The great women of the Ninety-Nines flying club

This International Women's Day, we want to celebrate the amazing women pioneers of aviation

First meeting of the Ninety-Nines in 1929

The Ninety-Nines got its start in 1929, when intrepid female pilots gathered at Curtiss Field on Long Island, New York to forge a group whose mission was to provide mutual support, the advancement of aviation, and to create a central office to keep files on women in aviation.

Amelia Earhart, the Ninety-Nines’ inaugural president

In 1931, the group selected the name Ninety-Nines to represent its 99 charter members. The organisation’s inaugural president was none other than 34-year-old Amelia Earhart, who in 1937, would tragically disappear over the Pacific during her around-the-world journey.

Today, members of the Ninety-Nines hail from 44 countries and in practically every area of aviation. In addition to captaining the world’s largest airlines, they also pilot corporate jets, conduct aerial surveys, win aerobatic championships, guide aircraft from air traffic control facilities, and of course, teach the next generation of women how to fly.

The Ninety-Nines’ mission in 2020 remains true to its 1929 start, namely, to promote the advancement of aviation through education, scholarships and mutual support. With international headquarters in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, here are some activities that define the Ninety-Nines as the group approaches its century mark.

Ninety-Nines meeting at Amelia Earhart’s home

Learning from history
The former Victorian-era home of Amelia Earhart is now the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in Atchison, Kansas. When the home became available for purchase in 1984, donations allowed the Ninety-Nines to purchase and restore the home to preserve it as a museum for generations to come.

The Ninety-Nines’ Aviation Research Library, housed within the Ninety-Nines’ Museum of Women Pilots, serves as a repository for information on women in aviation and aerospace. The library boasts more than 600 volumes, which in turn, attract historians, researchers, authors and even playwrights.

Giving back by paying it forward
Through generous donations, the Ninety-Nines pay it forward it the form of assisting the next generation of women aviators with scholarships. To defray the costs of obtaining one’s private pilot’s license, Fly Now Awards provide aspiring female pilots with up to US$6,000 toward their studies.

Air derby race in 1929

Women who support women
The fun activities organised by the Ninety-Nines challenge the women to grow and learn from each other. One of these is air racing, a fun pastime dating to the founding of the Ninety-Nines in 1929, when, it was then known as the First Women’s Air Derby. This fun-natured competition begins with handicapping each aircraft so that each one has, in effect, the same potential performance. Next, Ninety-Nines pilots must plot a course between their origin and destination that takes into account a number of factors – airspace restrictions, congestion, etc. The winner of the air race is the pilot who has the shortest flying time over the course.

The Ninety-Nines also meet somewhere in the world annually. In addition to frequently meeting in the United States, past meetings have been held in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico and Germany. The 2020 meeting will be held aboard the Queen Mary, docked in Long Beach, California.

The Ninety-Nines is as relevant today, 91 years after its founding as it was in 1929. So long as members continue to believe “we are women who love to fly!”, today’s Ninety-Nines will help pave the way for tomorrow’s female aviators through education, scholarship, mutual assistance, and, a bit of fun.

This article is a short excerpt from a full-length feature in our March/April 2020 issue of Jetgala. Subscribe today!