October 2008 Newsletter

Women In Early Aviation – “Hannah Reitsch”
Today we do not find it unusual to find women in the cockpit of aircraft, even as captains of commercial jet aircraft. As a pilot for over 50 years I have watched as women have broken the “glass ceiling” in modern aviation in the United States. But women were not always excluded from the cockpit; in fact during the Great War many women were trained as pilots and served their respective governments in many roles. In the U.S., however, the end of the war basically meant the end of flying for most American women.

While many of us are familiar with Amelia Earhart and her exploits, most of us are not familiar with other women in aviation during that period of history. Among them was a truly amazing and talented pilot named Hannah Reitsch who flew for the Third Reich and was Hitler’ s personal favorite. .


Hannah Reitsch was only 25 years old when she was posted to the German Luftwaffe testing center at the Rechlin-Lärz Aerodrome as a test pilot in 1937. Among the many aircraft she was assigned to fly were the Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” dive bomber and the Dornier Do 17 bomber. In addition to test flying fixed wing aircraft she also was the first woman to fly a fully controllable helicopter, the Focke-Achgelis Fa 61 helicopter.

Her natural flying skills, photogenic beauty and her desire to be in the public eye made her a star for the Nazi Party propaganda machine. In fact, during the Berlin Motor Show in 1938 she flew the Fa 61 helicopter into the “Deutschlandhalle” arena which was built for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Hannah Reitsch demonstrated the first indoor flight of a helicopter with the Fa 61 helicopter.

Soon Germany was embroiled in World War II, and Reitsch was called upon to test fly many of the German militaries latest designs. Amongst those designs were the rocket propelled aircraft – the Messerschmitt Me 163 “Komet” and a number of bombers which were outfitted with devices to cut the cables holding barrage balloons in place.

Among her most spectacular achievements was test flying the “Reichenberg“, or piloted version of the V1 rocket. A number of pilots had been injured or killed test flying the V1 but Reitsch, due to her experience with the Me 163, was able to land the “Reichenberg” safely at over 200 kilometers per hour.

During the war Reitsch was very close to General Ritter von Greim who was a former fighter pilot and high ranking Luftwaffe officer. Reitsch and von Greim attempted to rescue Hitler from his bunker in Berlin by landing a light aircraft in front of the Brandenburg Gate on a street and going to the bunker to retrieve Hitler. However, Hitler by this time had decided to commit suicide, so after von Greim and Reitsch left the bunker they were both captured by American military intelligence officers. She was interrogated for eighteen months before she was released.

Reitsch was the only woman awarded the Iron Cross First Class and the Gold with Diamonds Luftwaffe Combined Pilots-Observation Badge during World War II. She set more than forty aviation altitude and endurance records during her career both before, during and after World War II.

After the war Reitsch settled in Frankfurt am Main but German citizens were not allowed to fly aircraft immediately following the war. Soon Germans were allowed to fly gliders and Hannah Reitsch returned to the sky were she felt at home.

Soon her exploits resulted in winning third place in the World Gliding Championships in Spain in 1952, and she continued her ability to break world records including the women’s altitude record and became the German gliding champion in 1955.

She helped establish a gliding center in India in 1959, and in 1961 was invited to the White House to meet John F. Kennedy. From 1962 through 1966 she lived in Ghana were she established the first black African national gliding school.

Throughout the 1970s Reitsch continued her quest to break gliding records, and won the women’s “Out and Return” world record twice. During this same period she finished first in the women's section of the World Helicopter Championships and became the first women to fly across the Alps in a glider.

On August 24, 1979 her remarkable career came to an end when the German aviatrix passed away. Hannah Reitsch was a truly amazing woman pilot who helped blaze the way for many more women to advance in aviation.

You can find more information on this remarkable pilot at the following sites, and I have included a picture of Hannah Reitsch and the Fa 61 helicopter below as our Picture of the Month.

