Following are excerpts from Doris Powers' book, Nothing but Blue Skies: Memoir of a Renaissance Woman Pilot: 1927-2009, about her flying experiences as a teenager (1939-1945). These chapter excerpts are posted on the Internet for researchers and parties interested in women in early aviation.
Please email Jaye Powers and Laura Powers (email@example.com) with any questions about Nothing but Blue Skies, Doris Powers, or the book.
The 2011 book by Doris Powers, Nothing
but Blue Skies, was edited and produced by Jaye Powers, Laura Powers,
Bob Powers, and Amanda Billings, with initial organization and edits by Suzanne
Bailer Smith. These four
chapters were extracted and edited by Jaye Powers and Laura Powers, January 5,
2022. Chapters 6, 15, 16, and 17
are included here in full, along with photos from Doris Powers' 2011 book, Nothing
but Blue Skies.
Book published by Blue Cat Publishing in 2011.
cover and back photos by Bradley Merrill Thompson, Photographer.
NOTHING BUT BLUE SKIES
Memoir of a Renaissance Woman Pilot: 1927-2009
cover photo by Bradley Merrill Thompson, Photographer.
2008, Doris Hurt Powers sitting on wing of Vultee BT-13, in Indianapolis, Indiana.
cover photo by Bradley Merrill Thompson, Photographer.
Doris M. Hurt Powers
Initial Editing and Organization by Suzanne Bailer Smith
Additional Editing and Production by
with Laura Powers,
Bob Powers, and Amanda Billings
Copyright January, 2011
By Jaye Powers, Laura Powers, and Bob Powers
All rights reserved including the right of
in whole or in part in any form.
Published by Blue Cat Publishing, 2011
Papers and materials for Doris Hurt Powers are
MSA 2, Doris Hurt Powers papers,
Archives and Special Collections,
Purdue University Libraries
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1 Early Childhood in Indianapolis, 1927-1934
Chapter 2 Discovering Skating and Singing, 1930s
Chapter 3 Childhood Athletics: Tennis, 1930s
Chapter 4 Childhood Athletics: Badminton, 1940
Chapter 5 Riflery, Swimming, and School, 1930s
Chapter 6 Flying! High School, 1941
Chapter 7 Johnny, 1941-1943
Chapter 8 Southern Methodist University, Spring, 1944
Chapter 9 Summer of Decisions and Anticipation, 1944
Chapter 10 No WASPS, December, 1944
Chapter 11 Southern Methodist University, 1944-1945
Chapter 12 Transferring to Purdue, 1945-1946
Chapter 13 Life at Purdue, 1946-1947
Chapter 14 Purdue and Eisenhower Wedding, 1947-1949
Chapter 15 Flying! Taildraggers and ESP, 1940s
Chapter 16 Flying! White Knuckles and Roscoe Turner, 1940s
Chapter 17 Flying! Ferrying and a Crash Landing, 1940s
Chapter 18 Sun Valley, Modeling, and Purdue Graduation, 1949
Chapter 19 Chicago and Trans-Canada Air Lines, 1949
Chapter 20 Engagement to Lieutenant Patrick Powers, 1950
Chapter 21 Marriage and Honeymoon, 1950
Chapter 22 Army Life Begins: Fort Bliss and Starting a Family, 1951-1955
Chapter 23 Fort Leavenworth, Pentagon, Korea, Fort Sill, Newport, 1956-1964
Chapter 24 Dreaming of Paris, 1965
Chapter 25 Paris, 1965-1967
Chapter 26 Relocating to Germany and Pat's Tours in Vietnam, 1967-1971
Chapter 27 Life in Germany and Travels to the Soviet Union, 1972-1973
Chapter 28 Back in the U.S.A., Retiring in Maryland, In Business, 1973-1986
Chapter 29 Starting Another Business, Pat's Death, 1987-
Chapter 30 A Second Retirement and Travel Adventures, 1992-2000
Chapter 31 Back Home in Indianapolis and more Travel, 2000-2008
Chapter 32 Writing a Memoir, 2007-2008
are the four excerpted chapters of this book, Nothing but Blue Skies,
about Doris Powers and her experiences as a female, teenage pilot in
the early 1940s. Also included are photographs from her book.
Flying! High School, 1941
During the sports period of my young life, I had an interest that grabbed hold of me and never let go. When I was 14, a friend of the family owned a small plane in partnership with two other young men. My parents knew him, the same young man, Johnny, with whom they had fixed me up as a badminton doubles partner. Johnny used to take my brother flying quite often because Bill wanted to be a pilot in the Army in WWII and the more he knew about it ahead of time, the better chance he would have of qualifying to be a pilot in the service. Johnny couldn't sign a log book for Bill because he wasn't qualified as a flight instructor, but he could teach him whatever he wanted as a Private Pilot, which is exactly what he did.
Once at badminton practice, Johnny asked me if I'd like to go flying sometime. Of course, I said yes! Does a bear sleep in the winter? Do I have four older brothers of whom, "I can do better?" I had been up once before in a sightseeing plane over Indianapolis as an 8- or 9-year-old, and thought it was the greatest thing in the world, floating above clouds and looking down on things from the air.
So… my life changed forever at that moment. Unlike the Gary Moore TV episode many years later (which was a major decision-making process that changed how I approached life), this was simply…life…magical life that became a part of me. I went, I flew, I conquered. I went on my first ride with Johnny, and as he did with Bill, showed me how to make turns, go up and down, keep the plane straight and level, and speed up or slow down. Then we buzzed my house on the way back to the airport as Bill had done many times. Mom and some neighbors came out to wave. When she told them it was me who was flying and not Bill, she came under some criticism. I didn't care. I loved it! The next time he took me to the air, he asked me if I'd like to do some stunts. My face bore the obvious answer. That time we did all kinds of stalls, spins, lazy eights, chandelles, finishing off with a couple of crazy loops. That did it! I was hooked and never looked back.
Dad was wonderfully supportive, both financially and practically. He also decided to get his Private Pilot's flying license so he could fly and take Mom along on trips. They used to take little trips for "fly-in" breakfasts, which some of the local fliers did on Sundays when the weather was nice. They joined the Indianapolis Aero Club and belonged for over 30 years, enjoying many of their programs and flying activities.
This support from my parents enabled me to fly at a young age. After being exposed to it by Johnny, my greatest passion was flying. My dream was to get my pilot's license as soon as I could. I dedicated large portions of my time trying to bring this dream to fruition.
