The Liberty Gazette
July 28, 2009
July 28, 2009
The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely
Linda: There’s a new movie coming out in October called, “Amelia.” The five-minute clip on YouTube has already received thousands of hits. She was daring and she loved to fly. She was smart and she wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. She didn’t believe in “that’s impossible.” The admirable, inspirational woman achieved many firsts in her short life and even decades after her disappearance Amelia Earhart is still the best known aviatrix ever. But who taught Amelia to fly?
My visit to the Iowa Aviation Museum, one of many community events and tours organized by the Atlantic, Iowa Chamber of Commerce at the end of the Air Race, brought me face to face with a photograph of Anita Snook Southern, displayed in the museum’s Hall of Fame.
“Neta,” as they called her, has a fascinating story all her own. She was the first woman to run her own aviation business and the first woman to manage a commercial airfield. She was Iowa’s first female aviator and Curtiss Flying School’s (Virginia) first female student.
Her interest was sparked by a family doctor who took her with him on calls. Doc would race his Model T up and down the Iowa hills. “We called it flying,” she wrote in her autobiography, “I Taught Amelia to Fly.”
Neta didn’t play with dolls; she built toy cars and boats. When her dad bought a car, Neta, at age nine, studied the manuals with her father so they’d know how to work on it. At Iowa State University she studied mechanical drawing, combustion engines, and the repair, maintenance and overhaul of farm tractors, in her spare time reading voraciously about lighter-than-air and heavier-than-air projects.
At first denied entry to the Curtiss Flying School (the note read, “no females allowed”), she only had to wait about another year to find flight training closer to home, at the Davenport Aviation School.
Neta helped build and maintain the school’s airplanes until the school closed after the fatal accident that claimed the life of the school president.
With Curtiss Flying School still on her mind, Neta asked her classmates to put in a good word for her. In just a couple of weeks she was admitted and off to Newport News, Virginia she went, to fly with Wright Brothers pilots, Carl Batts and Eddie Stinson.
WWI interrupted her flight training, as well as all civilian flying, but an invitation by the British Air Ministry to work as an expeditor brought her back to the world of flying. The wrecked Canuck (a Canadian Curtiss JN-4 Jenny) she purchased and fixed up after the war was perfect for barnstorming. The word, “none” appearing on her license indicated the number of passengers she was allowed to carry. Erasing the first “n”, she charged a dollar a minute for rides. The same year my grandfather was racing at Indy, 1921, Neta flew an air race against 40 men, and finished fifth.
In search of better flying weather than Iowa and the rest of the Midwest had to offer, she set out for California, which led to a deal with airplane manufacturer Bart Kinner. Neta would be the test pilot in exchange for full commercial use of his airport in Huntington Park. She chartered flights, flew aerial advertising stunts, and taught flying lessons.
In 1922, at the age of 26, Neta turned in her wings for the badge of marriage and motherhood.
My thought for the day: When they give you ruled paper, write the other way.
Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.