Friday, January 24, 2020

Delaware's First Aviatrix -- Myrtle Madeline Brown

America was in the middle of an aviation craze in 1927 when Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic Ocean. A young woman from Nebraska named Myrtle Madeline Brown became obsessed with the notion of flying. She was a graduate of the University of Omaha and was attending a music school in Maryland when she quit to pursue the wild blue yonder.

Fortunately for Miss. Brown, noted aeroplane designer Giuseppe Bellanca was living in Omaha where he was a partner in the Roos-Bellanca Aircraft Company and her father was his landlord.  Bellanca was a close friend and business associate of Clarence Chamberlin, one of the most well-known pilots of the day. Bellanca arranged for Myrtle and her sister Dorothy to fly with Chamberlin. That was all it took! Myrtle was hooked on flying and determined to fly. Her sister became involved with Giuseppe and soon they were married. In 1927 Giuseppe M. Bellanca was lured to Delaware by Henry B. duPont and formed the Bellanca Aircraft Corporation of America with support of the duPont family.

Brown moved to Delaware with her sister and Bellanca. It was not long before she started pilot training. On July 11, 1929 her name was on the front page of all of the Wilmington newspapers because the previous day she earned her wings. The federal government awarded Brown pilot's license No. 7701 making her the first woman in Delaware to do so. On June 28, 1929 she was back on the front page again when she told the Evening Journal that it was her intention to earn a commercial license and cross the ocean. It was her intention to fly from New York to Rome as a tribute to Bellanca's native Italy.

On October 28, 1929 Brown was on the front page again when the Every Evening reported Brown purchased her own aeroplane, a three-place Kreider-Reisner Challenger powered by an OX-5 Curtiss motor. They reported that she was the first woman in Delaware to own an aeroplane.

On November 2, 1929 an organization of female pilots known as The Ninety-Nines was formed with Myrtle Brown was a charter member. They elected Amelia Earhart as their first president. The Ninety-Nines still exist today, their mission statement is as follows: The Ninety-Nines is the International Organization of Women Pilots that promotes advancement of aviation through education, scholarships and mutual support while honoring our unique history and sharing our passion for flight.
From the Evening Journal
June 27, 1930

Brown had lofty aspirations, she wanted to cross the Atlantic and set endurance records and even before she had her pilot's license she petitioned and was turned down for permission to fly under the Brooklyn Bridge. On May 30, 1930, at the age of 27 and less than a year after obtaining her license, she opened her own flying field at Painter's Cross Roads, near Concordville, Pa. Its name was "The Myrtle Brown Flying Field." She took up twenty six passengers in her Kreider-Reisner Challenger on the official opening day at the field. Her sister Dorothy and brother-in-law Giuseppe Bellanca were among the first passengers. A number of area male pilots paid tribute to Miss Brown that day by either circling over the field or landing to greet her.

Myrtle Brown with her Kreider-Reisner Challenger
Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Delaware
On June 1, 1934, Brown was in her home state of Nebraska helping to launch a new airport when she was stricken with appendicitis. She died that night at Methodist Hospital in Omaha from the resulting blood poisoning known as peritonitis. The next day she was on the front page of newspapers one last time, from coast to coast, the newspapers carried the story of her. Myrtle Madeline Brown had accomplished a lot in her 34 years. Had she not perished, who knows how her story would have unfolded.

Myrtle Madeline Brown was not native to Delaware, did not live in Delaware very long, and even when she she lived in Delaware, her feet were never on the ground very long, but she will forever hold the title of Delaware's very first aviatrix. She was a remarkable woman.

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