I had started logging time in a log book the next year after Johnny took me up. I took regular lessons at Sky Harbor Airport, a grass airport on East 21st Street in Indianapolis. Later on they put in a single north and south, hard-surface strip, but in my early flying, I landed many a plane on that little grass strip.
There was a big demand for pilots for the war so almost all airports had some kind of light plane training going on. My older brother, Bill, was already in an Army cadet training program by then and on his way to becoming a B-25 bomber pilot. Jack, who was two years older than Bill, did solo with his student pilot license but never went further with it. Jack preferred his thrills on the ground as a race car driver and was a very successful one. Me, I preferred the safety of a plane!
Because of the number of pilots in training at Sky Harbor, we used to take off and do our traffic patterns two planes at a time. If you think that wasn't dicey, think again. Our planes were Aeronca Trainers, with Lycoming 65 horsepower engines. I think downhill with the wind behind us, they managed about 60-65 mph ground speed.
First we learned how to do full-stall landings, because these planes were taildraggers, planes that had the third landing wheel under the tail, instead of under the nose. Once we learned that, we did "touch-and-goes," which amounted to taking off, flying the prescribed traffic pattern, landing, and then taking right off again without stopping. That enabled a student to get a lot more landings in per training hour. I did that also with my students in later years and imagine it is still being done that way for small planes today.
My 16th birthday was coming up, and I was very anxious to solo on that day. My birthday was on January 17th and this being Indiana, the weather odds were against me. It rained for three days straight. By the 21st of the month, the fields were so soggy from the rain that they had me ride with my instructor to a small emergency field nearby which was dryer. After trying one landing to check for safety, my instructor got out. The pilot flew from the back seat in that particular plane. Without the instructor in front of me to view around, the distance between me and that instrument panel was a long way. However, I knew I was ready and had been for some time. All I needed was the birthday and, getting that, I wasn't waiting any longer. When talking with my brother Bill later, I found that he had met the same fate…his birthday being January 2nd. He was rained out on his 16th birthday and, as with me, had to solo in the same little emergency field.
My mother had some celebrating to do, also. Because I was turning sixteen, that meant I had a Student Driver's License and she would no longer have to drive me to the airport. Until then, I had been too young to drive myself back and forth for the lessons. She had always been just great about it, doing errands in the area or reading a book during my one-hour lessons. Sometimes Johnny would pick me up on the way to the airport for his flying time, helping me to rack up nine and a half hours of flying time, even though only eight were needed.
I have often said I got myself born to the right parents. I would not have known the love I have of sports and the golden opportunities I've experienced had it not been for them. They enabled me to continue my love affair with flying skyward at a tender age, when most girls are just beginning to think of boys. All I could think of were those beautiful blue skies!
Speaking of boys, at this point I have to apologize to those of you who are not interested in flying or aviation of any kind. You are not the only ones I have dealt with on this subject. This is a good spot to make a point that flying is an addiction…or disease…I'm not sure which. There is a peace about it when you are up there, just you and the plane floating along. Things on earth look and seem very insignificant. The joy of manipulating this wonderful machine is unsurpassable, being able to control what it does. The man-machine interface is awesome. Or woman-machine, to be politically correct. However, when I started flying, it was a man's world, with plenty of room for women to be pioneers. Hang the political!
Since I was just entering high school when I first learned to fly at age 14, I had no thoughts about being a pioneer of anything. I was just excited about life and participating in the activities in which I knew I could be competitive, with myself and others. And I was riding on a cloud at the thought of flying now being a major part of my life.
My high school years are somewhat of a blur as many things happened and yet not much happened. These were war years and everything seemed to be going at a speeded-up pace. Since I finished high school in January, I more or less walked out of one school and into another. Those who graduated in June had the summer off as a matter of course.
First, I'll explain that I went to Arsenal Technical High School (Tech). Since I lived out of that district and should have gone to Shortridge High School, I needed to have special permission to go to Tech. There were several reasons for that choice. They had excellent music there. "Pop" Paxton, who was head of the music department, was well known for his work at Tech. Of course, he had three or four thousand students to choose from so that gave him a big advantage. The various groups, programs, and shows he managed were well known throughout the city.
At that point I was still studying voice with the idea of continuing with music in college. I auditioned for Mr. Paxton and was accepted into the Tech Choir, and also the Madrigal Singers. That was a group of twelve performers who sang beautiful period music a capella. It was a wonderful experience and I learned a great deal.
The campus was large, with a number of buildings. Some of the students learned trades in the shops and printing facilities, with the idea of acquiring a skill and then dropping out at 16, which was the legal minimum age. Others planned to finish and join the workforce. Then there were those who were taking college preparatory classes, with a huge curriculum available. Since it was during the war that I was there, January 1941 to January 1944, many of the boys were graduating early so they could join the service. It was a different kind of war than the ones which came later, such as Korea, Viet Nam and the Middle East. The whole country was behind it, with almost all men of acceptable age anxiously wanting to be a part of it. They had a special January graduation for the first time in the school's history so that those who wanted to complete their schooling early could get their diplomas. Normally, they would have had to come back in June for their graduation. Often there was no choice given to males, if they had enough credits to graduate. They were drafted during the mid-point of their senior year and sent overseas. There were several hundred of us who graduated then, despite having no intentions of joining the war effort. We all did our part in many other ways, while being given the advantage of obtaining our high school diploma early and getting on with life. It was a good decision for many of us, but for others it was not, as many of them did not return from the war.
Another reason I
The last, and probably the most important reason I went to Tech, is because my two brothers, Jack and Bill, went to Shortridge. They were in junior ROTC programs and as such, were able to compete for a place in a special, elite drill squad which performed for annual Federal Inspection. Jack was one of the top performers, but because of some breach of conduct, poor grades, or something like that, was not chosen. His revenge was to dig big holes in the parade field the night before the Inspection (having had some help from his buddies). My younger brother, Bill, tells me Dad was the inspector at that time, but I can't confirm that. In any case, Jack was found out and kicked out of school. Jack finished high school at Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, Tennessee.
Two years later,
Bill pulled the same trick to a lesser degree, but he wasn't kicked out. He was just asked not to return the next
year, so he, too, went to
In order to
finish high school in three years I had gone to
I said "Yes, but I've never had anything less than an A+ in English, and I don't intend to get less just because I'm their sister."
