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This information comes from the biographical file for pilot Elder, CE-122500-01, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington, DC.




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, while supplies last.


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 the 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 It includes across 277 pages previously unpublished photographs and texts, and facsimiles of personal letters, diaries and military orders.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.


Military Aircraft of the Davis Monthan Register, 1925-1936 is available at the link. This book describes and illustrates with black & white photographs the majority of military aircraft that landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield between 1925 and 1936. The book includes biographies of some of the pilots who flew the aircraft to Tucson as well as extensive listings of all the pilots and airplanes. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author, while supplies last.


Art Goebel's Own Story by Art Goebel (edited by G.W. Hyatt) is written in language that expands for us his life as a Golden Age aviation entrepreneur, who used his aviation exploits to build a business around his passion.  Available as a free download at the link.


Winners' Viewpoints: The Great 1927 Trans-Pacific Dole Race is available at the link. What was it like to fly from Oakland to Honolulu in a single-engine plane during August 1927? Was the 25,000 dollar prize worth it? Did the resulting fame balance the risk? For the first time ever, this book presents the pilot and navigator's stories written by them within days of their record-setting adventure. Pilot Art Goebel and navigator William V. Davis, Jr. take us with them on the Woolaroc, their orange and blue Travel Air monoplane (NX869) as they enter the hazardous world of Golden Age trans-oceanic air racing.


Clover Field: The First Century of Aviation in the Golden State. With the 100th anniversary in 2017 of the use of Clover Field as a place to land aircraft in Santa Monica, this book celebrates that use by exploring some of the people and aircraft that made the airport great.


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Ruth Elder was born September 8, 1902 at Anniston, AL. Below, courtesy of the San Diego Aerospace Museum Flickr Stream (SDAM), she is posed with an unidentified airplane, date and location unknown. I cannot make out the lettering below the cockpit coaming. The last word is "Marshall."

Ruth Elder, Date & Location Unknown (Source: SDAM)

Below, she is seen on the right at age 28 with Register pilot Opal Kunz. The image is tilted because it was printed crooked on the photo paper.

Ruth Elder (R) With Opal Kunz, December 20, 1930 (Source: Kalina)
Ruth Elder (R) With Opal Kunz, December 20, 1930

This image is a news photo, and below is the official caption on the back of the photograph. I enhanced the contrast of this image so you can read it better. The purpose of the photograph is clear. I have yet to come across a similar photograph of men posing in male aviation fashions of the era.

December 20, 1930 Photo Caption (Source: Kalina)
December 20, 1930 Photo Caption

Ruth Elder visited Tucson Wednesday, August 7, 1929 at 3:30 PM. She carried Jim Granger as her sole passenger. They were northwest bound from El Paso, TX to Phoenix, AZ flying a Swallow F28W, NC8730. She was probably on her way to Santa Monica for the 1929 National Women's Air Derby ("Powder Puff Derby") to Cleveland (see below). She held pilot license number 675. She was a charter member of The Ninety-Nines.

Fresno Bee, October 7, 1927
Fresno Bee, October 7, 1927

She was a movie actress and aviation adventurer. Her first fifteen minutes of fame came at a propitious time in 1927 just five months after Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic. She and Register pilot George Haldeman made an attempt to cross the Atlantic together in a yellow Stinson Detroiter named "The American Girl" (NC1384, not a Register airplane). The last link in the left sidebar leads to details of that flight.

At right is a short article (courtesy of Mike Gerow) from the Fresno Bee of October 7, 1927. It underscores the context of record attempts: the airplanes, and in this case one of the pilots, are fully engaged in day-to-day life. They don't just stay at home or in the hangar before and after a record attempt. In this case, Elder's Waco incident occurred just days before her trans-Atlantic flight on October 11-13.

Depending upon the account you read (it never ceases to amaze me that various contemporary accounts cite different values for miles, hours, etc.), they flew somewhere between 2,574 and 2,625 miles across the Atlantic in stormy weather, in 28-36 hours, with Ruth at the controls for about nine hours. They were forced to ditch in the water due to an oil leak about 300-360 miles short of the Azores. They were rescued by the Dutch tanker "Barendrecht".

Regardless of the numbers, and regardless of whether they completed the flight or not, their flight is epochal in two respects. First, it was, up to that time, the longest flight ever made over water. Their distance was probably longer than that measured on the great circle route, since they had to maneuver to avoid storms. Second, it was the longest flight ever made by a woman. An interesting artifact from her NASM biographical file is this one-page download representing her Lloyds of London insurance policy which she carried for her trans-Atlantic attempt. Below, a chart from the New York Times comparing their flight with Lindbergh's.



Trans-Atlantic Flight Attempt, Elder & Haldeman, October, 1927
Trans-Atlantic Flight Attempt, Elder & Haldeman, October, 1927


In the midst of the excitement, Elder continued her career as a model and actress, leveraging her pilot skills in the former. A COLOR (!) motion picture of Elder is at the link (YouTube video). This is an early (1928-29) example of color film technology. She is featured modeling a garment at 3:00 into the movie.The film also features Register airplane Fokker NC3317. It appears at 5:00 minutes into the film with Elder allegedly flying it. Allowing for color renditions by the films of the day, the fuselage shows up as a shade of green and the "S" in "Standard" is red. Regardless of the true colors, we see 3317 in motion, and we see pilot Elder emerge from it modeling a coat with gold buttons.

