In 1928, Elinor Smith, at age 16, became the youngest pilot to earn a license, which was signed by Orville Wright. She made headlines later that year by flying under New York City’s four East River bridges. With Bobbi Trout as co-pilot, they became the first women aviators to refuel an airplane in mid-air in 1929. A group of her peers, including Amelia Earhart, voted her Best Female Pilot in 1930. Smith set numerous speed, altitude, distance, and endurance records in the 1930s, then took a break to raise four children. She resumed flying in the 1950s, piloting military transport planes and jets.
Elinor was a great letter-writer. In 1991, we were dishing about British-born flier Beryl Markham, author of West With The Night. “She certainly was an interesting lady,” Elinor wrote tactfully. “As to her private pecadillos—WOW! We’ll have to get together some day and compare notes!”
I remember Elinor fondly as an energetic and occasionally feisty old lady, and I want to be just like her when I’m 98.
(Read the reminiscence that Smith wrote for our September 1988 issue, or listen to an NPR interview with National Air and Space Museum curator Dorothy Cochrane about Smith's life.)