He said he'd look for my report and get back to me later. I was livid. Two days later he changed my grade to an A. I maxed all tests from then on and wound up with my A+, but he never apologized. The general attitude at Shortridge was much different than it was at Tech and I'm so glad I didn't go there full time. I am sure good students remained good students there and were happy, but those who didn't do as well, or were sometimes a problem were not given the guidance they needed. Both of my brothers were very bright and their later lives proved that point, in spite of their problems at Shortridge.
High school went
by in a flurry of classes, sports, music, and flying. My first scrape with the FAA (Federal
Aviation Authority) was about my flying over a football game when
When I arrived back at the airport, the owner was waiting for me, saying the FAA had called, stating that I had been reported to be flying OVER the stadium, dropping things out of the window. I still had the streamers with me so that obviously wasn't so. Since there was no way to prove that I didn't fly over the people and the stadium, the accusation probably coming from sour grapes on the parts of Shortridge fans. It was my word against theirs. I was grounded for 30 days. We trounced Shortridge.
High school sports were still going on. I was ice skating several times a week and also competing in badminton in the winter and tennis in the summer. There was a lot of swimming and tanning at the Puddle, though I didn't swim again on a team until I went to Purdue because of my ear problems. My hearing had completely recovered and is to this day excellent in spite of all those ruptured drums and being almost deaf earlier. On my entrance physical at Purdue they noted that I had a hearing loss and should be in the front row of my classes. I had my hearing checked by my ENT doctor in Indianapolis because I was swimming on the water ballet team and didn't want to have any damage from that. He gave me the OK to swim, as he could find nothing wrong. I had said that I had problems and had learned some lip reading and signing in grade school but everything was fine now. I found out later that the doctor at the physical exam put down that I needed to read lips so should be placed in the front row in my classes. A funny thing happened as a result of that. In one of my basic Purdue engineering labs where we had to take welding, heat treating and foundry, there was one lecture class a week. I was the only girl in the class and was in the front row because of the physical at Purdue. The instructor at one point turned to the blackboard and while he was writing something down said, "The girl in the front row reads lips, so when I want to tell you a joke, I'll just face the blackboard and she won't be able to hear it." The hard part was not laughing when he did that because, of course, I heard every word…some of them were pretty good, too, even if a little grey in nature.
Flying! Taildraggers and ESP, 1940s
At one point in about the middle
of my third year at Purdue, I drove my mother's car back to Indianapolis after
having had it at Purdue a few days. At
that time, the main highway, Route 52, lay between
During my junior year at Purdue, I was able to get two job interviews. The first interviewer, a male, asked me if I could type. I told him typing had not been taught at my school. He said, "That's too bad because you might be able to get a job as a secretary to someone in management because you already know the vocabulary."
I said, "Do you think I spent five years in a university so I can type for someone who might have the same degree I have?"
"Oh, I never thought of it like that."
When I asked the next interviewer how long they kept people on the drafting boards…again, stubby pencil drafting…he said, "About a year. But for women, they stay there…because they are so good at detail. So you would have security at your job."
That was when I decided that air
transportation held all my options. I
wanted a job as a sales and traffic representative. At that time there had been no women in that
job in the whole
I really wasn't ready for that question, but I said, "I've sold myself, and I love aviation. With that and my flying background, I think I am qualified."
He decided to "give me a try." When I came to work, the company employed three male reps, one with a liberal arts degree and two with no degrees, and none of them flew. Wasn't it generous of him to "give me a try" at half their salaries?
During the summers between classes, I did my ferry job and also flew passengers up to some of the lakes in Northern Indiana. These were men who worked in town all week and then came to visit their families for the weekend. Some of the guys would not fly with me because I was obviously a "girl." One male enthusiastically showed his delight to fly with me only because I was a "girl." He proved to be a problem: Roman hands and flying tongue. Finally I asked him if he knew how to fly. He said, "No."
I reached in front of him and opened his door about 2000 feet up and said, "You're going to learn real fast if you don't behave." He didn't say another word the rest of the trip.
Dad, at this point, encouraged me to get my Certified Flight Instructor Rating. I really didn't want to teach, but he said, "You never know when you might want to have it." A wise man, my father!
The end of my senior year at Purdue, I had the BT-13 plane at the Purdue Airport. Bill was not around, and Dad had not been doing too much flying in that plane. When he and Mom went anyplace, they took the Cessna. I remember once when Dad flew the BT-13 to Lafayette to visit me, he landed downwind. Fortunately they had a long runway, and no problems occurred. At that point Bill and I agreed it was too much plane for anyone to fly it only once or twice a month, and still expect to be competent. All indications were that Dad shouldn't be flying the BT plane unless he took quite a bit more instruction and then flew at least ten hours a month consistently.
In any case, my parents gave me
the BT-13 plane to keep at Purdue where it could be "exercised" and not just
sit at a tie-down at Weir Cook in Indianapolis.
They put enough money in the plane kitty for me to pay for the monthly
tie-down at Purdue until I graduated.
Then I would take it back to Weir Cook (now
At that point, Grove Webster, the airport manager, told me I couldn't keep it at the Purdue airport because "it made too much noise and would disturb the campus." I pointed out that the field already held an AT-6, which was bigger. I should point out that Grove and I had differences going back a few years, when I wanted to instruct there after I had my Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) rating. No women instructors, was the rule. He even had a former WASP in his employment who had flown almost everything single and multi-engine, towed targets during the war, and ferried planes all over the country. Her job? She taught instruments in the little, bright blue, plywood box on the second floor at the hangar. Never flying!
Anyhow, he said that if I insisted on keeping the plane there, I would have to pay for it as a "transient" plane, by the night, rather than by the month. Of course, my "plane kitty" did not allow that. In the course of things, he went to Washington D.C quite often. Since I had some classes at the airport I had come to know some of the office personnel fairly well.
The next time Grove left town, I went to the office and paid for the rest of the semester in cash, by the month. They were unaware of his special requirement for my plane, so they did not get in trouble for it, and I didn't break the kitty. The truth being, it was an expensive proposition because the airport did not have the 91 octane gas I needed for the plane and I always had to remember to leave enough gas in it for a return trip to Indianapolis to refuel.
