Author photo

By Cathy Hansen
contributing writer 

Remembering women in aviation – past and present!

Short Flights


March 16, 2024

The Antelope Valley, also known as "Aerospace Valley" has been blessed to have many women who have contributed their talents and enthusiasm to aviation and aerospace.

Jacqueline Cochran Odlum: first woman to break the sound barrier

On May 16, 2003, an event was held to honor Jackie Cochran at Edwards Air Force Base.

Jacqueline Cochran Odlum (1906-1980) broke the sound barrier at Edwards AFB on May 18, 1953 in a Canadair F-86, becoming the first woman to boom through the invisible boundary, accompanied by the famous test pilot Chuck Yeager as her chase pilot.

To commemorate the event, May 16 was proclaimed "Jackie Cochran Day" at Edwards AFB and a plaque was dedicated to Jackie Cochran and her history-making flight. In front of the plaque mounted on a pedestal next to an F-104 Starfighter (the type of aircraft used by Cochran for her later Mach 2 flights).

Major General Wilbert D. "Doug" Pearson introduced Brigadier General (retired) Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager, USAF, who spoke to a crowd of several busloads of invited guests, including: members of the Women Air Service Pilots (WASP), Ninety-Nines from several chapters; women astronauts and Air Force pilots; professional aviatrixes; test pilots and community dignitaries.

After the formal unveiling of the plaque, my husband Al Hansen flew his Canadair FMk-VI F-86 over to Edwards AFB from Mojave Airport in a salute to Jackie's history-making flight in the same model.

What fun it was to watch Gen. Yeager with our good friends from Lancaster, Flora Belle Reece and Irma "Babe" Story. They were members of the WASP in World War II and as the three of them were talking, the years just floated away and they were young again, reminiscing and laughing about how they enjoyed flying and serving America so many years ago.

Sadly, all of them are gone from this earth, but their stories and memories live on in the hearts of us who loved them.

Following the dedication, a luncheon was held that featured static aircraft displays, an exhibit about Jackie Cochran's achievements, a short video about her aviation exploits, and comments from four distinguished guests who spoke about what Jackie Cochran had meant to them.

Marta Bohn-Meyer: an amazing woman in aviation

Marta Boyn-Meyer, was a featured speaker at a special luncheon, along with Brigadier General Chuck Yeager.

Marta had the distinction of being the first female crewmember of NASA or the Air Force (and one of only two women) to fly in the triple-sonic SR-71.

In an article about the 50th celebration for Cochran, by Master Sgt. Anne Ward, a quote was cited by Bohn-Meyer: "Besides being a true American patriot, she was a world-record setter and a lady of great integrity," said Marta Bohn-Myer, NASA engineer and SR-71 crewmember. "Truthfully, I'm jealous of Jackie Cochran - she achieved so much. She knew how to network and what teamwork was all about. She was an aviator's aviator and also a woman's aviator."

Marta was no stranger to Mojave Airport and often came here to fly Wen and JoAnn Painter's sweet little yellow, J-3 Cub, tail-dragger.

Wen and JoAnn met Marta at Langley, Virginia, before she married Bob Meyer and knew them both during their courtship. They were married in 1979 and were so blessed to share their deep passion in working together on airplanes and flying them for over 26 years. Marta was born and raised on Long Island, New York, and attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and graduated with a degree in Aerospace Engineering.

She was an FAA-Certified Flight Instructor with over 6,000 flight hours and also held an FAA Inspector Authorization (aircraft mechanic inspector) license. Marta was a member of the International Aerobatic Club, and was a USA Unlimited Team member for two years, and the Team Manager this year in Spain where she was awarded the "Most Valuable Volunteer" award. She had been connected with aerial aerobatics for over 20 years.


Marta Bohn-Meyer with SR-71.

Often I would pick up the phone and ask Marta to speak at Navy League or Tehachapi Republican Women (no politics were discussed, only the wonderful accomplishments of our tax dollars at work at NASA) or to participate in some activity to promote aviation to young people. She always said yes, and I was so pleased and honored to call her friend. The first time I met Marta, I was so impressed that she was actually shorter than I was, but she never let her height stand in her way. From what I understand, she let no obstacle stand in her way!

Marta had a special place in her heart for our country's veterans and would go out of her way to speak to them. She was a wonderful motivational speaker and spoke twice to the Bakersfield Council Navy League about her experiences flying as Flight Engineer in the back seat of the B-Model SR-71 Blackbird.

I remember her telling a group of young women at a Zonta Tea in Lancaster, California, about her interests as a child. She stated in a very matter of fact way, "When I was fourteen, my mother and father decided I needed a hobby. I was interested in horses and airplanes. The choice was easy for my father, who worked for Grumman as a flight test engineer. I started flying powered planes and soloed when I was sixteen, which was the minimum age. I've been working around airplanes ever since."

She continued, "I grew up in a family that was quite progressive, even by today's standards. My parents had five children-three girls and two boys. But they did not treat the girls any differently than the boys. I had absolutely no fear doing what the boys did."

She concluded her talk with this statement, "You make your opportunities into whatever they are. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, with the right education and qualifications and the right enthusiasm and attitude."

This most enthusiastic young woman tragically died in a plane crash in Oklahoma on September 18, 2005, during an aerobatic competition.

Marta Bohn-Meyer was described by many friends at a Memorial Service at Tehachapi Airport as gentle, helpful, humble, cheerful, full of mischief, always up in spirit, enthusiastic, generous and giving. She was an inspiration to all women and particularly to women in aviation and was well known for her outstanding achievements in helping introduce young people to engineering sciences and aviation.

