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This information comes from the biographical file for pilot Kunz reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC.

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Your copy of the "Davis-Monthan Airfield Register" with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available at the link. Or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-0-1.

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http://www.cafepress.com/content/global/img/spacer.gifThe Congress of Ghosts is an anniversary celebration for 2010.  It is an historical biography, that celebrates the 5th year online of www.dmairfield.org and the 10th year of effort on a project dedicated to analyze and exhibit the history embodied in the Register of the Davis-Monthan Airfield, Tucson, AZ. This book includes over thirty people, aircraft and events that swirled through Tucson between 1925 and 1936. It includes across 277 pages previously unpublished photographs and texts, and facsimiles of personal letters, diaries and military orders. Order your copy at the link, or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author.  ISBN 978-0-9843074-4-9.

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OPAL KUNZ

Opal Kunz is an example where, after a little homework, it is possible to place her at the Davis-Monthan Airfield in the context of specific activities. In her case, her landing at the airfield was probably in conjunction with a meeting of the Betsy Ross Air Corps in California. She landed either April 3rd or 4th 1931 (view the register page, her name is 8th from the top),. She did not list the date or time, her airplane type or number, but she was inbound from Yuma, AZ enroute to El Paso – Ft. Worth. If anyone out there knows about her airplane, I'd appreciate knowing about it through CONTACT US. Photo, left, from the Newark Star-Eagle, April 3, 1931.

Opal Logan Giberson married Dr. George Frederick Kunz on May 15, 1923. He was a Tiffany vice-president and gem expert, and a man over twice her age. Their marriage was annulled November 21, 1929, but they lived together amicably until his death on July 1, 1932. At that time she inherited over $1 million. She was a charter member of the Ninety-Nines, and Tiffany was commissioned, via Opal's husband, to design and produce the handsome "99" logo pin worn by all members of the Ninety-Nines to this day.

She once stated, “I believe it is the duty of every American woman who can pass the physical tests to learn how to fly.” Citing that women during WWI drove automobiles and would be expected to fly planes in event of another conflict, she felt it the patriotic duty of a woman to, “fit oneself as an aviator.”

She was outspoken on the matter of women aviators. In the August 7, 1929 New York Times (“Mrs. Kunz Deplores Lack Of Girl Flyers”) she advised women to enter the field of aviation with the idea of being accepted on an absolutely equal footing with men, saying, “Above all things, do not try to flirt with the pilots. Flying is a serious business.” And:

Newark Star-Eagle
November 18, 1929

"Mrs. George F. Kunz and Mrs.
Marjorie Brown, both of New York
City, climbed a ladder to a hangar
roof and took turns addressing
crowds at the Hadley air races
through a loud speaker.”

She was a character. Opal Kunz received her pilot’s license June 7, 1929. She had adventurous and hazardous, aviation experiences. A headline a couple of weeks later from the June 24th New York Times announced “Mrs. Kunz In Crash Piloting Her Plane.” In Morris Plains, NJ, with an ex-sailor/mechanic, Verne E. Moon, on board she crashed C-9827, her recently purchased cream and gold Travel Air biplane. Both were uninjured. Some newspapers implied an illicit liaison (Daily News June 24, 1929 headline: “Gem Man’s Wife Crashes On Night Flight With Gob”).

Undeterred, she bought another Travel Air to replace the one she wrecked, and promptly had it christened “Betsy Ross” by Mrs. Thomas Edison at a social event at the Newark Metropolitan Airport. On April 10,1930 (New York Times: “Mrs. Opal Kunz Unhurt In Airplane Crash”) she departed Philadelphia on her way to Allentown, PA. She landed by mistake at the Bethlehem airport, and while departing there her engine failed. She made an emergency landing, striking rough ground at the edge of the field. Her airplane nosed over, damaging one wing and the propeller. She was trapped in the cockpit, but calmly gave instructions to airport employees to right the aircraft and release her. She was uninjured.

A year later, on April 30, 1931 (New York Sun: “Flying Skill Saves Life of Mrs. Kunz”), she suffered a leaky fuel line in the cockpit. With gasoline pouring onto her face she saved herself, “by a masterly exhibition of piloting skill” at the Washington-Hoover Airport. She was uninjured, although her airplane tore down a section of fence surrounding the airport.

A Newark Star-Eagle article places her in Los Angeles on April 3rd (“Opal Kunz Organizes Corps of California ‘Lady Birds’”) introducing a group of California women fliers to her Betsy Ross Corps, the first woman’s reserve flying corps. She was probably returning east via Davis-Monthan after this organizing session.

She was back on the east coast, however, by May 30th as shown in the image below. This is a U.S. postal cachet postmarked May 30, 1931 at the "Air Mail Field," Newark, NJ. The cachet comes to us courtesy of site visitor Jeff Staines.

