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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."


Type rated on A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Betty Blake

Friday's Fabulous Flyer 

December 7th, 1941, Betty is standing on her balcony watching bombs drop on Pearl Harbor.


October 1920, in Honolulu, Hawaii, another pilot has made her arrival. Betty joined this earth with mischief in her heart and a smile on her face. How do I know? I had the great opportunity to speak to her. Granted our conversation occurred ninety-one years after her birth, but the story of her life answers that question.


When Betty was fourteen years old her father took her to see Amelia Earhart. Betty sat in the front row and told me that she was the only kid in the audience and Amelia spoke directly to her. After the meeting they had a conversation and the next day Betty went out to the airport and sat in Amelia's plane and their friendship began.

Betty had always been fascinated with aviation. So at the age of fourteen when Navy Pilot Warren Baxter offered to teach her how to fly, she couldn't say no. She would sneak out of her house and find her way to the airport. She never did tell her parents she was flying. Then one night, when she snuck out to date a pilot, her father found out he tracked her down and yanked open the door, and drug her home. "Oh, he was mad," she said. I think there was a grounding involved, but that didn't stop her from dreams of flying, or going back to the airport. 


December 6th, 1941, Betty was at the officers club with her fiance, a Navy Ensign. She's had her first drink and was suffering from a hangover the following morning. When the bombing started she initially rolled over and pulled the pillow over her head. When she finally climbed out of bed, she stood on the balcony and witnessed the event that would change her life forever. That had to be the worst hangover in the world. At the time she was a flight instructor with about 700 hours of time.


Nights of blackness followed the attack. Within a couple months she climbed aboard a ship and headed to the mainland. They had to cross the Pacific in the dark, praying they wouldn't be hit by a submarine. The black silence made for a long ride.  They docked in California but she soon found herself in New York. Alone. Because her then husband was shipped overseas, and she was left behind in a new city, without friends or family.

It wasn't long until Betty got a call to to join the military.

She became one of the first WASPs: Women Airforce Service Pilots. Interesting, at the time they were not considered part of the military, but were civil servants. It wasn't until after the war did they get commissioned into the military.


The fact that she grew up with two brothers, a neighborhood of boys, and was the only girl gave her skills that paved her way in the military. She told me she got along great with the guys because she could burp on cue and spit, when some of her female counter parts ended up in tears.


I find it difficult to believe Betty is nine-one years old. Her mind has not caught up to her age. She laughed openly as she shared stories of her life, and flying. Initial training was in Texas, and she was the "Guinea Pig" class. After training she'd chosen the Long Beach base in hope of flying home to Hawaii one day. But they wouldn't allow women to fly over the ocean. Not that they worried about the women, as she told me often that the women were expendable.


The initial training was all the WASPs got. They learned to fly one plane, then as the others came off the assembly line their training consisted of sitting in the new type. That was it... and then they flew. These planes were supposed to have already been test flown, but Betty soon discovered that wasn't the case because there was no time. She kept that secret from the other ladies. She'd fly the B17, then a B25, climb into a B-51, and fly a P47. The types rolled off the line and she climbed aboard.


Moving planes across the country was her job, and life on the road was challenging and fun. She would head out for a one day turn, and find herself on the road for three weeks, with nothing but an overnight bag. They wouldn't allow her to fly to Alaska because they didn't have facilities for women. She snuck booze home hiding it in the plane. When she found herself in city with the only bed in the same room with twenty pilots, she'd sleep in her flight suit. She told me the pilots would find themselves in strange cities with nothing to do so they would go to the bar and drink... And she kept up with them.

Work rules? There were none. She would fly from one coast to the next. Climb on a commercial flight and return home. Often the plane was filled with only military as they would bump paying passengers. When that was the case, the plane would divert to the military base and let everyone off. Then she would climb aboard another plane and fly it across the country again. Sleep was found in the seat, or on the floor in a terminal.

She's been married a couple times, raised three sons, and watched her house burn down as she flew overhead. What a life. I could go on forever with the stories of this fabulous woman.


