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Gone West: Betty Skelton Erde

One Of The Pioneer Women In Aviation

News has come in to ANN that Betty Skelton Erde, known as one of the pioneer women in aviation, passed away in Florida Wednesday. She was 86 years old.

Betty Skelton Erde's Pitts Special Courtesy Wikipedia, Credit User FlugKerl2

Erde, a resident of Winter Park, Florida, was born in Pensacola, FL in 1926. According to Wikipedia, she set 17 aviation and automobile records and was credited with opening doors for women in aviation and the automotive world, as well as astronautics and advertising.

She became interested in flying in part because of the proximity of her childhood home to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. She soloed a Taylorcraft which belonged to Naval Ensign Kenneth Wright at the age of 12, and earned her pilot's licence at the age of 16. She worked as a night clerk for Eastern Airlines just out of high school, which allowed her to rent and fly airplanes during the day. She went on to earn single and multi-engine land and sea plane ratings, as well as commercial and CFI tickets. She joined the CAP shortly after its formation.

She learned basic aerobatics from Clem Whittenneck in a borrowed Fairchild PT-19, and became well known on the aerobatic circuit. She became the first U.S. Female Aerobatic Champion in 1948, often flying with her pet Chihuahua Little Tinker sitting in her lap. Her Pitts Special 'Lil Stinker is on display at the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport near Washington, DC.

Erde set the world light plane altitude record of 25,763 feet in a Piper Cub in 1949, and broke that record two years later, flying to 29,050 feet ... also in a Cub. She set a world speed record for piston engine aircraft, flying a P-51 Mustang over a 3 kilometer course at an average speed of 421.6 mph. The National Aviation Hall of Fame reports that "Betty earned a total of four Feminine World Land Speed Records and set a transcontinental speed record. She competed in races across the Andes mountains in South America."

She had been married to Hollywood director and Navy veteran Donald Frankman in 1965. After his death in 2001, she re-married Dr. Allen Erde in 2005.

FMI: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betty_Skelton_Erde

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