* Hannah Reitsch video at Woman Pilot Magazine
* Hannah Reitsch at Wikipedia
* Hannah Reitsch at Hanna Reitsch

Great Poems “Thanks for a Flying Profession”

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds…and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of…wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up, the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor even eagle flew.
And while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space…
…put out my hand, and touched the face of God.


by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

What’s New

Like mountains that stole Fossett, mystery looms,

By EVELYN NIEVES and SCOTT SONNER, Reno, Nev, (AP)
The sky was clear that morning, the wind light. Steve Fossett took off alone from hotel magnate Barron Hilton’s ranch about 70 miles southeast of Reno in a blue and white stunt plane with orange stripes and blue sunbursts on the wings.

It was supposed to be a short pleasure ride before lunch.

The two-seater was Hilton’s, but Fossett could fly anything. He had circumnavigated the globe without refueling, had flown around the world in a balloon. Two months earlier, he had been inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

“I’m hoping you didn’t give me this award because you think my career is complete,” he said at the time, “because I’m not done.”

Just over a year after the 63-year-old Fossett vanished during his jaunt from the Flying M Ranch, a lingering mystery has been solved, with discovery last week of his plane’s wreckage and possible remains in the wilds of California’s Sierra Nevada. He slammed into a mountainside at about 10,000 feet and probably died instantly.

But a larger question remains: What caused such an accomplished aviator to crash in a place he knew well, on a fine September day?

Finding the answer may take many months. On Friday, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board began hauling debris from the crash site by helicopter. They plan to reassemble the plane at a Sacramento warehouse piece by tiny piece to look for mechanical failures. Gathering archival weather records, including winds, clouds and turbulence for the day of his flight, also is not simple, officials said. With luck, radar data will help determine Fossett’s path and pinpoint the time of the crash.

For now, speculation runs the gamut. Ralph Obenberger, undersheriff of Mono County, Calif., thinks Fossett might have run into unexpected weather. He remembers large storm clouds over the peaks around Mammoth Lakes on Sept. 3, 2007.

But Bill Manning, the director of Mammoth-Yosemite Airport, said that day was generally clear and calm in the Mammoth Lakes region. He wondered whether Fossett ran into other trouble.

The high Sierra is always a dangerous and unforgiving area to fly, he said. There’s little room for error, he reasoned, for pilots who like to fly low and slow, “yanking and banking” through the region’s spectacular granite peaks and canyons.

Joe Sanford, the undersheriff of Lyon County, Nev., had more ideas.

“There are so many things that could have gone wrong,” he said. “Was it a medical problem? Did the aircraft fail? He had flown that aircraft before but not a whole lot. Did he know the area? The wind shears, the down drafts? Did he just get into a compromised position where he couldn’t get out?”

Sanford had obsessed about Fossett since he disappeared. So had many others. The hunt for the Chicago multimillionaire adventurer who set more than 100 world records in hot-air balloons, gliders, jets and boats had become an almost mythic quest.

Searching for Fossett cost millions of dollars, occupied crews of dozens for weeks at a time and spanned more than 24,000 square miles. A Nevada state audit called the effort to find Fossett “the largest search-and-rescue effort ever conducted for a person within the U.S.”

The first week, the small air force of planes and helicopters scouring the Sierra spotted eight uncharted crash sites, some decades old, suggesting it might also take years to find Fossett’s plane. Sanford fretted publicly that it might never be found.

But crews never stopped looking. Just weeks before Fossett’s plane was found, 28 searchers spent three weeks trekking through brutal terrain in a Nevada mountain range.

The Fossett wreckage was found in the Inyo National Forest, about 65 miles from the Flying M Ranch and 7 miles from the resort town of Mammoth Lakes. It took a hiker on a day trip to stumble upon the first clues that would lead to the wreckage, just before another snow season would have buried them until spring.

Preston Morrow had hiked from Mammoth Lakes to Devils Postpile National Monument, a grueling 3 1/2-hour trek, when he decided to step off the trail to hunt for an abandoned mine. Scrambling down loose rocks on a steep mountainside, he saw documents encased in plastic and 10 loose $100 bills.

The name on the cards ' James Stephen Fossett ' meant nothing to him. But the next day, Morrow showed his find to co-workers at a Mammoth Lakes sporting good store and learned what he had found.

Associated Press writers Juliana Barbassa, Tracie Cone and Terry Chea contributed to this report.

Photo of the Month

     Hanna Reitsch and the Fa 61 Helicopter



John M. White, Editor

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