Elinor Smith, pilot extraodinaire

A remarkable woman who died a week ago

There are many famous names in aviation but I would wager that Elinor Smith, despite being one of the greats in the history of flying, is not a name that falls off the lips of thousands.  It ought to.

Last Friday, just a week ago, Elinor Smith died at the amazing age of 98.

Elinor Smith

There are many accounts of her life accessible online.  Here’s an extract from an obituary published by the Wall Street Journal.

Ms. Smith, who died Friday at age 98, was one of the last survivors of aviation’s early barnstorming days. She flew with such legends as Amelia Earhart and James Doolittle. She recalled Charles Lindbergh seeing her off from Roosevelt Field in 1928 on her most notorious exploit, flying under four of New York City’s East River bridges.

and also from the WSJ:

Over the next few years, Ms. Smith would set numerous records, spurred on by a handful of other aviatrices, including Ms. Earhart, Bobbi Trout, and Pancho Barnes. All were trumpeted by the media. Ms. Smith’s “Flying Flapper” moniker was matched by “The Flying Cashier” and “The Flying Salesgirl.” Each strove to break free of the pack.

“That’s how you got jobs, by setting records,” said Dorothy Cochrane, a curator at the National Air and Space Museum. “Women had to take what they could get since careers in the military were closed to them.”

Ms. Smith set several endurance records, and once flew so high in an attempt to set the altitude record that she blacked out above 30,000 feet.

There is also a comprehensive account of her life on WikiPedia.

Plus a few days ago, someone posted a brief clip on YouTube.

More about Elinor Smith, courtesy of Cradle of Aviation:


  • Born August 17, 1911 in New York City. In 1917, at the age of six, Smith took her first flight in a Farman pusher biplane and from then on she was hooked on aviation.Growing up in Freeport, Long Island during the heyday of the golden age of flight, Elinor Smith had access to some of the best flying fields in the country and some of the most famous flyers.
  • At the age of fifteen, Smith flew her first solo flight and one year later in 1928 she received her pilot’s license to become the world’s youngest licensed pilot.
  • One of her earliest and most famous stunts in 1928 was flying under all four East River suspension bridges—a feat never accomplished by another pilot.
  • In 1928, Smith set a light plane altitude record of 11,889 feet, the first of many records she was to set during her career. In 1929, alone she set four world records.
  • The following year Smith set the women’s solo endurance record after spending thirteen hours, sixteen minutes flying an open cockpit Brunner Winkle Bird on a frigid January night over Roosevelt Field.
  • Smith toured the U.S. air show circuit in 1929, piloting a Bellanca Pacemaker for a group of parachutists promoting the Irvin Parachute Company.
  • Flying with co-pilot Bobbie Trout, she set the first Women’s Refueling Record of 42 _ hours over Los Angeles.
    Smith was the first woman test pilot for both Fairchild Aviation Corporation and Bellanca Corporation.
  • Set Woman’s World Speed Record of 190.8 miles per hour in 1929 in a Curtiss Falcon over a closed course, Motor Parkway, Long Island.
  • In 1930, Elinor Smith received one of the greatest honors in her life when she was voted the best woman pilot in the United States.
  • From 1930 to 1935, Smith she worked as a radio commentator on aviation events for NBC.
  • After retiring from flying, Elinor Smith worked to preserve the history of Long Island aviation. She was a founding member of the Long Island Early Fliers and promoted the creation of an aviation museum on Long Island.
  • In 1960, she piloted a T-33 jet trainer at Mitchel Field.

By Paul Handover

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