As you can imagine, a number of people wanted to go for rides, and I had to tell them that they would have to pay for the gas and oil if I took them up…21 gallons an hour and three quarts of oil. That cut the requests considerably. However, some of the members at the Kappa house pooled their resources for twenty minutes each and we managed to get some flights in that way.
One time I remember specifically. It was in 1948 before I had the plane there all the time. I had just taken my roommate, Jeanne Wilson (the Olympic butterfly swimmer) for a ride, and after dropping her off, took another Kappa up named Lou Henning. Lou had spent most of the war years at Purdue and her exploits were the stuff of legends. Nothing scared her.
She got in the back seat, strapped in, ready to go. Not long after we took off, I thought I heard noises coming from the back seat and I looked in my rearview mirror to check for the problem. All I could see was the very top of her head. The gismo that allowed the seat to raise and lower had somehow slipped and her seat rested all the way on the bottom of the floorboard. She practically sat on the floor, with her arms flailing wildly. I immediately yelled into her head set, "IT'S OK, BUT DON'T GRAB ANYTHING—ESPECIALLY THE STICK!"
Once she heard my voice she calmed down somewhat and I held up my microphone so she could see it. I always told my passengers to use it to talk to me if they wanted to, or if they needed anything, but in her excitement she had forgotten, which I could easily understand. She found her microphone and I told her what I thought had happened and that I would take her back to the field and fix it. She gave me the OK sign and we went back in.
After we landed, I shut the engine down, opened up the canopy, and went back to her seat. She unfastened her seat belt and I helped her stand up, since she sat so far down she could not get up without assistance. She jumped down off the wing and headed for the parking lot, white as a sheet. Frankly, I would have been scared, too, if that incident had happened to me in someone else's plane, but she took a lot of razzing at the house for breaking my plane. Needless to say, I didn't charge her for the gas used on such a short ride.
There are a few requirements between one's solo time and the acquiring of a Private Pilot License. I had to be eighteen years of age, acquire 35 hours of solo flying, complete two solo cross-country flights of three legs with one over 100 miles, and pass a written test. After those requirements were met, then a flight test was needed. Johnny (remember him?) helped me study for the written test, which contained sections on aircraft, engines, navigation, meteorology, and FAA regulations. Studying for that test, I became interested in the first four of those and decided to take the exams for a Ground Instructor License in each. By doing so, I gained credit for those courses at Purdue, which helped make up for the hours I lost when transferring from SMU to Purdue in 1945. I passed all of the tests except meteorology where I mustered a 68 on the test. A score of 70 or better was needed, so I picked up that course again later while at Purdue.
On one of those cross country
flights for the Private License, I flew up near the Naval Air Station at
At first I became very distracted, but I decided the best thing for me to do was to stay straight on course and act like I didn't see them. If I tried to get away from one of them, I would likely run into another. Trying to keep track of all four of them proved impossible. One of the flyers really did scare me, though. He came up behind me, dove down under me, and looped up in front of me. Looking at the top of his plane as he arched into his loop, I thought I was going to fly straight into the roof of his plane, taking us both down! Then the idiot had the nerve to wave at me. Since his plane flew faster than mine, there was no way I would hit him, but I didn't plan on waving to the fool. Boys will be boys, I guess. Even though it did shake me up, I had more important things on my mind.
I got my Private License in 1945, and then qualified for my Commercial License in 1946, when I was nineteen. I believe the flight requirements were a minimum of 200 hours solo, and my flight credits were well over that. The written exam had all the subjects I had tested for in my Ground Instructor rating, so it was just a matter of reviewing it.
The flight test took place at Aretz Airport in Lafayette, Indiana, with "Cap" Aretz, the inspector. He was an old-timer and well known in Indiana flying circles, having been an FAA inspector for quite some time. By then I had been flying in the Aeronca Champion, the new trainer plane replacing the little old blue peril. Even though it was a taildragger, too [the third small landing wheel way back on the plane's tail], that little plane proved itself. I was proud of my flight that day, and not a bit nervous as I did all my maneuvers well within the allowable boundaries.
After I had finished my test and we were getting ready to descend, "Cap" asked me if he could take over for a minute. He wanted to try some "around-pylon 8s." He tried several, having trouble keeping them within the altitude limits required for the Commercial License. He finally gave up and said, "I don't know how you do those things like you do in this plane. It's like driving a semi truck!" Since he owned the Piper dealership at his airport, he always flew and instructed in a Cub. The Cub was much lighter on the controls, he said, and easier to feel than the Aeronca, or "air knocker" as we called it.
When I flew back to
This same female pilot was my
roommate at SMU, Grace Williams, from Humboldt, Tennessee. Grace did many "firsts" with me, ice-skating
being one of them. It was never cold
enough in Humboldt to have ice in the winter time, but she used to see the
movies with Sonja Henie and loved to watch her skate. I didn't skate often in
The other thing she did with me as her "first" was to go flying with me. To give her a head start, I rigged up a stick, using a broom handle, and rudders (weighted shoe boxes), and she sat in a chair with her feet pushing against the boxes. I sat in another chair facing her, with my feet on the other end of the shoe boxes placed lengthwise. She would then move the stick to the right and push the right shoe box toward me to start a turn. Once in the turn, I would have her neutralize the turn, at which point I would push the right box back to its original position and she would move the broom handle to the center.
To give her the feeling of getting back to a straight and level position, she would move the stick left and push the left shoe box. When I indicated that she had the plane straight and level, she would neutralize to the right and I would move the box back to its original place. She is one I thought could have been a natural. When we were actually flying, I'd demonstrate something, then I'd have her follow me through with her being at the controls, then she would do it alone. In one hour, she completed S turns along the road, holding her altitude, climbing and descending.
Because the taildraggers have to be in a complete stall to stay on the ground when landing, I showed her what stalls were while in the air. I didn't want to alarm her when I cut the power on the final approach and went into a stall as we touched down. She even followed through with me on the air stall. It's hard to judge with just one hour of flight time, but she caught on amazingly quickly.
There was another girl, a sorority sister at Purdue, named Carolyn Kargas from southern Indiana. Her father had given her a Piper Cub for a college graduation present—the poor baby—and she wanted to be sure she would like it. She may have had some experience before but she said she had not. I would have felt safe soloing her after three hours of instruction. Of course, the regulations said she had to have eight hours of instruction minimum. However, if she had truly never flown by herself before that day as she stated, I knew I had another natural. She managed take-offs and landings the whole third hour, having completed the turns in the first hour, and all the stalls in the second hour. Not a finished pilot yet by any definition, nevertheless, anything I asked her to do, she did it instinctively. She was something else.
