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This information comes from the biographical file for pilot Thaden, CT-141000-01, -02, -03, -30, -40, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum, 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. 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 It includes across 277 pages previously unpublished photographs and texts, and facsimiles of personal letters, diaries and military orders.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.


The NASM holds the Louise McPhetridge Thaden Collection at the link.

Detroit Free Press. September 5, 1936. Louise thaden Wins Air Race.

Pittsburgh (PA) Press. April 13, 1930. Flying Husbands and Wives.

Fresno Bee. August 29, 19029. "Long Beach Girl Flier Wins Air Exposition Race".

Southern Aviation. December 1932. Women's Place in Aviation as Seen by Endurance Fliers.

Aviation Quarterly. Vol. 1, #3. The National Women's Air Derby as Recalled by Louise Thaden.

Bill Thaden & Pat Thaden Webb. Vintage Airplane. April 1989 and May 1989. Louise Thaden: Pioneer Aviator (parts 1 & 2).

Little Rock (AR) Arkansas Gazette. November 11, 1979. Flying Pioneer, Ex-Arkansan Dies at Age 73.

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Louise Thaden
Low, Fast, Aggressive

Louise McPhetridge (Thaden)
NAA License, May 1928
(Source: NASM)
Louise McPhetridge (Thaden), NAA License, May 1928

Born November 12, 1905 at Bentonville, AR, Louise Thaden signed the Davis-Monthan Register once on October 14, 1934. She was flying a Beech B-17-L Staggerwing NC12598. Based at Wichita, KS, she noted in the Remarks column of the Register, "Factory demo". She carried as passengers Joan Shankle and Ray C. Barker. They were westbound from Lubec, ME to Los Angeles, CA.

Earlier, Louise was a student at the University of Arkansas (four years; three majors; no degree). She was enamored of flying after her first airplane ride in 1919. After leaving the university she went to work for a coal and building materials company in Wichita, KS whose president was also on the Board of Directors of the Travel Air Company.  Eventually she was sent to Oakland, CA to sell Travel Airs for D.C. Warren (signed the Register in 1927). At right is her NAA licence signed by Orville Wright.

While at Oakland she met her husband at the Oakland airport, an engineer for Warren named Herbert Von Thaden.  They were both pilots (Louise had soloed in February 1928) and were married July 21, 1928.

Louise Thaden After March 1929
Solo Endurance Flight
(Source: NASM)
Louise Thaden After March 1929 Solo Endurance Flight

In 1928 she set the first recognized women’s altitude record of 20, 260 feet on December 7 flying a Travel Air provided by Warren.  On March 16-17, 1929 she set a solo endurance record of 22:03:28.  This download (7 pages, PDF 444KB) contains the National Aeronautic Association paperwork that Thaden had to submit in order to claim her endurance record.  Image, left, shows her after the solo flight.  The airplane she used, NC5426, landed at Tucson May 17, 1933

Low, fast and aggressive were three adjectives applied to Louise Thaden's flying. She was a highly successful Golden Age air racer and one of the first female pilots to make aviation her business. She held the distinction of earning the first commercial license on the west coast (another Davis-Monthan pilot, Phoebe Omlie, was the first woman to earn that license).

Her first real step into the limelight came with the National Air Races of 1929.  Below, the Travel Air 4000 that Louise Thaden flew to victory in the first women’s air derby (dubbed the “Powder Puff Derby”) in 1929. Her elapsed time from Santa Monica, CA to Cleveland, OH was 20:02:02 with an average speed of 135.97MPH.  She won $3,600 for her effort.  Gladys O’Donnell placed second that year. A nice summary by Louise is in the Aviation Quarterly (cited, left sidebar).

Travel Air 4000 NC671H (Source: NASM)
Travel Air 4000 NC671H

This airplane has been restored and it was flown along the same route in 1989 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Louise’s win.  Image courtesy of the Staggerwing Museum Foundation, Tullahoma, TN.

