Ruth Elder, A Unique Pilot

Standing outside the "American Girl"

Ruth Elder and George Halderman (ctie.monash.edu)

Ruth Elder was more than a pretty face and a would-be actress. She would soon be an incredible pilot. She became known as the “Miss America” of aviation. 

Ruth was overcome with excitement after Charles Lindbergh’s flight. She believed that a man could fly across the ocean why not a woman. She decided she would be that women. The $ 25 ,000 prize would be terrific and the fame would help her movie career. 

Businessmen men were looking for a girl to make the flight and they soon picked Ruth. She was elated. Now her dream of money and fame would come true.

 She learned to fly from her instructor George Halderman who became her co-pilot on her trip across the Atlantic. 

She bought a plane that could fly very long distances was perfect for a trip across the ocean. Ruth named the plane ”American Girl.” All the eyes of America and the world were anxious to see this beautiful women. So the name “American Girl” was so appropriate.

After a period of time Ruth believed she was ready but on the day of departure the weather wasn’t clear enough to take off.  Ruth and George left anyway. She wanted to duplicate Lindbergh’s flight but she never made it. She crashed into the ocean due to a oil leak. She was fortunate to be picked up by a Dutch tanker only 300 miles from Paris.

Even though she didn’t reach her goal she was greeted with great fanfare in Paris and in New York. Each city gave her a ticker tape parade to honor her achievement. This was a fabulous moment for Ruth. Now she was just like Lindbergh even though Ruth’s flight was different because she didn’t reach her destination. Lindbergh was lucky to complete his flight.

Ruth was the first woman to attempt to fly across the Atlantic and set a new over water record. She had flown Ruth the longest flight ever by a woman. Now her name was added to the list of aviation pioneers.

She was asked to give many talks about her experiences on the flight. She earned money from the flight her and talks she made to her adoring fans.  In 1928 Ruth starred in a movie called “Moran of the Marines.” and in 1929 in Ruth made another movie titled “The Winged Horseman.” Due to Ruth’s fame people flocked to see these movies. 

Moran of the Marines Movie Poster www.IMBd.com

The  beautiful Ruth Elder and handsome Hoot Gibson (IMDb.com)

In 1929 Ruth entered the All-Women Air Race. Reporters  asked her if she would have male pilots to help with any mechanical problems. She replied that she would do it all by herself. Her friend, Hoot Gibson offered to go with her to help but she declined. She knew him because he was a rodeo champion and film actor. They wanted to know why she wanted to make this flight. She said that it was for the money. She didn’t want to work for low pay as a secretary all her life. Then she told them she had to go join the other women in the race. Winning was a goal it was more important to be part of this exciting adventure. Ruth didn’t want to answer any more questions. They still asked her more. They wanted to know if she thought she would win. Ruth answered truthfully that she just wanted to finish it. She related that other women had faster planes and more experience. Ruth just wanted to go from Santa Monica and end up in Cleveland. That goal was enough for her. She just wanted to prove that air travel was safe for women.

Like all the pilots in the derby she had trouble with sabotage problems and mechanical issues. She still achieved her goal to finish the race. It was a grueling eight day race over 2,759 miles still she placed fifth in the race. Quite an achievement for the beautiful woman who just wanted to be an actress. 

Hope you enjoyed this exciting ride with Ruth Elder…the pretty girl who was a unique pilot in the Golden Age of Aviation.

In 1913 a children’s book was published about her flying life. It was written by Julie Cummins and illustrated by Marlene R. Laugessen, Titled, Flying Solo: How Ruth Elder Soared into America’s Heart. 

The Ruth Darrow book series is based on the life of Ruth Elder. It was written by Mildred Wirt Benson in 1930.  author also wrote the Nancy Drew series. Even the The illustration of Ruth Darrow looks similar to Ruth Elder.  The author also wrote the Nancy Drew series.

The American public was fascinated by aviation in the 1930’s. The Ruth Darrow series was written for teenage girls. It was the time that girls began to feel that they could soar in the air or on the ground. 

Crossing the Horizon was a novel about Ruth Elder. It was written by Lauri Notaro in 2013. It’s a fictionalized account of Ruth’s flying days and it was well researched. It contains facts and fiction about the life of Ruth Elder. I learned about the trials and challenges pilots faced in the early days aviation.

The era of barnstorming was over and now it was time for air races. These helped people focus on something else besides the gloom of the depression. What a glorious time for the pilots of the first all women air race!  

Moolman, Valerie, Women Aloft    

Walker, Mike, Powder Puff Derby: Petticoat Pilots and  Flying Flappers Jensen, Gene, Powder Puff Derby

Notaro, Laurie: Laurienotaro@gmail.com

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