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Female pilot broke records before Earhart

Mary Phillips Published: September 26, 2013

Before 34-year-old Amelia Earhart flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1934 and even before she was the first woman to make a trans-Atlantic flight as a passenger in June 1928, there was Ruth Elder.

Five months after Charles Lindbergh made his famous solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean and landed in France, Elder, a 25-year-old pilot, along with her co-pilot, George Haldeman, who would go on to set flight records of his own, set off from Long Island, N.Y., on Oct. 11, 1927. Her goal: to become the first woman to fly from the United States to Paris.

Her airplane, “The American Girl,” encountered mechanical problems and bad weather that forced a landing near a Dutch tanker, which rescued the fliers about 360 miles from the Azores Islands.

Although she failed in her attempt, she did set the first long-distance overwater flight record by a woman by flying more than 2,500 miles.

Arriving in Lisbon, Portugal, by boat, Elder and Haldeman received a grand welcome, which continued with much fanfare in France and a ticker-tape parade in New York City.

As a poised young woman who had won a 1925 Florida beauty contest, she reveled in the attention. Haldeman referred to himself as just the mechanic, although he was at the controls for most of the flight. Elder piloted “The American Girl” about nine hours.

She never attempted a trans-Atlantic flight again, but she continued to fly and was a member of the 99′s women’s pilot organization.

Elder also became an actress and wrote about her adventures before eventually retiring from the national spotlight.

She died in San Francisco in 1977.

The Oklahoman reported the preparations for the flight, the crash and rescue of the pilots of “The American Girl.”

Edith Johnson, The Oklahoman’s venerable columnist, wrote about Elder, opening with: “Any girl, who is not reading the story of Ruth Elder’s effort to fly to Paris, is missing something. For it is a story of such high courage, such faith and fortitude as seldom is put into words.”

The Oklahoman’s Nov. 14, 1927, edition published a double-truck (two pages) advertising section based upon the attention and excitement Elder was generating nationally.

The basis for a series of advertisements were “Our American Girl,” a young lady taking an airplane tour of Oklahoma City and the sights, highlighting the products of the featured advertisers.

“Our American Girl” was Hylagene Robberson, a 15-year-old student at Norman’s University High School on the University of Oklahoma campus.

How she was chosen, I don’t know, but her pilot was C.W. Tibbs, and they flew over Oklahoma City.

Returning to the ground, Robberson was joined by an unknown Miss Oklahoma City for a sightseeing tour of the city, which happened to be visits to the 11 businesses that provided advertisements that appeared with the Criterion’s showing of “The Magic Flame.”

They began their tour with Crestwood, Oklahoma City’s fastest-growing housing addition. Sterling Milk Products, Liberty National Bank, Al Rosenthal’s and the Sheldon Radiola-Victorola Shop in Plaza Courts were among her stops.

Robberson later graduated from the University of Oklahoma and moved to Amarillo, Texas, to teach ballet, marry and raise her family.

Hylagene (Robberson) McAfee died in 2002, but in The Oklahoman she will always be “Our American Girl.”



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