Flying! White Knuckles and Roscoe Turner, 1940s
You have heard me mention the airplane, the BT-13. After the war was over, Dad had purchased our BT-13 at a surplus sale. Yes, airplanes went on sale after World War II, just like surplus socks and swimming trunks at Wal Mart. But you need to understand that Dad bought his own plane in order to understand some of the experiences, mishaps, and other happenings with the family. BT stands for Basic Trainer and the 13 was the model number. At the auction, there were three available for $500 each, still a hefty sum back then. Bill tested the one Dad bought and claimed it was one of the best planes he had ever flown, so it joined the family as a revered member. This was in 1946. The BT was a big plane compared to the ones we had been flying. It had a 450-horse power Pratt Whitney radial engine, flaps, and a two-pitch prop. It used 21 gallons of 91 octane gas and several quarts of oil an hour, cruising about 120 mph. Efficiency had not been the name of the game during the war. The idea was to get people trained in a hurry and on flying status. It could be a dangerous plane to fly because it displayed some unfortunate characteristics if you made steep turns at a low airspeed. This was a problem during reduced-speed takeoffs and landings where a turn was necessary. The plane would drop like a rock at low altitudes in the traffic patterns, earning its nickname, "Cadet Killer."
Bill made this quite clear to me when he checked me out in it while I was home from Purdue in July of 1947. I always treated it with the utmost respect. In fact, I always made power-on wheel landings in the BT-13 for that reason, unless a very short field existed. I would hit my final approach at 90 miles an hour with the flaps down and in low pitch in case I had to ascend quickly and come back around again. The plane would stall at about 70 mph. By the time the wheels touched, my stalling speed had reached a comfortable level. I would then ease back on the power and lower the tail, hence a "taildragger."
In checking back in my log book from 1947, I saw that I hadn't flown since April of 1946. So when I was checked out in the BT, it had been well over a year since I had flown. The BT training with Bill was a total of about three and a half hours before he checked me out. Recently I asked him about that short amount of time and he said, "Well, you already knew how to fly!" Well, duh! But there is a huge difference between an Aeronca trainer plane that I was used to and a BT-13.
Somewhere along the line someone told me that the fabric-covered flaps made it iffy to do some aerobatics in the very old and well-used plane. Thinking it had been Bill who had told me this, I asked him, but he said absolutely not. He did them all the time, a great little plane for that kind of flying. The fellow (they were fellows back then) that I was dating at Purdue, a former B-24 pilot, always wanted to do some aerobatics when we went up together, but I balked, knowing what I had been told. I was more than willing to try the maneuvers in an Aeronca or Steerman or a few other biplanes, because I liked that type of flying very much. He thought I was basically afraid of doing the stuff and I never could convince him that that wasn't the problem.
In fact, many years later, in the 1990's, I had a chance to go up with a stunt pilot in a Pitt and had the time of my life. I told him he could do anything but a hammerhead stall and an outside loop, but everything else was fine with me. So he really wrung it out for about thirty minutes. Over the intercom, he asked me if I wanted to try something to see how it felt. I decided to do some lazy eights which are a good coordination exercise. Moreover, I tried to fly it like a "regular" plane, and promptly redlined it [past max safe speed] by dropping the nose to pick up speed to go into the maneuver.
Over the intercom he said, "You have all the power you need to do the job from a straight and level position. Just do it."
My question to him was, "Well, how do I drop the wing and engine through the horizon when I'll be above horizon?"
His response was, "Pick a cloud."
The Sky Harbor owner was once quoted in a newspaper article about me as saying, "if you gave her a piece of cardboard and some string, she could fly it." Well, he was wrong. I certainly was out of my depth in that Pitt, as much as I enjoyed it.
Speaking of being out of my depth, I will be inserting several scary flying stories throughout and this is one of them. Back in the summer of 1945, the family was invited to go to the Cleveland Air Races with Roscoe Turner in his B-19. His surplus bomber never went into production, with only a few prototypes made. It boasted a twin-engine, which looked a lot like the DC-13s or the Military C-47's. The first commercial airlines flew these planes. The main difference was that the B-19 had a huge wing area compared to the DC-3.
Dad served on the Board of Directors at Turner Aviation and we later kept the previously mentioned BT-13 tied down there. Mother also had her Cessna hangered there (more about Mother's plane later), so we had a long association with him and his business.
Mom, Dad, and I were all on board, along with about fifteen other passengers, including a fellow I was dating who was a WWII glider pilot. The ascending flight contained no unusual events. At that point in his life, Roscoe always had a qualified pilot flying with him. His main claim to flying fame came from winning the Thompson Trophy Race several times, along with other race flying and barnstorming. He also carried a live lion with him in the back seat of the racing planes as he traveled the county. When the lion, Gilmore, became too big to take around with him, a zoo keeper tended to him. When Gilmore died, Roscoe had him stuffed, and he now sits at the Air and Space Museum alongside one of his racing planes. Roscoe was very much the showman, quite glamorous in his day in his peg-topped pants and high boots.
Well, this happened to be one day
Roscoe would remember. On the flight
back home from
As a short course in Flying 101, to fly VFR, all planes had to have four minimum required instruments: a compass, an airspeed indicator, an altimeter, and a clock. Today's planes naturally have many more, some over 100. To fly the airplane in Instrument Flight Rule (IFR) conditions (inside clouds), the pilot had to be rated for instruments and able to control the plane's altitude by reference to the instruments only. One of the most rudimentary instruments is that of the "turn and bank" indicator. Jimmy Doolittle, who made the first successful "blind" flight, helped develop this instrument. With a vertical needle that tilts, the pilot can determine if he/she is level or banked, and in what direction. The instrument also has a ball, similar to a bubble in a carpenter's spirit level. Coordinated turns with proper application of stick and rudder are important to avoid spins and stalls.
