It’s Women’s History Month and we are celebrating a few of our Tri Delta trailblazers—sisters who accomplished firsts in their fields, setting the stage and providing inspiration for those of us who follow.
Louise McPhetridge Thaden, Arkansas, fell in love with flying in her teens when she paid $5 to ride with a barnstormer. The aviation pioneer learned to fly in 1927 while working for the Travel Air Corporation, and her pilot’s license, issued in 1928, was signed by Orville Wright. She passed her test for a transport license, becoming the just the fourth female transport pilot in the U.S.
This Tri Delta pilot would go on to hold many flight records and create a path for women in the aviation industry.
In 1929, Louise set her first world record for the women’s altitude mark of 20,260 feet, and she set a new woman’s endurance record of 22 hours, 3 minutes and 12 seconds in a Hisso-powered Travel Air. Louise competed in the National Women’s Air Derby—the first all-women’s transcontinental race—where she beat out fellow aviators Amelia Earhart, Pancho Barnes, Blanche Noyes and others to win the competition.
In 1932, Louise, along with Francis Marsalis, set a new endurance record by flying a Curtiss Thrush biplane for 196 hours over Long Island, New York. During the eight days, Louise made live radio broadcasts to a national listening audience.
The 1936 Bendix Trophy Race was the first-time women were allowed to participate against the men in this prestigious competition. Louise not only won the race, but she set a new world record from New York to Los Angeles.
Creating a Path for Women
In 1930, Louise Thaden and Amelia Earhart formed the Ninety-Nines, an international organization and group of women whose aim was to foster fellowship and inspiration for women pilots. The organization is still active and lists Louise as one of their chapter members.
Louise retired from competition in 1938 to spend more time with her two children and write her memoirs, “High, Wide and Frightened,” detailing the years from 1927 to 1937. In addition to her memoirs, she wrote numerous newspaper and magazine articles dealing with various aviation issues, continued to be active in several aviation organizations and flew everything from jets to gliders.
In 1951, the Bentonville, Arkansas, municipal airport was renamed Louise M. Thaden Field in her honor. She is a founding inductee in the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame and is a member of the Smithsonian Institution’s Aviation Hall of Fame. In 1976, Louise returned to Bentonville for a rededication ceremony at Thaden Field. She died in 1979 in High Point, North Carolina, having blazed trails for the women who follow in her path.
Learn about another Tri Delta pilot, Woman of Achievement Carol Hallett, Oregon, whose aviation experience helped guide the airline industry in the days following September 11, 2001.