The Archivist: Female pilot Elder flew before Earhart

Mary Phillips: Before Amelia Earhart set her records for trans-Atlantic flight, another female pilot, Ruth Elder, was setting her own records.
BY Mary Phillips Staff Writer mphillips@opubco.com Modified: August 17, 2013 at 4:28 pm •  Published: August 19, 2013
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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.”