The turn and bank indicator has two components—a needle and a ball. Coupled with the airspeed indicator, a plane is kept upright and level in clouds, though a demanding task. Most modern day aircraft, somewhat more sophisticated, still have the needle and ball. So when a pilot refers to flying by "needle, ball and airspeed," they are talking about flying with primitive, yet fundamental, instruments. During instrument flight training, instructors often love to put covers over the sophisticated instruments to test the pilot's mettle, and offer plenty of sweaty practice. The term "needle, speedle, and airball" is an antique (possibly from the '30s aviation era) precursor to the modern "needle, ball and airspeed" term. It is an old mnemonic device used to help remember the three fundamental indicators: needle, speed, and ball.
In aviation, they loved to use mnemonics to aid pilots in stressful situations. Mnemonics helped in remembering steps for a successful performance, since pilots don't have time to flip through a manual and say, "Where the hell is the page for the 'turn and bank' indicator?" A particularly funny one is GUMPF, which stands for Gas, Undercarriage, Mixture, Props and Flaps, which is self-explanatory. With this short Flying 101 lesson on instruments and mnemonic monikers, you should now be ready to take off on your first solo flight. However, almost none of today's pilots would recognize the old term, since "needle, speedle and airball" was a more colorful term common in the golden age of aviation. But remember, you are dealing here with an old salty dog from that golden era.
Flying under the VFR rules in the storm without any other information, and not knowing what this front looked like, the decision was made to turn around and fly back to the nearest airport. This meant flying straight through the frontal line again until the airport could be spotted.
It turned out that if we had kept flying the route we were on for about five minutes more, we would have been through the squall line. However, there had been no way of knowing this without a radio. So, we went bouncing back over the sky again, flying lengthwise through the front rather than cross ward. Not a good idea. All's well that ends well. Fortunately, the airport had the runway lights on so the pilot could spot the field. We landed and sat on the ground waiting for about an hour. While the front passed over us during this time, a radio repairman at the field placed another radio in the plane and we got the blood flowing back into our seat-gripping knuckles. We flew back to Indianapolis, all of us happy campers.
I previously mentioned Mother and her flying. Mother decided around 1946 to join the crowd. She started taking flying lessons at age 54. She had sight in only one eye because of a detached retina. Two operations were unsuccessful; however a famous pilot in the thirties named Wiley Post had sight in only one eye. She said if he could do it, she could. I didn't get all my pluckiness from competing with my brothers!
It took her a long time to solo,
mostly because of the
Another problem involved her earlier instructor. A rough, old "seat of the pants" pilot, he treated her crudely and intimidated her. I had some lessons from him on occasion. One day she told me how uncomfortable he made her feel. I told her to change instructors, and in spite of her reluctance, I finally convinced her. She felt that a woman pilot would be much better at training her, but unfortunately there were none at the airport and I hadn't gotten my CFI rating yet.
Given that, she started flying with one of the men I had trained with and she liked him very much. He was an excellent pilot with a lot of experience, who had a gentler way of explaining and demonstrating things without putting on any pressure. They got along beautifully and she really made great progress, soloing and getting her Private License in good order. She could not get a higher rating because of her eye problem, a restriction she had no problem with as she didn't want or need the Commercial License.
My mother, ever the lady, didn't like the BT, claiming the noise and size didn't suit her. They didn't call it the Vultee Vibrator for nothing. In low pitch for takeoff and landing, it was really loud, I admit. Also, it had a canopy top which slid back and you had to climb over the side, put your feet on the parachute seat pack and then lower yourself down into the plane. The bucket seats were metal and a seat-pack parachute fit nicely in it and became your seat cushion. Sometimes you wore the harness, sometimes you didn't, depending on what you were going to do. If you were flying under 1000 feet, it did no good as the parachute wouldn't have had time to open. For aerobatics, the concept fit perfectly.
Anyway, Mother didn't like the
plane. She bought herself a used Ercoupe, a very small, sporty-looking, all-aluminum
two-seater. Back in the late 1940s and
early 1950s, the Holy Grail of aviation was that flying for the everyday man
should be as common as driving. Much
like the "chicken in every pot" concept, "everyman" would have a plane in his
garage and be able to soar above the traffic.
But flying is much more complicated than driving. So, enter the Ercoupe,
a play on the words Air Coupe, hence, a two-seater coupe for driving in the
air. It did not have the extra controls
that most aircraft have, such as rudder pedals.
The flight controls were interconnected so the pilot wouldn't have
multiple controls, just turn the yoke in the direction you desired to go and
the correct amounts of rudder and aileron were put in. No need to worry about stalls, because the
plane's pitch control (pulling the stick back) was severely limited. The stick couldn't be pulled back far enough
to make the plane stall. Nor could you
dive it into the ground. The pilot did
not have to be as coordinated and careful, nor was superhuman capability or
complicated flight training needed.
Spin-proof as well, we gave Mother a lot of grief about her Flying
Kiddie-Car. Even though the plane never
really caught on, Mother enjoyed hers, had a good time with it, and made some
nice cross-country flights in it. The
plane's size usually proved detrimental, though, because when she and Dad flew
together the cabin did not have enough room to take adequate luggage. They went to a national real estate
After that, she sold it and
bought a used Cessna 170, which she flew until she was 69. That 4-place plane had plenty of luggage
space and horse power for a faster cross country flight. She flew in that plane to be with my husband
and me when we had our first child born in
She flew it several places, and it served as a great little plane on which she wound up placing over 10,000 hours. One of her favorite trips took her to Elgin, Illinois, where she visited her sister, Dorothy Devine, often. She would fly up for lunch and be back home for dinner that night. One of her greatest loves involved taking her grandchildren for rides.
Once, soon after she bought her little Ercoupe, we flew down to Lebanon, Kentucky, to visit a cousin for lunch who lived on a farm. The cousin described a field where she said we could land. We flew low over the field to get a look at it. Though pretty small, the field looked adequate, so we landed. Although she had told us we would be landing in a hay field, she didn't tell us the hay stood about two feet high. The hay came up to the bottom of the wings on the low-slung Ercoupe. Talk about drag!
After lunch, we headed back out to the field and I could see we had a problem. The grass and hay would obviously cut off the lift on the underside of the wings. With such a small field, with so little horsepower, and two of us in the plane, I wasn't at all sure we could make it out. I told Mom to taxi to the fence line, going diagonally across the field so we could see exactly what the field was like. Then we went back to the farthest spot we could reach to get the longest run possible.
