In a brief window of time in the 1920s and 30s—after the Wright brothers had proven flying was possible and before the airlines had proven it to be a hassle—there was real magic in aviation, romance in the notion that you could take to the air, you could fly. In this window of time, men decided to race planes. The National Air Races, as they became known, were wildly popular. A half million fans would attend the races over the course of a single weekend. And they were also extremely dangerous. Inevitably, pilots crashed, screaming full bore into the ground in their open-cockpit single-propeller machines, killing themselves in front of the crowd.
It was, most believed, no place for a woman. And the numbers bore that out. In 1928, a couple thousand men had pilot’s licenses compared to just a dozen women, making the few women who flew airplanes radicals. Today, we remember one of them: Amelia Earhart. But in the time that she flew, a handful of other women flew with her, and they were just as brave as she was and perhaps even more skilled. Stubborn dreamers, all of them, they refused to be told what they could and could not do. They were going to fly.
My book, FLY GIRLS, tells that story, their story—the story of women fighting for the right to fly against men in the air races, winning that right, and then ultimately beating the men at their own game in 1936 in one of the most famous races of them all, a dangerous transcontinental speed dash. It was, for the women, a stunning upset and one that proved what the women had known all along: They were just as good as the men, maybe even better. They belonged.