Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie

Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie

(1902-1975) Enshrined November 15, 2008

Phoebe Fairgrave was born November 21, 1902 in Des Moines, Iowa. Before graduating from high school in St. Paul, Minnesota, she saw her first air show and immediately fell in love with aviation. She got her first airplane ride at Curtiss Field and soon bought a war surplus Jenny with borrowed money and signed a contract to do stunts for the movies. Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie became an aviation pioneer. She hired Capt. Vernon Omlie to be her pilot as she performed daredevil stunts. They traveled the Midwest with the Phoebe Fairgrave Flying Circus. She married Vernon in 1922 and they settled in Memphis where they established the region’s first airport. The Air Traffic Control Tower at Memphis International Airport bears their name today, honoring their achievements. Phoebe set a woman’s world record parachute jump from 15,200 feet in July 1922; in 1927, she became the first licensed female Air Transport Pilot and the first woman to be awarded an Airplane Mechanics license. Omlie was the first woman to fly across the Rockies in a light aircraft in 1928 and in 1929 she set an altitude record for women by reaching 25,400 feet over Iowa City. She was a charter member of the Ninety Nines international organization of female aviators and a renowned air race pilot. Omlie flew over 20,000 miles in support of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s campaign for President and afterward was appointed Special Advisor for Air Intelligence to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor to NASA. She was the first woman to hold an official aviation post in the U.S. Federal Government and among her achievements was the NACA Air Marking Navigational Aid Program. In 1935, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt named her as one of the twelve greatest women in the United States. Following Vernon’s death aboard a commercial airliner in 1936, Phoebe returned to Tennessee where she co-authored the 1937 Aviation Act which dedicated aviation fuel taxes to fund aviation education in the schools. She returned to Washington during the war and remained in the federal government until 1952. “Her place in the pages of aviation history is unchallenged. A woman of daring, courage, intelligence and devotion to the ‘air age,’ she ranks as one of the greatest participants in American progress.”

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June 17, 2016