Saturday, March 21, 2015

Today in History Trivia

On this day in 1934, a female aviator set one of her many records, this one as the first American woman to fly solo over the Andes. Who was she?

Before I reveal the answer, note other records this aviatrix set:

  • First flight around South America
  • Longest solo flight made by a woman (17,000 miles)
  • First solo flight from North America to South America by a woman
  •  741 consecutive barrel rolls and 930 consecutive loops
  • First female to fly nonstop New York to Los Angeles, and fastest flight LA to NY.

Do you know who she was? 
Hint: It wasn’t Amelia Earhart.

It was Laura Ingalls.
Not that Laura Ingalls. Not Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the Little House books, and about whom I usually write. This Laura Ingalls is completely unrelated.

This Laura Ingalls was born around the turn of the century (she always gave her date of birth as 1901, but records indicate it was likely some years before that). She learned to fly in 1928, and was setting records within two years. When questioned about her life choices, she remarked that she had the good fortune to be raised by a mother who instilled in her “the ability to hurdle difficulties and achieve the reputedly impossible.”
She was friends with Amelia Earhart, breaking some of the latter’s records, and Howard Hughes. So why has almost no one heard of her?

Probably because in 1942 she was charged with being an “unregistered German Agent,” that is, a spy for Germany. This charge stemmed from her involvement with America First, a pacifist organization that existed before the Second World War. The group disbanded within days of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and it is questionable how many members actually recognized the organization as pro-Nazi, but anyone who had been a member was suspect. Ingalls was especially on the government’s radar since she had flown over the Capital in 1939 and dropped a load of anti-war pamphlets. 

Although she denied the charge or any affiliation with Nazism, Ingalls was found guilty, and that was the end of her aviation-record-setting career. She spent twenty months in a prison in West Virginia, and not much was heard of her after that, until her death in California in 1966.