YUMA, Ariz. (KSWT/KYMA/KECY) - 90 years ago, 20 women aviators took off from Santa Monica, California on the very first Women’s Air Derby. The race which ended in Dayton, Ohio had one of many pit stops in the sunniest city in the world.
90 years later, Yuma International Airport commemorates the pit stop and the very first all-women air derby with a brand-new mural. The mural was unveiled on Saturday morning with a large crowd of guests as well as women aviators that flew in various parts of the region just for the event.
Pam Rudolph was one of those aviators that flew in for the day, her love of aviation started as a curiosity for the skies but took the leap to become a pilot to continue the legacy left behind by women aviators before her.
“The history behind it and to be a part of it, that we are a part of this,” said Rudolph. “Just like people like Amelia Earheart and Gene Nora it just means a lot to us.”
It was pretty uncommon for women in the early 20th century to be aviators, but women aviators in air races, well that was just way ahead of its time.
Gene Nora Jessen, author of “Sky Girls: The True Story of the First Women’s Air Derby”, has followed and kept the her-story of these 20 women alive. An air racer herself, Jessen even mingled with some of these original flying aces.
“The men had been racing for a long time and the women had not,” said Jessen. “The ‘29 derby was a very unusual first.”
The race included famous aviators like Amelia Earhart, one of the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, as well as various other women aviators.
The women aviators had the choice between making a pit stop in Calexico, California or Yuma, Arizona. The fearless flyers ended up making a stop in Yuma.
Other women aviators at the event often remind themselves to remind other women who have often been told that they don’t have a spot in male-dominated fields that there actually is a spot for them.
“It’s important for us that love aviation and have a passion for the skies and are really affected by all the career opportunities to make everyone aware,” said Shannon Hicks, one of the many women aviators. “That is something that they can do, young people and for women especially.”
The event was definitely an inspirational one especially for young flight students like McKenna Mellon, paying homage to the women that paved the runway to pursue something that is beyond the sky.
“These women have paved the way for young aviators to come through, and they proved it doesn't matter what sex you are or what height you are,” said McKenna. “It doesn't matter, aviation is for everyone it’s an open field and it blossomed into something that these women never imagined.