Flora Belle Reece – WASP

My dear friend and sister Ninety-Nine, Flora Belle Reece, served as a WASP during WWII. She presented numerous programs around the Antelope Valley about her life with the Women Airforce Service Pilot program. I always loved to see the photos from the past when her beautiful blond hair was in braids. She was only nineteen, and looked even younger!

Joining the WASP gave Reece the opportunity to fulfill her dream of flying, something that was only rarely available to women at that time. It was Jackie Cochran who made it possible for so many women to live this dream, she said.

"Jackie put an ad in the paper requesting that young women interested in flying sign up and help the war effort," Reece said. "At this point I had never flown, and I needed at least 35 hours to qualify for pilot training." Reece's brother fronted her money for lessons, and the next thing she knew, she was at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, part of class 44-W-4.

Hard to believe that Flora Belle passed away when she was 90. She loved coming to the airport and our friend, Dave VanHoy took her flying in his T-6 Texan years ago. I still cherish the photos I have from that day. She was 80, I think, and as soon as Dave shut the engine down, she was jumping up onto the wing to climb in! Fantastic energy and enthusiasm.

She flew various trainers, including AT-6s and towed targets with Martin B-26s. Her dream plane was the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. She would shine Major Bong's P-38 for him, spending as much time as possible polishing the silver beauty. One time she got to sit in it and have a picture taken. That photo was one of her prized possessions and in 2002 she not only sat in a P-38 at Mojave, but Bruce Lockwood showed her how to start the powerful engines.

Thank you, Flora Belle, for your wonderful friendship and passion for flying!

Irma "Babe" Story - WASP

Babe was a student of Pancho Barnes in her Civilian Pilot Training class in 1941.

She served in WASP Class: 43-W-6. Her Base Assignment was Dodge City Army Air Base, Harlingen Army Air Field.

She was Manager and Flight Instructor at Lancaster Airport, which was located on Avenue I, near 10th Street West.

She participated in activities with the Antelope Valley 99s, including the Annual Poker Run.

We are so fortunate to have known Irma "Babe" Story, Flora Belle Reece and Margarite "Ty" Killen, all residents of Lancaster, California. They served in the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program during World War II.

When the men went off to war, and the citizens of America learned to ration gas and food, to save grease, rubber and aluminum, women were called upon to help in the war effort.

Rosie the Riveter built airplanes, trucks and tanks for our military troops. Many housewives contributed by working at the Red Cross and tending to Victory Gardens.

In July 1941, Jacqueline Cochran presented a very special idea to the Secretary of War for using woman pilots to ferry aircraft from factories to air bases. She maintained that women were ferrying aircraft for the Royal Air Force in Britain, and flying combat missions in Russia.

She was met with many obstacles and General H.H. "Hap" Arnold told her that the Air Corps was not ready for or needful of women pilots, but she could recruit American women pilots to fill a request of the British Air Transport Auxiliary. She delivered 25 women pilots with 300-hours flying time and they gladly signed a contract for 18-months of flying duty in England.

After some conflict, General Arnold accepted her training plan and agreed there truly was a need for more ferry pilots.

In July 1943, after Cochran's training program proved itself, all women pilots were consolidated in the Army Air Forces and now called the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).

Over 25,000 young women signed up for the WASP program, but few of them made the cut. Of the 1,800 women selected, 1,078 actually graduated to become pioneers, heroes and role models. They were the first women to ever fly American military aircraft.

These women paved the way for our women aviators in the U.S. military today. Throughout the war, WASP flew over 60 million miles in 77 different aircraft ranging from trainers to B-29 bombers. These women had the same spirit of flight then that fills the souls of the men and women who fly today; the same spirit that binds all of us in the thrill of aviation.

In 1942, Eleanor Roosevelt said, "This is not a time when women should be patient. We are in a war and we need to fight it with all our ability and every weapon possible. WOMEN PILOTS, in this particular case, are a weapon waiting to be used."

"Babe" Story flew North American AT-6s and Martin B-26s towing targets. Flora Belle Reece flew AT-6s and towed targets with Martin B-26 Marauders. "Ty" Killen flew AT-6 Texans, AT-11s and gunnery trainers (Model 18 Twin Beech or C-45).

In 2009, "Sentimental Journey" visited Mojave Airport and gave WWII veterans a ride. Irma "Babe" Story and Flora Belle Reece enjoyed being a part of this event.

Diane Barney, Jr.

Provided by Diane Barney.

Diane Barney in cockpit.

Diane J. Barney Jr., is an amazing young woman who never keeps her feet on the ground! She is a local private pilot and aerospace engineer. She worked hard to earn her Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate and is currently flying with SkyWest Airlines.

She loves flying and owns a Grumman Tiger, J-3 Piper Cub, and Boeing Stearman.

Originally from Albany, New York, she caught the aerospace bug when she was 12 years old, after her first general aviation flight in an Aeronca Champ.

She earned her B.S. in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Purdue University in 2009.

She received her commission from the Boilermaker AFROTC Detachment 220 the same year. During her 6 years of active duty service with the U.S. Air Force, she worked in operational flight test on B-1Bs, RQ-4s and U-2s.

Since arriving in the Antelope Valley in 2015, she has worked at Scaled Composites, The Spaceship Company, Empirical Systems Aerospace, and served as a contractor for NASA with the X-57 Maxwell.

She also serves as President of the Board of Directors for the Mojave Air & Space Port.

Great fun knowing all of these women who love aviation and enjoy sharing their knowledge with others.


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