The greatest pilot of the Greatest Generation has passed. Seventy-nine years to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, famed test pilot, World War II ace, and the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound, Brig. Gen. Charles “Chuck” Yeager, died at the age of 97.
During World War II, pilots evaluated a wide range of aircraft types for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). Test pilot Stefan Cavallo’s flight trials were critical to successful operations during the war.
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.
The Tuskegee Airmen’s fight for equality involved more than their skills in the air. It required coordinated, collective actions of civil disobedience in which 162 officers risked their careers and their lives to stand up against systemic racism in the US Army Air Forces (AAF).
Aline “Pat” Rhonie made a perfect three-point landing in her 125 hp Luscombe Phantom when she touched down in Manchester, New Hampshire, on June 6, 1940. Owned by Rhonie, the plane was a Warner-powered, high-wing, two-seat cabin monoplane that she flew as the American Liaison for the French Aero Club. Rhonie piloted civilian and military aircraft throughout the United States as an American aviatrix and eventual member of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, yet her mission traversed international borders to support the Allied cause.