Gladys O'Donnell
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In 1929, Gladys O'Donnell was the only licensed woman pilot in Long Beach, California. With just 40 hours of solo flying time, she heedlessly entered the first Women's Air Derby ever held and won second place. The following year she entered again and won first place.

The story of Lloyd and Gladys O'Donnell and the First Women's Air Derby of 1929, is about boldly throwing caution to the winds. It is about defiance of the laws of gravity and the excitement sparked as these pioneers of flight rose above ordinary mortals. The hurtled recklessly toward a future they were helping to shape. An absence of rules, regulations and safety measures, along with a lack of knowledge about the perils of the new sport, left the pilot to call the shots. Ignorance was bliss however, the minute they climbed into their planes. The brash display of impulsive monkeyshines popped one after another like fireworks. The primary target was to capture fame, while breaking through barriers of speed, altitude, endurance and every other obstacle that might set a record.

It was 1929 . . . the eyes fo the world were on pilots. But when women took their turn at the stick, they became instant curiosities . . . and were suddenly big news. The public, hungry for distraction and adventure following the gloom of the stock market crash and a looming depression turned their eyes skyward. This is an account of stubborn, enthusiastic people, fully in charge of their inalienable rights to pursue a thrilling and dangerous endeavor as they joyously reached for the freedom it represented to them.

The history of Lloyd and Gladys O'Donnell, who flew into public view in Long Beach, California in 1928, is a fascinating story. They came from opposite sides of the track., but the hidebound eccentricities of their families gave them a common denominator of discontent. Lloyd, son of a wealthy oil producer, opened a flying school at the local airport, and performed stunts in an Air Circus every Sunday. But when his wife Gladys decided to become part of the act, press notices skyrocketed. The public was dubious about women's departure from the domestic scene, to invade man's realm. It seemed they were trying to be men by acting like them. What next? It was all too freakish. With a firm grasp on femininity while achieving status as a pilot, Glayds was dubbed the "flying housewife." There were many pictures taken with her two small children. Much was made of her domestic ability. At the time she was the only licensed woman pilot in Long Beach, California.

When the first Women's Air Derby was announced in 1929, Gladys had only 40 hours of solo flying time, but quickly signed on as a contestant. The race started in Stanta Monica and concluded in Cleveland, Ohio, taking nine days with eight overnight stops and seven Control stops for refueling, etc. The book covers a lot of territory and includes 250 pictures.

Each of the women who concluded that historic race, including Amelia Earhart, Louise Thaden, Phoebe Omlie, Ruth Elder, Blanche Noyes, Bobbi Trout and Gladys O'Donnell, opened doors for all women pilots. It was not just a competition, but a major breakthrough for the spirit and possibility of achievement for women in a so-called man's field.

It could only happen in the USA . . .



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