At this point she turned to me and said, "You're going to have to do this. I don't think I can." She hadn't had the plane long and didn't have many hours at the time. So, I got out and went around to the other side and she did the same. I held the brake, revved the engine as high as it would go, then let off the brake. As we started a very slow takeoff on our make-shift runway, we approached the fence. I held my breath and managed to pull the plane over the fence with about ten feet to spare. After we were about fifty feet in the air, this terrible banging on my side of the plane commenced. Being a metal plane, it sounded like someone hitting the side of the door with a hammer.
First reaction….after massive fear….was to check the instruments. Everything, check. Check the wings….everything, check. Check the tail…everything, check. Second reaction was to tell Mom we would be all right, though I was trying harder to convince myself. Third reaction came with the question, could I put it down anywhere? The answer was, "NO!" Fourth reaction had me telling Mom to tighten her seat belt. I reached down to do the same. No belt! Then I realized I had not fastened my belt when I changed seats. The belt dangled outside, the metal end banging away on my metal door, in the slipstream. We didn't bother to mention this little incident to any of the males in our family.
Flying! Ferrying and a Crash Landing, 1940s
In 1946, the summer after I
qualified for my Commercial License, Gordon Lackey, asked me if I would like to
ferry a new Cessna 150 from the plant in
Then he dropped the other shoe. He explained that the man's wife would like to ride out with me on the commercial flight and then fly back with me in their new plane. Well, that seemed OK with me. It would be nice to have company on the long flight back home, which would certainly take longer in the small Cessna than the commercial plane flight going out to Wichita.
I felt important; only 19 and I had my first ferry job. The wife turned out to be a nice lady and we got along and traveled very well together. When we got off the plane in Wichita, she gave me a big sigh and said, "Well, that wasn't so bad after all."
I asked her what she meant. She informed me she had never flown in a
plane before. I nearly collapsed. Here I sat in
I couldn't imagine what might happen in really rough air or turbulent weather in that little plane. Would she get sick? Bored? Afraid? She could hardly get up to walk around and stretch a little, and for sure we didn't have potty pit stops handy, being a side-by-side, two-place taildragger. The plane was bare bones, to say the least—the old "needle, speedle, air ball" mentioned before.
I hardly slept that night thinking of all the things that could happen. Then a plan came to me. I called her hotel room early the next morning and asked her to come to my room so I could give her some instructions for the trip before we went for breakfast. After eating we would have a short tour of the Cessna plane.
When she got to the room, I had
all the charts (maps) for the trip spread out on the floor. I appointed her my navigator for the
trip. I drew a course on the charts and
gave her a pad to write down the check points we needed to follow as we flew. I had already called in to get the weather
and windage reports for the first half of the trip. Fortunately, we had almost a direct tail wind
for the return trip. Check points were
really hard to find out there in Kansas, with the state being so sparsely
populated. There were few "iron and
concrete beams" which is to say, railroads and highways, to use as
markers. We even used a little radio
cone as one visual check point. Section
lines were apparent, but they hardly offered a good check point. Once we reached the area east of
My flight mate turned out to be a quick study and started picking her check points, showing them to me, then writing them down if I affirmed them. She became very animated and said, "Oh, this is going to be great fun. Wait until I tell my husband what I did."
I reminded her it would be good for her to know as she would be flying with him and could help him when they flew together. Of course, that had not been my objective in assigning her tasks. I thought if I kept her busy enough she wouldn't have time to worry about traveling in a small plane, rough weather, or being sick. The plan that had come to me in the night turned out to be a great diversionary tactic because it worked. She became a great spotter after the first few checkpoints and it helped me, too. The trip was uneventful and passed quickly.
When we arrived at
During the summer of 1948, I
traveled to Muncie, Indiana, for a wedding.
I was the overnight guest at the home of the Physical Education Department
Chair at Ball State University. He
became interested in my flying and as a thank you for being a guest in their
home, I set a date and time to fly to Muncie to take him for a plane ride. Even though it was not a very long flight
After spending twenty minutes of
filing a flight plan and checking out the plane, I took off. As I neared the
Checking for traffic in the area, I went into a landing pattern and flew over the runway. One hundred feet above the runway, I saw four or five small planes smashed against the hangars, pulled loose and thrown around, badly wrecked. I also saw that the water ran deep enough that I could not use the runway without risking flipping forward in the plane.
I radioed in to their operating
intercom, since the
During spring break in 1949, I
flew the BT-13 to Paducah, Kentucky, to visit my former roommate from SMU. As I returned to Purdue, I saw signs of bad
weather coming in from the southwest. I
made a phone call to
Taking off after VFR had been
given, I planned the trip accordingly.
My plans changed in southern Indiana and I made the 180 degree turn,
heading back toward the direction from which I had come. This was a standard solution to such a
situation, and I had done the same thing on my trip to Muncie. After checking my chart, I saw a small field
I made several calls for weather
information as I sat there waiting out the weather.
After being in the air for half
an hour, the rain began to turn to sleet and freezing rain, and the ceiling
dropping to about 1000 feet. I checked
my chart to verify my location and made another 180 degree turn back toward
Terre Haute Airport asked if I had an instrument rating, and I replied that I did not. Therefore, they advised me that the field had closed for VFR landing because of the weather and they could not allow it. I explained to them that they had cleared me when I filed the original flight plan, of which they agreed. However, they stated that this squall had come in very quickly, closing them down.
This gave me only one choice. I had to put the plane down…fast. By this time I had the canopy open so I could see out the side view, since the front windshield was completely iced over. I told Terre Haute controllers that I was going to have to bring the plane down as quickly as possible because my visibility was almost nil and the small craft was covered with ice.
A voice asked, "Do you know where you are?"
"I'm near Paletine, Illinois, and flying over a small stream."
"Leave your radio on."
I put the prop in low pitch for landing, and at 200 feet, couldn't see anything except a small area above the little stream where the air had cleared. I looked to the left, trying to see if I could locate an unplowed field. I saw a fence but couldn't see any further, so I decided to go in, falling even lower still by the second. When I tried to bank to the left, the controls wouldn't move. I tried pushing a second time, as hard as I could, but the mechanism still wouldn't move. I yelled to myself, "My God, the controls are completely frozen with ice!"
By then, the fence line on the left could no longer be seen. One single post line suddenly appeared on the right, and when I moved the controls to turn that way, I went around with no problem. The stream ran through a small depression. I barely cleared the fence, with power on and tail way down. I stalled that BT-13 immediately when the tail hit. Once I touched ground, I shut off the gas and held the stick full back with all the strength I had. I then felt the main gear hit with a thump. Not knowing what lay in front of me, I started using the brakes, very carefully, until the plane came to a complete stop.