Louise Thaden After 1932 Endurance Flight (Source: NASM)
Louise Thaden After 1932 Endurance Flight

During the early 1930s she worked on endurance flights.  With Francis Marsalis, she set an eight-day, four-hour record in what Southern Aviation (reference, left sidebar) called their “flying boudoir” (actually, it was a Curtiss Thrush, NC9142).  Image, right, shows Louise after landing from that flight.  Her exhaustion is obvious.

After the flight, when asked about it, both pilots insisted, “It was just one monotonous day after the other.”  “And Louise,” said Marsalis, “was always sleepy.”  “And Frances,” countered Thaden, “was always hungry.”  When asked about what they talked about during the flight, Thaden said, “About nothing.  How could we talk?  Our ears were stopped with cotton to guard against the roar of that motor.  We had to scream at the top of our lungs to make ourselves heard.  We didn’t average more than ten words a day.”

Surprisingly, in the same article, they state, “Women can never hope to compete with men in the actual flying of airplanes.”  Further, they state, “Not that women can’t handle a plane as well as men.  They can – a number of them can do the job a whale of a lot better – but the public simply doesn’t have confidence in women fliers.  That is, not enough confidence to ride with them to any great extent.  This attitude on the part of John Public – and he’ll never get over it – means that women are forever barred from careers as transport pilots on regular passenger lines.”  Thankfully, this public attitude persisted “only” another 30 years or so.

In November, 1930, Thaden took over an editorial position from Lady Mary Heath, writing the "Women's Activities" column for Popular Aviation (PA) magazine. Below is her first column.

"Women's Activities" in Popular Aviation, November, 1930 (Source: PA)

Notice the activities by the newly-formed Ninety-Nines organization. And the mention of fellow Register pilots Edith Foltz, Amelia Earhart, Phoebe Omlie, Pancho Barnes, Blanche Noyes, Ruth Nichols and Opal Kunz.

According to numerous newspapers (see, e.g., the Detroit Free Press, left sidebar), in September 1936, she won the Bendix Trophy race from New York to Los Angeles. She was accompanied by Blanche Noyes. Their time was 14:54:46. This was 3:24 longer than Roscoe Turner's record of 11:30 set in 1933, but it was the best transcontinental time ever made by a woman. Depending on the source you read, Thaden and Noyes won $11,000, or $7,000.  They definitely won $9,500 in two checks: $2,500 for being the first woman to finish, and $7,000 for being the first pilot to finish.  She also won the Harmon Trophy for 1936, proclaiming her the outstanding woman pilot in the country.

In keeping with the culture of the era, another news article, of course, described the fashions the two wore: Noyes in a white jump suit with a blue silk waist (upon landing she was described as shaky, but looking "very fresh"), Thaden in blue-green culottes and a green flannel shirt was described as "cool and collected". Fashions or appearance were described for none of the male competitors.

During the 1930s she and her husband had two children who have written about their mother in popular magazines (cited, left sidebar).  In the late 30s, she left aviation to care for her growing family.  WWII arrived and eliminated civilian flying.  Louise “lost herself” and entered the abyss of alcoholism.  With determination, she and her family worked through that disease, and with the end of WWII her flying resumed with the Civil Air Patrol.  She rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel.

Her last race participation was in the 1950 International Women’s Air Race from Montreal, Canada to West Palm Beach, FL.  She flew with her daughter, and they placed 5th.

Four additional candid images of Louise Thaden can be seen at the Klein Archive on this site.  She died November 9, 1979 age 73.  She was enshrined in the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame in 1980, along with fellow Arkansan and Register signer Charles M. Taylor.  You may download (3 pages, PDF 182KB) a career summary compiled by her daughter.


Dossier 2.4.13

UPLOADED: 10/31/07 REVISED: 12/19/11, 06/21/14

The Register
I'm looking for information and photographs of pilot Thaden and her airplane airplane to include on this page. If you have some you'd like to share, please click this FORM to contact me.


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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