• April



History in a Purple Flight Suit

Story and photo credit: AirSpace from the National Air and Space Museum

Everyone has those moments in history that they would have loved to have been there to experience or witness. The palpable excitement around the world when Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the Moon, the Gettysburg Address, an original Shakespeare production at the Globe Theater in London. We could go on…

But I have a bit of an unusual one towards the top of my list. April 16, 1912, Dover, England. Early American aviator Harriet Quimby — the first American woman to earn a pilot’s license — is preparing to make history once again by becoming the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel. But why this piece of history to witness firsthand?

Because I want to see the moment when her advisor, British pilot Gustav Hamel, had the audacity to offer to make the flight in her place. After all, Channel crossings by air were no easy feat and the French coast that day was obscured by heavy fog.

So he offered to don her signature purple flying suit, fly in her stead, and secretly switch places with her after landing in France. Needless to say, she declined the offer.

By Quimby’s own accounts, this made her even more determined to make the flight: “I was annoyed from the start by the attitude of doubt on the part of the spectators that I would never really make the flight… This attitude made me more determined than ever to succeed.”

Despite this “toxic chivalry” (is that a thing?) from Hamel, Quimby made the flight that day, overcoming the fog and landing on a beach on the coast of France, surrounded by excited fishermen and their families, ready to celebrate what she had achieved.

Story credit: AirSpace Newsletter; AirSpace from the National Air and Space Museum

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