A. Roy Knabenshue became interested in lighter-than-air flight after seeing a balloon ascension when he was 5 years old and would become the first person to successfully pilot a dirigible in the United States, flying Thomas S. Baldwin’s California Arrow at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.
On August 18, 2020, the United States celebrates the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which declared that the right to vote "shall not be denied...on account of sex." Several collections in the National Air and Space Museum Archives provide short stories along the long path of the women’s suffrage movement and the 19th Amendment.
Alverna Babbs challenged the Civil Aeronautics Administration in 1944 for a waiver to earn her student pilot’s license. The CAA was reluctant due to Babb’s disability—a double leg amputation at the age of 13 months. With her own persistence and the assistance of Roscoe Turner, Babbs earned her waiver and her full pilot’s license in 1946, the first person with a disability to do so (as documented in the previous blog in this series celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act). After remarrying and having children, Alverna Williams took a 30 year hiatus from flying. She returned to aviation in the 1970s, determined once again to take her place in the sky.
Thirty years ago, on July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act came into effect. This important civil rights law prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. Forty-six years earlier, without the protection of law and its accommodations, Alverna Babbs, who had lost both legs as a child, fought to receive a waiver for her student license. When she succeeded, she became the first American pilot with disabilities to earn a pilot’s license.
Women in the United States have long served their country and women aviators have been no exception. Perhaps the best known efforts are those of the Women Air Service Pilots (WASP), formed in 1943, merging the Women’s Auxiliary Flying Squadron and Women’s Flying Training Detachment. But before the WASP, women pilots, such as Ruth Law, Opal Kunz, Florence “Pancho” Barnes, and Mary Charles were determined to serve their country in whatever way they could.
We are pleased to announce that the Sally K. Ride Papers, consisting of over 23 cubic feet (38,640 pages!) of archival material chronicling Ride’s career from the 1970s through the 2010s, have been fully scanned and are available digitally. Air and Space fans can help make them more accessible by transcribing them in the Smithsonian Transcription Center.
As the summer comes to an end, it’s time for many to go back to school. Most students have mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation at the thought of returning. Imagine how the students at the earliest aviation schools felt!
In 2019, we commemorate several transatlantic firsts, including the 100th anniversaries of the first transatlantic flight by the Navy NC-4 in May and the first nonstop transatlantic flight by John Alcock and Arthur Brown. June 28 marks the 80th anniversary of the inaugural Pan American Airways transatlantic passenger flight in 1939. For William John Eck, it was a voyage for which he had waited eight long years. Finally, he was “Passenger Number One”!
May 2, 2019, marks the United States’ Days of Remembrance, the nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust. Today the National Air and Space Museum remembers Dezsö Becker, a Hungarian aviator who served in World War I and died in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp in January 1945.
In May 1919, the U.S. Navy sponsored three Curtiss flying boats—the NC-1, NC-3, and NC-4—each with a crew of six, in an attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Lt. Commander Albert C. Read commanded the NC-4, the only aircraft to succeed in its mission. As we prepare to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the NC-4’s historic transatlantic flight, the materials in Read’s collection are available to transcribe in the Smithsonian’s Transcription Center.