Betty is a darling lady and I'm looking forward to meeting her in person. While she tells me her eyes are failing her, her mind is as sharp as ever. She continues to attend officer meetings, and is an honored guest speaker with whomever is lucky enough to have her.

Betty and AirFreddy

I was introduced to Betty by AirFreddy, a dynamo in his own right. Click Here to learn about AirFreddy. Thank you AirFreddy for introducing me to an incredible woman.

Thank you Betty for taking your time to speak with me. I know we'll be hearing more from you soon! Expect a visit soon. Oh... and Betty told me why she thinks Amelia Earhart crashed. That will come out in time.

Enjoy the Journey!

~ Karlene


17 comments:

  1. Betty's story has done more than inspire me, she has renewed my hope and determination. Thank you so much Betty, you'll never know how much that means to me. And thank you Karlene for featuring her!

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  2. Awesome lady! Thanks for the story. :)

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  3. Fabulous story. Betty is an incredible woman, intrepid and inspiring. Thank you for sharing this, Betty and Karlene.

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  4. Dear Karlene:

    Thanks for introducing us to Betty Blake. It's impossible to overdo recognition of what the WASP ladies did for us all.

    Back in 2004, when N631S joined our family, I went out to KEOK in Keokuk, IA to pick her up. The airport there, Lindner Field, is named after Irv and Irene Lindner. They developed and operated the field for many years after the war, but during the war they were both pilots, Irv for the USAAF and Irene for the WASP.

    Irene went West a few years back; Irv is retired but still flies out of KEOK. A recent local press story about Irene can be found here.

    Sometimes when I'm motoring along, monitoring the GPS that's running the autopilot that's flying N631S, I reflect on how different the cross-country flying was, that Irv and Irene and Betty and all the rest of those heroic folks got to do. Truly, we stand on the shoulders of giants.

    Best regards,

    Frank

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  5. Frank, thank you so much for the great comment and the reminder of what it was like flying back then. Definitely now what we do now. They didn't have the support, the speed, or the amenities. I didn't share a story about her having to take a pee in the plane. Not as easy for a woman as a man. Also the press story about Irene is wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing that. Many incredible women in the past that so often get forgotten.

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  6. Such a fantastic lady! Thanks for sharing! I am a little frustrated however, I have to wait for another post to hear why she thinks Amelia crashed! :P

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  7. Hey Victoria... she is an amazing lady. Yes... you have to wait! :)

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  8. I think you can Christine! How different aviation was back then... interesting to see where it will be in the next 60 years.

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  9. Karlene, what a great post! An amazing woman!
    Coincidentally I just finished reading - teachingiselementary.blogspot -
    a teacher talking about learning first hand from people like Betty.
    What we all can learn from a gal like her! Thanks.

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  10. Carol-Ann, Thank you so much for the comment and the link! We can learn so much. Today someone said we need to have friends in our life 15 years younger and 15 years older. I'm thinking we can learn from so many from different times and perspectives than ourselves.

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  11. Karlene,
    Carol Ann sent me a link to your blog. I am reading it with tears in my eyes! We need to hear more about people like Betty! We have so much to learn from those that have experience. While we may think they know not of this day and age they know of their own day and age which holds it's own fascination!
    Thank you for sharing and caring enough to tell Betty's story! (I agree we need to be friends with people 15 years older and younger than us).

    Take care!

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  12. Nancy, Thank you so much for the wonderful comment. I'm so glad that Carol Ann shared this wonderful lady with you. Yes, she does know of her own day and age... and it was fascinating.

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  13. Karlene,
    I am a young student in college who is also apart of Air Force ROTC and I was wondering if there was any way I could get some contact information on Betty Blake I would love to talk to her and hear her stories.
    Thanks so much,
    KatieJo Delisle

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    1. Hi Katie Jo, email me at Karlene.Petitt@gmail.com and I will connect you to someone to make this happen. Just remind me when you write what you would like to do. Thanks!

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  14. Truly an inspirational women. Thank you Karlene for sharing her amazing story!

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    1. She is an inspiration and such a sweet lady. And funny... oh my!!! Thanks for your comment!

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