Ruth and Ferris Thomas
Inducted: November 3, 2018
Ruth Lynn Wolfe was born in Strawberry Plains, TN October 28, 1918 and attended nearby Carson-Newman College. Her first date with Ferris Thomas was a flying lesson in December 1938. She soloed June 30, 1939 and began teaching school in Dandridge, TN in the Fall of 1939. Ruth and Ferris were married July 21, 1940.
Ruth earned her Private Pilot’s Certificate eighteen days after she and Ferris married; the next day, she became a Charter Member of the Tennessee Chapter of 99’s: The International Organization of Women Pilots.
Ferris and his friend Sonny Rising established Knox-Flite, Inc., the first general aviation business at the new McGee Tyson Airport in 1937. He bought the business from Rising two years later. Business prospered and he acquired a fleet of nine aircraft. In 1941 he contracted to operate Island Airport and operated Knox-Flite at both airports but the war was hurting the growth of aviation.
Ferris joined The Ferry Command in 1942 and was soon commissioned a First Lieutenant in the Army Air Force. Ruth and Ferris were stationed at Romulus Army Air Field at Detroit. On May 14, 1942 she received a telegram offering her a position as Air Traffic Control Trainee at the old Detroit Center. She is believed to be the first female Air Traffic Controller. He instructed, was a Check Pilot, then began ferrying fighters and bombers to bases in the U.S. and abroad. About two years later she resigned as an ATC moving to Ferris’ new assignment at Presque Isla, Maine. He flew 27 trans-Atlantic cargo runs in C-54’s.
In 1945, they moved to Hamilton Field in San Francisco where at years end a son, Ferris Anderson Thomas, Jr. was born. After the war he flew routes across the Pacific. The Ferry Command ended in 1946 and Ferris was discharged as a Major.
They returned to Knoxville in 1946. Ferris continued to flight instruct and was Chief Pilot for Kerns Bakery for several years. He was a Charter Member of Knoxville’s EAA Chapter 17. Ruth taught in Knoxville City Schools for 28 years and she participated in five all-women cross-country air races between 1952 and 1955.
Ferris and Ruth bought the property and developed Montvale Airpark, a flying residential community near Maryville.
For extraordinary service and achievement in aviation for Tennessee, our nation and the world, Ruth and Ferris Thomas are posthumously inducted into the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame this 3rd day of November 2018.