Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Harriet Who?

Today, they'd call her 'unconventional'. Harriet Qimby was born in Michigan in 1875 and by 1900, she was working as a journalist in San Francisco.

It was in 1910 that she became interested in flying and very soon gained her pilot's licaence. This was a 'first', too, as she became the first woman to have gained a flying licence in the USA. The following year, she decided that she wanted to fly an aircraft across the Englsih Channel. Bleriot had done it in 1909 and since then, several other (male) aviators had been killed trying to follow him.

The English Channel was as much an attitude of mind as a geographical place in the early 20th century. A well-known newspaper headline of the time once noted "Fog in Channel, Europe cut off.'.

From Dover to Calais it is about 25 miles (more or less) and it is often foggy, misty, raining and/or blowing hard. To fly that 25 miles in a small, lightweight, fabric aircraft of the period takes the sort of cold-blooded courage that only heros can manage. No doubt about it- Ms Harriet Quimby was a heroine.

On the morning of April 16th she set off from Dover in a monoplane - and that was unusual in itself. Most aircraft in those days were chunky biplanes, with one set of wings below the cockpit and one above, joined by strong guy wires, yet Harriet chose a more fragile-looking monoplane. The only instrument she had to guide her was a compass, given to her at the last moment by an advisor.

Part way across, she ran into fog. Sensibly, she gained more height until she was above the clouds and flew on. After about an hour, she started to let down and must have been delighted to see the French coast ahead of her, appearing out of the fog.

She landed safely on a sandy beach, just north of Calais, to a rapturous welcome from the local people and very soon returned to England - and that is when everything started to go wrong.

The night before, a transatlantic liner had managed to smash into a rather solid iceburg and accordingly the newspapers were all full of the disaster which had befallen the 'Titanic'. Harriet's achievement only got into the second page of the local Dover newspapers and didn't make the National newspaper headlines at all.

Once she returned to the USA she did get a huge welcome, but later commentators have suggested that because there was considerable suffragette agitation around that time, her achievement was never fully acknowledged.

In July of 1912, she took part in a rehearsal for an air show, before flying the mail from Boston to New York. Sadly, that flight never took place. She was killed during the rehearsal, thrown out of her aircraft and falling into the sea.
Between the 'Titanic' and her tragically early death, history more or less forgot Harriet Quimby.

To find out more about Harriet Quimby, go to the Harriet Quimby Home page at: http://www.harrietquimby.org. You can also find a brief article about her, which I wrote a while ago, at: http://idugit.hubpages.com

Of all things, I first read about her in a time-travel science fiction book, "From Time to Time', written by Jack Finney around 1995. There is a scene in the book where she is being interviewed by newspapermen before she sets off from New York. I'd never heard of her before and decided check her biography on-line in case she was a real person - and there it was. A real person, a real live heroine and hardly anyone remembers her marvelous achievement.

Article Source:http://EzineArticles.com/?expert

No comments :

Post a Comment