I couldn't move. I'm not sure at that point if I was even still breathing! I just sat there shaking, perhaps for fifteen minutes, until I realized how cold and wet I had become. I saw something white waving up and down, coming toward the plane. Then I heard men's voices calling out. That vaguely brought me back to my senses. I tried to open my seat belt to get out, weak and trembling, but I couldn't manage it on the first try.
As I finally undid my safety harness, the men began to get closer, one swinging a big flashlight back and forth. They pulled up by the side of the plane. I stood up in the seat and stepped out over the side on very wobbly legs, only to find the wing a solid sheet of ice. I slid head over tea bucket and landed flat on the ground. As they walked over to me, I took off my helmet and my long, blonde hair came tumbling out. One of the men said, "Good Lord, it's a girl!"
They drove me into a little town with a five- or six-room hotel. Three men in Army flight suits were seated at the lobby/bar/coffee shop. My rescuers told me the servicemen had landed there the day before in a National Guard Navion, unable to get back out because of the ice. Apparently I had flown directly over the hotel, not seeing it. My plane was in low pitch and almost knocked out the building's windows with the noise. They knew it was a plane overhead and were certain of my crashing. When the engine motor stopped with no loud crashing sounds, the two local men ran out to their truck and came to find me.
I asked them, "How did you know where to look?"
They told me I had landed in an auxiliary field owned by a flying farmer, the same place the National Guard plane had landed.
"There is no such field marked on my chart." It turned out that my chart, a couple of years old, had been printed before the field became a designated airstrip. There are times when I am convinced some forces in our world come into play, in various crises, that are beyond human explanation. Many military pilots believe they had a former pilot sitting on their shoulder who somehow made them do the right move, make the right decisions, respond positively when the going got really tough. I'm here as proof that someone or something was present, looking out for me that day, or I wouldn't be writing this now. The field on the left was not really a field, as I had thought, but just some farm land leading up to a large, wooded area, into which I would have crashed had I landed there.
Photos from the book, Nothing but Blue Skies:
Book published by Blue Cat Publishing in 2011.
Doris Powers, age 14, in Indianapolis, Indiana, 1941. This was the age when she started flying.
James W. Hurt, Sr., 1940s. Mildred Devine Hurt, 1940s.
Father of Doris Hurt Powers. Mother of Doris Hurt Powers.
1949, newspaper article in the Indianapolis News, about Doris Hurt, when she worked at Trans Canada Air Lines in Chicago, Illinois.
Doris Hurt (Powers), Engagement Photo, 1950.
Doris Hurt (Powers) front in white, and family, 1930s.
Doris and mother Mildred, 1931, age 4.
1941 Aeronca Chief plane.
Retrieved 08/7/2010: http://www.pittsfabric.com/chief.htm
Early 1940s Aeronca Chief Trainer Plane, Interior.
Retrieved 08/6/2010: http://www.pilotfriend.com/aircraft%20performance/aeronca/aeronca.htm
Early 1940s Aeronca Defender Trainer Plane (trainer model of the Aeronca Chief),
(Model TC-65 Defender).
Retrieved 08/6/2010: http://www.pilotfriend.com/aircraft%20performance/aeronca/aeronca.htm
Mid to late 1940s Aeronca Champion Plane (Model 7 Champion).
Retrieved 08/6/2010: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aeronca.7ac.champion.kemble.arp.jpg
1940s Vultee BT-13 Valiant (the "Vultee Vibrator"), same model owned by the Hurt family.
Image retrieved 06/21/2011:
1940s Vultee BT-13 Valiant, front interior.
Image retrieved 08/7/2010: http://uscockpits.com/A-E.html#A
1942, Flight Log Book of Doris Hurt, age 15.
1947, Doris Hurt age 20, licensed as a ground instructor and a commercial flight instructor.
Mildred Devine Hurt with Ercoupe, 1946, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Mildred Johnson Devine Hurt is the mother of Doris Hurt Powers.
Mildred Devine Hurt, 1950s, with her Cessna 170 plane, which she flew until age 69.
1949, Doris Hurt and her mother, Mildred Devine Hurt, as members of the Ninety-Nines, an organization for licensed women pilots founded in 1929.
1950, Doris Hurt Powers and Capt. Patrick Powers, wedding day, Indianapolis, Indiana.
1950, Doris Hurt Powers, Civil Aeronautics Airman's Identification card.
2006, Doris Hurt Powers, Purdue University, recipient
of the "Outstanding Aerospace Engineer" award.
Doris Hurt Powers was also a fellow of the Society of Women Engineers - SWE.
Below is included information about the papers of Doris Powers located at the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections.
Retrieved 01/5/2022 from: https://archives.lib.purdue.edu/agents/people/382
From the Doris Hurt Powers Collection
Scope and Contents
The Doris Hurt Powers papers (1942—2008; 2 cubic feet) documents the student, aviation, and business activities of Doris Hurt Powers. Powers' experience as a woman breaking into the male-dominated fields of engineering and aeronautics is well documented through autobiographical speeches and her memoir Nothing but Blue Skies. One strength of the collection are the speeches delivered by Powers that address the particular challenges and opportunities encountered by women in the engineering field. Powers traveled extensively, including several trips to Russia during and immediately after the cold war. In 1991, she was invited by the Russian Ministry of Aviation and Defense, and that trip is documented through photographs in Series 2. Materials in the collection include newspaper clippings, books, speeches, photographs, pamphlets, and artifacts. See less
Doris Mildred Hurt Powers
Powers, known as "Dodie," started flying at the age of 14 and
received her commercial and flight instructor ratings by the time she was 20
MSA 2, Doris Hurt Powers papers, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections
Found in 1 Collection or Record:
Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSA 2
Scope and Contents: The Doris Hurt Powers papers (1942—2008; 2 cubic feet) documents the student, aviation, and business activities of Doris Hurt Powers. Powers' experience as a woman breaking into the male-dominated fields of engineering and aeronautics is well documented through autobiographical speeches and her memoir Nothing but Blue Skies. One strength of the collection are the speeches delivered by Powers that address the particular challenges and opportunities encountered...
Dates: 1945-2011; Other: Date acquired: 03/04/2009
Powers Web Studio 2022