Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Elinor Smith, 1911-2010. R.I.P.

Aviatrix Elinor Smith passed away on March 19th. She was 98.

Smith was both a contemporary and rival of Amelia Earhart. More than a decade younger than Earhart, Smith was first licensed to fly at the age of sixteen. Her certificate was signed by none other than Orville Wright.

Smith made headlines in 1928 when she illegally flew under four bridges on New York's East River. Although it would result in a temporary suspension of her licence this came only months after Earhart crossed the Atlantic as a passenger aboard The Friendship. Smith also set a number of altitude, distance, speed and endurance records for a woman pilot. These achievements were viewed as a threat by Earhart's husband and publicist, George Palmer Putnam would did in everything in power to thwart Smith's ambitions "to take Amelia's place as number-one woman pilot." This was dramatized in last year's Amelia biopic with Hilary Swank and Richard Gere. Smith was portrayed by Mia Wasikowska, the same actress currently starring in Tim Burton's adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.

Smith would retreat from the air to raise a family but would return to flying in the 1950s. In 2000, at the age of 89, she was invited by NASA to pilot the Space Shuttle flight simulator. She landed on her second try. Sometimes things are most satisfying the second time around.

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