Powder Puff Race of 1929

Heavy Class; 

  1. Louise Thaden
  2. Gladys O’Donnell
  3. Amelia Earhart
  4. Blache Noyes
  5. Ruth Elder
  6. Mary Haizlip
  7. Opa; Kunz 
  8. Mary Von Mach
  9. Vera Dawn Walker

Light Class: 

  • Phoebe Omalie
  • Edith Foltz
  • Jessie Keith-Miller
  • Thea Rasche

These​ ​brave​ ​women​ ​brought​ ​women​ ​into​ ​the​ ​field​ ​of​ ​aviation.​ ​Each​ ​decade women​ ​were​ ​making​ ​inroads​ ​into​ ​the​ ​world​ ​of​ ​aviation.​ ​Soon​ ​competing​ ​with​ ​men and​ ​by​ ​themselves.​ ​Women​ ​were​ ​not​ ​only​ ​barnstormers​ ​and​ ​in​ ​races​ ​but​ ​later they​ ​helped​ ​protect​ ​our​ ​country​ ​in​ ​World​ ​War​ ​11.​ ​They​ ​hadn’t​ ​found​ ​the​ ​height​ ​of acceptance​ ​that​ ​they​ ​wanted​ ​but​ ​their​ ​day​ ​would​ ​come.​ ​There​ ​many​ ​hurdles​ ​that they​ ​had​ ​to​ ​climb​ ​before​ ​women​ ​pilots​ ​would​ ​be​ ​fully​ ​accepted​ ​as​ ​male​ ​pilots.  Today​ ​women​ ​are​ ​pilots​ ​and​ ​copilots​ ​of​ ​airliners,​ ​flying​ ​for​ ​the​ ​military​ ​and​ ​many other​ ​areas​ ​of​ ​aviationThere​ ​were​ ​restriction​ ​on​ ​the​ ​women​ ​in​ ​the​ ​race.​ ​At​ ​first​ ​the​ ​women​ ​were​ ​told they​ ​had​ ​to​ ​have​ ​a​ ​male​ ​mechanic​ ​in​ ​the​ ​plane.​ ​But​ ​the​ ​women​ ​wouldn’t​ ​hear​ ​of​ ​it. They​ ​were​ ​in​ ​the​ ​derby​ ​to​ ​prove​ ​that​ ​they​ ​were​ ​as​ ​good​ ​as​ ​the​ ​male​ ​pilots.  

Most of the women were not independently wealthy. They knew that they to buy  a plane to fly in the race. So they needed sponsors to furnish the plane. In return the planes carried the logo of the manufacture on the outside of the plane. This provided advertising for the company that furnished the plane.

When the women met with race officials at the start of the race the field was crowded with spectators making it difficult for the pilots to take off.

The planes were lined up and took off at one minute intervals. The lighter planes were first followed by the heavier ones. It must have been a sight to see all these planes leaving Clover Field in Cleveland. The women started on the venture of their lives. They couldn’t imagine the difficulties they would encounter.

Male and females were excited about this unusual activity for women. Some men hoped that they would fail and that the race would be a disaster. Of course, they believed that women should be in the home. They didn’t belong flying. The women of the race proved the men wrong. They persevered and traveled to heights that no one ever expected. I hope you find this story as exciting as I do. It’s a credit to these women that we owe our congratulation to show that women can be strong in any field.

The race would last eight days and would make the following stops for food and rest. There was very little rest for the women because they needed to protect their planes from sabotage. The damage might have been from male pilots or even fans who would want a part of the cloth from the wings. There was such chaos from the fans that the women got very little rest. Also they felt it was important to reach the next stop so they could keep their position in the race.

The race was sponsored by the Executive Clubs of each city the women landed. This was good publicity for the city. This race was watched by people all over the country.  Even though the races two races were only male pilots. It was the women plights that the county was interested. It was so unusual for women to break into a man’s world. Women were supposed to take care of family and home not be pilots.

The twenty women of the race became good friends. Some went on to fame in other races after the 1929 race. Some went back to their daily lives but they always stayed friends. Thy developed a strong bond that lasted through their lives.

Each women wanted to win the race but there was no major anger to the women who flew faster than others. It’s odd but that bond was so strong that there was no jealousy then it was believed.

The morning August 17th was a very busy crazy day. The women were excited and ready to go. The shot calling the beginning of the race was loud and clear but the runway was so filled with cars and spectators that pilots had to be very careful not to hit anyone or anything. Everyone wanted to see these beautiful and gorgeous women. Even though men didn’t believe that they participate in such a dangerous endeavor.

The race was made more difficult because they could not use navigational instruments. Relying only on road maps to know their location by knowing where rivers and lakes were located. The men thought that their lives were at risk if they flew at night. So there no night flying allowed. The women also had to use planes with engines that fit their abilities as women. They had to be ladylike and at each stop they had to attend banquets and talk about their experiences during the race.  All they wanted to was rest and then get back to the field to protect their planes from being damaged. Male pilots wouldn’t want the women pilots to steal their thunder. Men were hoping to prove that women weren’t meant to fly. 