U.S. Postal Cachet, May 30, 1931, Newark, NJ (Source: Staines)
U.S. Postal Cachet, May 30, 1931, Newark, NJ (Source: Staines)

Mr. Staines says of his cachet, it is, "... an event cover dated May 30, 1931 (Decoration Day weekend) commemorating the untimely accidental death of Captain John O. Donaldson, the World War I  Ace pilot, sponsored by the American Legion  Aviators Post 743 of New York, who's members included such famous flyers as Eddie Rickenbacker, Roscoe Turner, Hap Arnold, Alexander De Seversky, and others. This cover is special in that it is signed by ... Opal Kunz. Kunz [who] loaned Donaldson her Travel Air Whirlwind aircraft, in which she came in third place at the National Air Races in Chicago just ten days earlier, to perform stunt flying near Philadelphia. The plane fell out of the sky at an altitude of 1800 feet in front of 40,000 horrified spectators. Donaldson died later on.  Opal Kunz was a pupil of Captain Donaldson's. The cover is postmarked at the Newark,NJ Air Field, where Donaldson worked and Kunz commenced many of her popular flights."

Kunz spent significant effort on the Betsy Ross Corps. She envisioned it, sponsored public relations events in its name, solicited female pilots to join, and served as the first commander of the organization. The New York Sun of January 2, 1931 (“Girl Flyers Ready to Aid Army”) described its formation. It was organized, “solely for national defense, as a strictly patriotic society…. Its peacetime mission is to encourage women to improve their skill and experience, thereby making them safer pilots, and in a short time it is expected that a fine reserve group of young women pilots will be trained and disciplined to serve in national emergencies.”

At the first meeting the organization was completed, the constitution adopted and the insignia selected (please click this link to see the insignia, also designed by her husband). The following flyers were present, either in person or by proxy: Gladys O’Donnell, May Haizlip, Marjorie Stinson, Florence Lowe “Pancho” Barnes, Eleanor McRae, Ruth Elder Camp, LaBelle Sweeley, Ruth Bridwell McConnell, Jean LaRene, Jane Dodge, Mary Goodrich, Manila Davis, Margery Doig and E. Ruth Webb.

The Newark Evening News of January 3, 1931 (“Women Fliers Military Club Organized by Mrs. Opal Kunz”), lists the Betsy Ross Corps officers. Besides Opal Kunz as commander, other officers elected for the first year were, “Mrs. Gladys O’Donnell of California, winner of the woman’s California-Chicago Derby, is lieutenant commander, and Mrs. May Haizlip second lieutenant commander. Mrs. Haizlip, wife of Jimmie Haizlip, well-known flier, was second in the free-for-all race about a closed course in the Chicago races and has won other races. Mrs. Kunz came in third in the Chicago event.

“Mrs. Haizlip, whose home is in Chicago, will organize the chapters in the Middle West, as Mrs. O’Donnell will organize those on this coast. Miss Margorie [sic] Doig of Connecticut, who was flying a close second to Miss O’Donnell in the derby when she was forced out by motor trouble, was named adjutant. Miss Jane Dodge, of Philadelphia, whose father and two brothers are pilots, and who is well-known both in aviation and social circles of New York and Philadelphia, is quartermaster.”

The Betsy Ross Corps was not the only women’s pilot organization Opal Kunz was involved with. The Newark Star-Eagle of December 16, 1929 revealed that a national organization of women pilots made its debut that day. Calling itself the “Eighty-six Club” the name was derived from the initial number of members. The article states that the first meeting was at the home of Mrs. Opal Kunz, New York City, and that other charter members were wiring acceptances. Five weeks later, after more members signed up, the New York Sun (1/25/1930) cites her as, “…an organizer of the Ninety-nine Club, composed of women aviators, and is temporary president of the organization.”

But, according to Leslie Haynsworth and David Toomey’s book “Amelia Earhart’s Daughters” (William Morrow, 1998; pp. 14-15) the organizational meeting for what eventually became the Ninety-Nines was held in a room over a hangar at the Curtiss Airport, Valley Stream, Long Island on November 2, 1929, with Neva Paris cited as the temporary president. In a personal conversation I had with Bobbi Trout, she said the Ninety-Nines were envisioned under the Cleveland grandstand at the 1929 Air Races. Bobbi and Amelia Earhart were present, as well as a couple of other female pilots. Opal Kunz passed away in 1967.

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Dossier 2.4.18

UPLOADED: 05/05 REVISED: 10/24/07, 03/11/08, 04/07/09, 02/24/11

 
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Contemporary local and national newspapers provided most of the information for Ms. Kunz.
A good-quality image from 1930 of Opal Kunz, from Tim Kalina, standing with Ruth Elder is available at Ruth's link.
 
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