Ruth Elder, 1929 (Source: Allen Airways)
Ruth Elder, 1929

A second sound video from 1930 shows Elder flying a glider. Her segment is about 5:00 into the video. You can hear the Alabama notes in her voice.

Her second fifteen minutes of fame was in 1929 as a competitor in what has become known as the "Powder Puff Derby". In the shadow of the unsuccessful trans-Atlantic effort, Ruth kept her chin up and entered the first Women's Air Derby. She flew against the best of competition and finished in the money. Flying her Swallow, NC8730, she placed a reasonable 5th behind the likes of Louise Thaden, Gladys O'Donnell, Amelia Earhart and Blanche Noyes.

At right, Ruth is admired, as usual, by a group of men. Looking at the small pin on her flight suit and comparing it to the one in the dated image below, this photograph was probably taken during the 1929 Derby. By the smiles on all the faces, it could be at the end of the race in celebration of her 5th place. Note the reflections in the lenses of her goggles. Photo courtesy of Bill Allen (cited, right sidebar).




Below, a dated photograph of Elder taken somewhere during the 1929 Derby.

Ruth Elder, August 25, 1929
Ruth Elder, August 1929


Below, the caption written on the back of the image above.

Photo Caption, August 25, 1929
Photo Caption, August 1929


Ruth Elder, 1929 (Source: Allen Airways)
Ruth Elder, 1929 (Source: Allen Airways)



At left, a second image from Mr. Allen showing Ruth halfway out of her rear cockpit. Note the front cockpit is covered over to reduce drag for racing.







Ruth Elder, 1929 (Source: Allen Airways)
Ruth Elder, 1929 (Source: Allen Airways)




Right, the third and final image from Mr. Allen. Note the small pin and the wings on Elder's blouse in all three of his images, suggesting they were snapped very close together.









Below, courtesy of site visitor Roger Holden, are a couple of photographs of Ruth Elder, one dated August 15, 1930.

Ruth Elder, August 15, 1930 (Source: Holden)
Ruth Elder, August 15, 1930 (Source: Holden)


The caption, below, refers to her participation in the 1929 Derby.

Caption, Ruth Elder, August 15, 1930 (Source: Holden)
Ruth Elder, August 15, 1930 (Source: Holden)


Below, an undated image. The logo on the hangar behind her probably reads, "GRANGER, INC." Elder was known to frequent the business of Jim and Clema Granger at Santa Monica, CA. In fact, if you click on Jim's link, you'll see the Granger hangar in the second image down. You will be able to match the "J.E. GRANGER, INC." logo to the photo below.

Ruth Elder, Date Unknown, Santa Monica, CA (?) (Source: Holden)
Ruth Elder, Date Unknown, Santa Monica, CA (?) (Source: Holden)


This photo is signed. The best I can make out it says, "With my love to you, Dick. Ruth."


Obituary, 1977
Obituary, 1977

For a number of years after her flights, she was known as the "Miss America of Aviation." She earned what was then a fortune (about $250,000) from personal appearances and two movies.

After captivating two continents during her 20s and 30s, a number of business setbacks reduced her finances ("The money slipped through my fingers and soon there was nothing".) Six marriages failed.

Her first marriage was to C.E. Moody, a school teacher. In 1925, three years after her first marriage, she wed Lyle Womack, a member of the Byrd South Pole Expedition. They divorced in 1928. The next year she married Walter Camp, Jr. a director of Madison Square Garden. They divorced in 1932. Then followed G.K. Thackery, Albert Gillespie and Ralph King. In later years she led her life in seclusion with Mr. King, whom she had married twice.

In her obituary in the New York Times of October 11, 1977, Mr. King said, "We were married about three years when she divorced me. One day she rang me. She says, 'Daddy, are you married again?' I says no and she says 'Can I come home?' I says yeah and there it was. We got married again. A real love story."

Ruth Elder died October 9, 1977 at home in San Francisco, CA. Mr. King was with her. If you do the math, according to her birth and death dates she died at the age of 74 years and 11 months. News and Web "estimates" range from 73 to 75, another example of the accuracy of contemporary accounts. She had suffered from emphysema for several years. At her request, her ashes were mixed with Mr. King's ashes after his death and scattered over the Golden Gate Bridge by a crew from an Air Force plane. In the manner of the Golden Age, the romance never ended.

Ruth Elder also appears twice in the Parks Field Register during August, 1929. Please direct your browser to the link to learn of the relationship between those flights and the one recorded in Tucson.


Dossier 2.4.23

THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 03/11/08 REVISED: 06/03/09, 05/12/10, 03/22/12, 11/23/14, 01/11/15

The Register

Some of the images on this page are from friend of dmairfield.org Tim Kalina and from Ruth's NASM biographical file. Some are courtesy of Bill Allen of the Allen Airways Flying Museum, El Cajon, CA. Other credits in the text.



"Do you drink?


"Then hold this quart while I tie my shoelace."

From: The Frisco Employee's Magazine, December, 1927


Some crisp images of Ruth and the story of her trans-Atlantic attempt are here.


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