Louise Thaden won first place in the heavy category. Her time was incredible…20 hours, 19 minutes, and 4 seconds. Phoebe Omlie won first place in the light category…  2  5 hours, 12 minutes and  4 7.5 seconds.

Come along with me and enjoy this exciting ride!


Thea Rasche, the German Pilot

Thea Rasche was a German woman who participated in the Powder Puff Derby. Fellow pilots named her “Queen of the Air.” After a meeting with Amelia Earhart Thea became a charter member of the ninety-nines.


  • License signed by Orville Wright
  • First woman to own and operate an airplane in the state of Michigan
  • Came in 9th in Powder Puff Derby
  • First woman accepted by Parks Air College
  • Awarded Bronze Star Award from OX-5 Pioneers
  • Inducted into Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame
  • First woman in Germany to be awarded a seaplane license

This not a honor but Thea went back to Germany during World War II and joined the Nazi Party. She soon became a member of the Nationalist Socialist Flying Club. After the war she returned to Germany.

After the war she returned to the United States and she died in 1971.






Phoebe Omlie

I have written about so many of the pioneer women pilots. All of them are superb pilots in different ways. Unfortunately, each have one thread in common. Except for Amelia Earhart, all are unknown to the general public but in their day they were unique women.

   During her teen years she hung around an airport near her home. She talked a flight  instructors to take her up in his plane. He decided to make the plane spin and perform other acrobatic maneuvers. He hoped to scare Phoebe so she would never want to fly again but she couldn’t wait to fly again be up in the sky again.

      After graduating from high school she became a secretary but her heart was in the sky. She was fascinated about parachutes. She hired a teacher and financed the lesson .

Soon she married her teacher, Vern Omlie. He owned a flying school and together they formed the Omlie Flying Circus. Phoebe became very proficient in parachute jumping and even wing walking. Here was this tiny lady hanging by her teeth or walking on the wing of a plane. She even did the stunt flying in a movie called the “Perils of Pauline.”

The couple practiced very carefully and eventually Phoebe could move from one plane to another.  Incredible. Vern and Phoebe didn’t earn a lot of money with the flying circus. But Phoebe did get so much attention. This stunt helped Phoebe get the job of working on stunts for silent movie.

Vern and Phoebe flew very important mercy missions forest fires or floods. This showed the government and the public that planes were valuable in non military situations. They also were plane spotters. Phoebe Omlie is one of those fabulous pilots.

For More Information See:

High, Wide and Frightened: Louise Thaden

Women Aloft: Valerie Moolman

Powder Puff Derby: Gene Nora Gensen

Powder Puff Derby: Mike Walker




High, Wide and Frightened: Louise Thaden

Women Aloft: Valerie Moolman

Powder Puff Derby: Gene Nora Gensen

Powder Puff Derby: Mike Walker





  • First federal pilots license
  • First licensed female transport pilot
  • First position winner in light category in Powder Puff Derby
  • First women to be appointed to a federal position in the field of aviation
  • Highest altitude record.
  • Editor of Aero Digest
  • Organized the Memphis Aero Club
  • First woman official in the government to represent the field of aviation. She acted as a technical adviser the National Advisory Committee with the Bureau of Air Commerce.
  • Created navigational aids
  • Worked other pilots in the Air Marking Program
  • Worked with Amelia Earhart to make an air grid of the United States.
  • Coordinator in the research department of the Civil Aeronautics Administration

In 1936 Vern died in a plane crash. He was a passenger on a commercial flight. He was so careful about his flying and never crashed. It was sad that Vern died in such a tragic way. After Vern’s death Phoebe’s spiraled She then died of lung cancer.



























































Edith Foltz

Edith Foltz was a pilot in the Powder Puff Derby who placed second in the race. She also was a charter member of the 99’s. Her aviation activities began before the Powder Puff derby and the 99’s. She and many other early pilots were barnstormers. She learned to fly from her husband who was a was a WWI when he came back from France after the war. He escorted a flying a flying school and she learned quickly and had 230 hours of flight. She became the second women to achieve her transport license. 

Achievements and awards:

  • Barnstormer
  • Placed second light plane category in Power Puff Derby
  • Member of Air Transport Auxiliary
  • Held Commercial license
  • Flight instructor’s rating
  • Logged over 4,000 hours of flight time
  • Taught instrument flying to Naval Cadets
  • Received Kings Medal…Britain’s highest award to foreigners
  • Ferried bombers from U.S. to England
  •  Designed the “Foltz-Up” flying suit…could be worn for flying or other activities
Image result for edith foltz pilot

            The clever Foltz up 



Vera Dawn Walker

    Vera was so small she couldn’t touch the rudder pedals she needed to prop herself up so that she could reach them. She was called the “Tiny Texan.” She was  4’11” and weighed all of 97 pounds! 

