Friday, September 21, 2007

First Lady of the Air

Kathleen Winters asked me to read her book about Anne Morrow Lindberg, First Lady of the Air. I was honored by the request, and am awed by her thorough research into Anne Lindberg's role in the Golden Age of Aviation.

We have heard so much about a few key figures of this time (1920's-30's), notably Amelia Earhart and Anne's own husband, Charles Lindberg (Lucky Lindy), that it's easy to forget all of the other contributors to the development of aviation as we know it today. The International Organization of Women Pilots began in 1929 with 99 of the 139 licensed women pilots, most of whom we've never heard of. Anne was one of the ones who didn't join, but that shouldn't lessen the impact of her flying career.

Although she believes nothing she did was all that special, I felt an extreme amount of respect for the trips she so bravely embarked upon. It is wonderful to read a story that is able to inform about early pilot training, licensing, navigation, and airplane design with the additional benefit of Anne's own story, and her quiet and self-effacing contributions to her more visible husband's success.

She and her husband were key figures in mapping potential airline routes over uncharted regions of the world, and tales of these trips and the hardships they endured are riveting. Her husband once responded to a fellow pilot's criticism of flying with his wife over Northern Canadian routes by saying, "You must remember that she is crew." Anne, overhearing this, thinks, "Have I then reached a stage where I am considered on equal footing with men?" As many female pilots today can affirm, this is the highest form of praise and is highly valued nearly 80 years later.

Her story proves that we women in aviation "pioneers" are collectively charged with advancing the knowledge the general public receives (and benefits from) about women pilots. It wasn't Anne's way to seek the spotlight, but that doesn't make her achievements less worthy of praise. Throughout her many adventures, her nagging doubt of her abilities and contributions, of being able to meet the standard that had been set for men, led her to find herself and what was most valuable: her family and her writing. Toward the end of her flying career, she reluctantly agrees to a trip to Russia to survey its aviation industry, because, as she writes in her journal, "If nothing else, she thought her children - and all children - may benefit from seeing their parents take on adventures that proved they weren't frightened of life." As they say, nothing worth doing is ever easy.

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