Friday, February 27, 2015

To Touch The Sky

Louise McPhetridge Thaden was born in Bentonille, Arkansas, in 1929.  Her childhood was spent in a rural environment and she learned hunting and fishing on trips with her father.  Airplane barnstorming was in its heyday then and she had a desire to learn to fly.  This was further fueled when she secured a ride on with one of the barnstormers.

She went on to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, but left in 1925 after three years, before getting her degree.  She got a job in Wichita, Kansas, at Jack Turner's lumberyard.  He in turn introduced her to Walter Beech Aircraft owner and his wife, Olive.  Beech liked her enthusiasm and interest in flying and offered her a job with his company branch in Oakland, California.  Along with a salary, she also received free flying lessons.

Her flying certificate, number 850, was signed by Orville Wright.  She also met Herbert von Thaden, a former US Army pilot.  They married in 1928 in Reno, Nevada.

She became very active in women's aviation, competing in national contests.  She won the first all women transcontinental race called he National Air Derby and held August 19, 1929.  She beat out Amelia Earhart, Poncho Barnes, Blanche Noyes and many others.  Later that year she joined in with many of these same women in forming the international organization, The Ninety-Nines, for female pilots.

She apparently was game to try anything.  In 1932 she teamed up with Frances Marsialis and together they set a refueling endurance record.  It was 196 grueling hours on constant flying in an event the press dubbed  "The Flying Boudoir."  All together they completed 78 air-to-air maneuvers where food, water, fuel and oil was passed from one aircraft to the other using ropes for the conveyance of the supplies.

In 1936 women were, for the first time, allowed to compete in the Bendix Transcontinental Air Race with the male pilots. She and Blanche Noyes flew together.  They experienced some problems along the route and were surprised when a crowd surrounded their plane when they landed.  They had not expected to win, but they did.

She retired from competition in 1938 to raise a family.  She wrote her memoir titled "High, Wide, and Frightened which was published in 1938.  Her book was reprinted in 2004 by the University of Arkansas Press.

Louise stayed active in aviation in many roles until her death in 1979 at the age of 73.  What an active and adventurous life she enjoyed.


  1. That is remarkable. I've never heard of this woman.

  2. There are so many couragous and adventuresome people I have never known about or forgotten. I love rediscovering them. - Karen