The Flying Seven
I fell in love with The Flying Seven a few years ago and did a bit of research in order to make a little book for my daughter, which I then submitted to The Brooklyn Art Library. I thought it was kind of sad that the lives of these amazing women get shortened to a handful of highlights, so now I’m trying to fill in the blanks before and after.
I’ll be adding more to this page as I go, but for now, here's the text from my sketchbook...
Margaret loved airplanes. She was a passenger on her first flight in 1928 (when she was 14 years old).
When she was 17, she was inspired by the Trans-Canada Air Pageant and saved up for two years before joining the Edmonton and Northern Aero Club, as their only woman member. She couldn’t afford flying lessons, so she did the club’s books and various chores to earn free flying time.
At 19, she got her private pilot’s licence. At 21, she got her commercial licence – the first woman in Western Canada to do so.
Women pilots in America had started a club called The Ninety-Nines (after the number of founding members).
Margaret visited California to meet with them and discuss the possibility of starting a Canadian chapter. Sadly, as there were too few women pilots in Canada and they were spread out over such a large area, they thought it wouldn’t work.
Margaret at least got to meet Amelia Earhart on that trip!
In 1936, Margaret moved to Vancouver and was happy to find six other women pilots. They decided to form The Flying Seven – Canada’s first all-female flying club.
As well as Margaret, there was Alma (President), Jean, Elizabeth "Betsy", Elianne, Tosca, Rosalia "Rolie".
The Flying Seven wanted to promote women’s place in aviation through air shows and competitions.
Their first event was a Dawn to Dusk Patrol – the only one ever held at the Vancouver Airport. From 7am to 11pm, each member took a turn in the air for around half an hour, so there was a woman in the sky for the whole day.
They wanted to show “a woman’s place is in the air”.
When World War II started, the group offered their services, but were not accepted as pilots by the Canadian Air Force. Instead, they focused their efforts on fundraising to buy training aircraft for the Air Force Training School, as part of the “Air Supremacy Drive”.
In July 1940, the Flying Seven’s Bomphlet Raid dropped 100,000 pamphlets on Vancouver, with messages like “SMASH THE NAZIS!” and “GIVE DIMES OR DOLLARS TO BUY OUR BOYS MORE PLANES!” and asking for donations for aircraft. They raised enough money to buy eight airplanes!
With private flying suspended during the war, the Flying Seven used their skills to set up a school to train women for wartime aviation jobs. This four-month ground school included technical flying theory, parachute packing, wireless training, and information on the RCAF and RAF.
The demand was huge with over 300 women applying. Students later joined the RCAF or worked in factories for Boeing and other aircraft companies.
After the war, the group drifted apart, but was never formerly disbanded. Some members joined the chapter of The 99s that was finally set up in Canada and they still met up from time to time.
- Born 1914
- Died 2004 (age 90)
- PPL #1317 in 1933 (age 19, 31st woman in Canada)
- Commercial licence A1236 (first woman in Western Canada)
Airlines refused to hire a woman pilot, so she learned to operate a ham radio (operator #4578) and was the first woman to do so for an airline in Canada, if not the world. She was hired by Bridge River & Cariboo Airways and, once she was employed by the airline, piloted several commercial flights. The company was bought up to form Canadian Pacific Airlines and she had a 20-year career with them, living within view of the runway.
- Born 1912
- Died 1999 (age 87)
- PPL in 1935 (age 23, 43rd woman in Canada)
- Commercial licence (#C-1609) and instructor rating (second woman in Canada to get it)
She secretly saved up for flying lessons. A relative asked, "I hear you're interested in flying", "Yeah, I went solo today, you see", her mother replied, "You did what?!"
Skilled at aerobatics, formation flying, and “ribbon cutting” (where you tilt the aircraft and use the wings to cut a ribbon, suspended between two sticks a few feet from the ground)
Her first husband (Desmond Barrett) was killed in the war and she became a single mother. Her students used to watch her son while she was giving flying lessons.
Plane Watcher's memorial bench at Pitt Meadows Airport
- Born 1910
- Died 1991 (age 81)
- PPL #2151 in 1936 (age 26, 49th woman in Canada)
- Commercial licence in the US
A talented athlete, she broke records in track and field, baseball, basketball and lacrosse, and qualified for discus in the Olympics, but couldn't afford to compete.
Angelo Branca's legal secretary for 20 years (the most famous criminal defense lawyer in Canadian history)
She was married for a few years, got divorced, bought 10 acres of land and built a cabin in the desert with a landing strip beside it
- Born 1909
- Died 1981 (age 72)
- PPL #678 in 1930 (age 21, 21st woman in Canada)
- Commercial licence #A1029
Started flying when she was 20 and the first time her mother saw her fly, she crashed
Trained in Montreal and was the first French-Canadian girl to get a commercial licence
Secretary to Grant McConachie (Canadian bush pilot who set up Canadian Pacific Airlines) – they got their commercial licences at the same time
- Born 1895
- Died 1994 (age 99)
- PPL in 1933 (37th woman in Canada)
Married a commercial pilot (Frank Gilbert), bought an Aeronca plane and started a flying school (Gilbert’s Flying Service)
She acted as co-pilot for ferry flights, transporting school aircraft from the factories to Vancouver.
Thanks to the airport news column in the Vancouver Sun in the 1930s, there are lots of little stories about Alma and Frank’s adventures – like their airplane’s wings being eaten by cows
- Born 1881
- Died 1968 (age 87)
- PPL in 1931 (age 53, 27th woman in Canada) – the oldest female pilot in Canada at the time
The oldest member of the group, although she never told the others her precise age.
She was a passenger on the first commercial flight of Air Canada
By day, she was buyer for a big department store
Flew with the BC Aero Club until her death
- Born around 1916
- Died ?
- PPL in 1936 (48th woman in Canada)
The baby of the group – only 20 when they formed.
Ran the Columbia School of Aeronautics with her brother, Bob Pike, then moved to the US.
Continued to fly and took an advanced course with the American Air Cadets Corps.
[After submitting the sketchbook, I did a lot more research on the group. Click on each woman's name to go to her updated profile.]