollo 11 is launched with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, making Neil Armstrong the first man on the moon
1970First scheduled service of the Boeing 747
Explosion onboard Apollo 13
1972President Nixon announces funding for the building of a reusable space shuttle
The last manned mission to the moon, Apollo 17 is completed
1974Charles Lindbergh dies at age 72
1975Apollo/Soyuz Test Project and Soyuz 19 successfully dock in Earth orbit
1977Begins working for First Florida Realty
Publishes book "Little Stinker"
1977British Airways and Air France begin regular Concorde service from New York's JKF Airport
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launches Voyager I & II
1980Jacqueline Cochran dies at age 74
1981Space Shuttle Columbia launches for the first shuttle mission
1983Sally Ride becomes first American woman in space
1985Donates "Little Stinker" to NASM
1986Space Shuttle Challenger explodes on takeoff
Soviet Union launches Mir Space Station
1988Inducted into International Aerobatic Hall of Fame (1st woman)
1989Destruction of the Berlin Wall
1993Inducted into NASCAR International Motorsports Hall of Fame (1st woman)
Inducted into Florida Women's Hall of Fame
1997Inducted into Women in Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame
1997Mars Pathfinder lands on surface of Mars
2001Inducted into Corvette Hall of Fame (1st woman)
2001Space Station Mir ends its 15 year life in space
2003Concorde service between the United States and Europe ends

Series organization

SERIES I: Personal

  • News clippings
  • Photographs

SERIES II: Professional

  • News clippings, Programs and Pamphlets
  • Correspondence
  • Magazines/Press Releases
  • Photographs
  • Negatives

SERIES III: Oversized Materials

Series I: Personal

This series contains personal information on Betty Skelton. This information spans the entire course of her personal life to date (1925-2004). The material in this series is primarily news clippings and photographs. The information in this series is organized by format (i.e. news clippings or photographs) which are then arranged chronologically.

Box  Folder 

1 1 News clippings - Early Life - 1925-1994
2 Photographs - Family - 1920's-1999
3 Photographs - Portraits - 1930's - 1940's
4 Photographs - Early Life - 1940-1969
5 Photographs - Wedding - 1965

Series II: Professional

This series contains information on Betty Skelton's various careers and professional endeavors. Material consists of newspaper and magazine clippings, event brochures, flyers, complete issues of magazines, press releases, correspondence and photographs. The information in this series is organized by format (i.e. news clippings, magazines, and photographs) which are then arranged chronologically.

Box  Folder 

1 6 News clippings, Meeting notes - General - 1942-1979
7 News clippings, Meeting notes - General - 1980-1999
8 News clippings, Programs, Correspondence - Acting - 1943-1953
9 News clippings - Family, Friends, Colleagues and Celebrities - 1943-1998
10 News clippings, Event brochures, Pamphlets, Correspondence - Air Shows - 1946-1969
11 News clippings, Advertisements - Publicity/Advertising - 1947-1977
12 News clippings - "Little Stinker" - 1947-2001

2 1 News clippings, Correspondence - Betty Skelton Day - 1948
2 News clippings, Event brochure - National Air Races - 1948-1949
3 News clippings - Blue Angels - 1948-1950
4 News clippings, Record books - Records - 1948-1966
5 News clippings - Cypress Gardens - 1949-1964
6 News clippings - Writer/Radio Host - 1949-1977
7 News clippings, Event brochures - Indy Car - 1953-1956
8 News clippings, Event brochures - Fashion - 1954-1960
10 News clippings, Event brochures, Advertisements - NASCAR - 1954-1986
11 News clippings, Calendar - Women - 1954-2002
12 News clippings - Safety - 1955-1957
13 News clippings - Auto shows - 1955-1961
14 News clippings, Advertisements - Cross Country Run - 1956-1957
15 News clippings - Business - 1956-1974
16 News clippings, Event brochures - Economy Run - 1957-1961
17 News clippings, Event brochures, Advertisements, Maps - South America - 1958-1966

3 1 News clippings - Space - Mercury Space Program -1960-1998
2 News clippings, Event brochures, Maps, Correspondence - Baja Run - 1962-1963
3 News clippings, Programs - Appearances - 1963-2004
4 News clippings, Correspondence, Pamphlets - Honors and Awards - 1965-2001
5 News clippings, Pamphlet, Correspondence - Smithsonian Institution - 1985-1998
6 Correspondence - 1944-2005
7 Magazines - Model Airplane News, (August 1950)
8 Magazines - Boat Sport, Vol.4 No.2 (June 1955)
9 Magazines - Speed, (1957) (article removed)
10 Magazines - U.S. News & World Report, L.25 (June 19,1961)
11 Magazines - US Auto Club Yearbook, (1965)
12 Magazines - Sport Aviation, Vol.21 No.6 (June 1973)
13 Magazines - Road and Track, Vol.44 No.6 (Feb 1993)
14 Magazines - Corvette Quarterly, Vol.6 No.2 (Summer 1993)
15 Magazines - Sport Aerobatics, Vol.24 No.5 (May 1995) & Vol.26 No.3 (March 1997)
16 Magazines - Woman Pilot, Vol.6 No.5 (Sept/Oct 1998)
17 Press Releases - Fact Sheets - 1947-1951

4 1 Photographs - 1929 Great Lakes 2T1A - 1946-1948
2 Photographs - Air Shows - 1946-1982
3 Photographs - Planes - 1946-1989
4 Photographs - Civil Air Patrol - 1947
5 Photographs - P-51 - 1947-1961
6 Photographs - Celebrities - 1947-1965
7 Photographs - Friends and Colleagues - 1947-1974
8 Photographs - Piper Cub - 1948-1951
9 Photographs - Blue Angels - 1948-1950
10 Photographs - "Little Stinker" - 1948-1969
11 Photographs - Head Shots - 1948-1994
12 Photographs - T34 to Wichita - 1949-1950 (Title given by Betty Skelton)
13 Photographs - Tinker - 1949-1954

5 1 Photographs - Cypress Gardens - 1949-1980's
2 Photographs - Bartow Air Base - 1951
3 Photographs - Smithsonian Institution - 1951-2003
4 Photographs - Dodge Records - 1954-1959
5 Photographs - Bonneville - 1954-1965
6 Photographs - Chevrolet - 1954-1987
7 Photographs - Safety - 1955-1957
8 Photographs - Daytona Beach - 1956-1986
9 Photographs - Andes Run - 1958

6 1 Photographs - Honors and Awards - 1958 - 1991
2 Photographs - Space - Mercury Space Program - 1959
3 Photographs - Space - Mercury Space Program - Color - 1959
4 Photographs - Baja Run - 1962-1963

7 1 Negatives - Family, Friends, Colleagues and Celebrities - 1928-1960's
2 Negatives - Aviation - 1940's - 1960's
3 Negatives - Publicity/Advertising - 1947-1977
4 Negatives - Cypress Gardens - 1949-1964
5 Negatives - Automotive - 1950's - 1960's
6 Negatives - Space - Mercury Space Program - 1959

Series III: Oversized boxes

Box  Folder 

8 1 Oversized Photographs - 1940's-1960's
2 Oversized Advertisements - 1948-1961
3 Oversized Articles - 1950-1998
4 Oversized Articles - Space - Mercury Space Program - 1959-1960
5 Oversized Certificates - 1963

9 Scrapbook - Aviation and Early Life (fragile, scrapbook is unbound)
Scrapbook - Aviation

10 Scrapbook - Aviation

11 Scrapbook - Automotive (fragile, scrapbook is unbound)