 Vera always wanted to fly like the birds so it was east to see why she was to enamored by flight. A pilot introduced her to flying and she immediately wanted to learn to fly. In order to take lessons she sold real estate. Reporters asked her why she wanted to fly she replied “because I want to.”

After she learned to fly she became a wing walker and appeared in many movies.

In 1929 she received her department Department of Commerce license. She began doing wing walking and also was an extra in movies. Again in 1929 Vera was a contestant in the Powder Puff Derby where she came in 10th. 

After flying career ended she returned to sell real estate. 

Vera didn’t have as much experience as many of the other pilots in the race but she was a spunky women who knew what she really wanted to do. Flying was her passion.

Vera Dawn Walker wearing her lovely head band

Pancho Barnes

               Pancho is on the far              right smoking her cigar

Florence “Pancho” Barnes was born into a very wealthy family but she wanted to live a different kind of life than expected from her family. She did give in to marry the man picked out for her. He was a minister named C. Rankin Barnes.She had one son but rarely took care of him. When she became a pilot she buzzed his church during his service. Her family couldn’t believe that their daughter was such a foul woman. She was a foul cigar smoking, and used language a cultured woman would never use. 

      Pancho is in the middle of this picture

Her grandfather’s was a pioneer in ballooning sparked an interest in aviation. Florence was not a typical married woman. She learned to fly even with the objections of her family. She took lessons and made her solo flight after six hours. This was incredible.   Then she dressed as a man spent months in Mexico and helped revolutionaries escape from the police. She was named Pancho  by these men and the name stuck.

Achievements and Records:

  • Started the Stunt Pilots in Motion Picture Association 
  • First Woman Stunt Pilot in movie “Hell’s Angels”
  • Entered the Powder Puff Derby but didn’t place because she crashed
  • Organized the barnstorming troupe “Mystery Circus of the Air” Test pilot for Lockheed’s Vega Flew at 196 m.p.h. She became world’s fastest woman pilot

She bought a strip of land in the Mojave Desert and built The Happy Bottom Riding Club also known as The Rancho Oro Verde Fly in Dude Ranch. The Muroc and later Edwards Air Base near. On the dude ranch she entertained many test pilots from the base. She became friends with Chuck Yeager, General Jimmy Doolittle, and Buzz Aldrin. Some say she ran a bordello but it was not. She did have rip-roaring parties there and the ranch became The Place To Go. In 1952 she had a conflict with the United States Air Force. They wanted to build a new runway that would run on her property. They wanted to pay her for her property but Pancho wanted a new appraisal. It was then that the Air Force accused her of running a bordello and wouldn’t allow men to come to her ranch. This was the beginning of the end of her dude ranch. Pancho filed a lawsuit against the Air Force and then a suspicious fire burnt down the ranch. She won the case and her named cleared.

After this lawsuit  she developed cancer and died in 1975. 

It’s hard to describe Pancho because she was a fabulous pilot but also a colorful character. You will be fascinated as you read more about her. She was part of the Golden Age of Aviation but she was more than that. I was so intrigued with her and I hope you will be too.

To learn more about Pancho Barnes Go to:

Movie: Pancho Barnes with Valerie Bertinelli

Biography: The Lady Who Tamed Pegasus: The Story of By Pancho Barnes by Grover Ted Tate

Pancho: The Biography of Florence Lowe Barnes by Barbara Schultz

PBS documentary Film: The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Club

How Marvel Crosson Died

Marvell Crosson was the only pilot to die in the Powder Puff Derby. She was a very fine pilot who flew was a bush pilot in Alaska. She an her bother Joe went to Alaska because they knew that there were many jobs there. They intended to start an airline but the racing bug hit Marvel.
Before The Derby Marvel flew the entire course to know the route. She had the fastest plane in the race and was favored to be the winner. She was warned of sabotage because her plane was so much faster than the other planes. Marvel wasn’t deterred. She was confident that she would win.
After winning Marvel planned to go back to Alaska to build a home and continue to develop the airline business with her brother. She wasn’t afraid or concerned about the warnings of sabotage.
Unfortunately, she had problems right away. She damaged the left-wing after an accident. That was easy to fix but soon she developed engine trouble. She was an experienced pilot…how could this happen! Well it happened. By definition, it was an accident. No one knew where she was until her body was found in the desert of Arizona. The women of The Derby were shocked. Marvel was one of the most qualified pilots in the race.
Marvel’s body was found near her plane. Residents of the town of Welton, Arizona saw a plane falling out of the sky. Reports said her probably tried to jump to safety. It seemed that her plane developed engine trouble.She probably bailed out too low so her parachutte couldn’t open in order to save her. It was so sad…this beautiful, talented lady found with broken bones and her parachute wrapped around her. She probably tried to pull the rip cord but it didn’t work.

   Now the male pilots had more fuel to criticize woman pilots. They felt that women should not fly and certainly not race!

   The truth should have come out. Male pilots tampered with her plane. No one was arrested. The officials of the race wanted to stop it. The women pilots said they needed to continue in Marvel’s honor. Unfortunately, the participants believed that sabotage was responsible for their problems.