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Pioneering American Women Glider Pilots

By Barbara Schultz

Maxine Dunlap just became the filrst woman to receive a glider license. 

In 1927, a wave of enthusiasm for aviation spread around the world. Smitten with Lindberghitis, citizens began a quest "to take to the skies." Youngsters built and flew balsa wood gliders. Men resurrected WWI aircraft or constructed aircraft in their backyards. Women discovered that flying was one sport that provided a sense of freedom and confidence from societal constraints. As Joseph Corn stated in his book, Winged Gospel, "As pilots, women experienced feelings of strength, mastery and confidence which, particularly at a time when Victorian norms still rendered all strenuous effort and most activity by women suspect, seemed delicious indeed." A small handful of extraordinary women overcame male prejudice and paved the way for a generation of competent and accomplished pilots.They effectively navigated both motorized aircraft and gliders. This article focuses on the pioneering American women glider pilots.

Soaring over the Ocean Beach sand dunes.

Maxine Dunlap
1908-1942 A resident of Pleasanton, Calif., Maxine Dunlap earned private pilot license #5894 in April 1928. She quickly accumulated 60 hours in the air before setting her sights on motorless flight. Following three weeks of lessons, Maxine entered the first glider contest held by the Califomia Gliders Association on April 29,1929. The event took place over the
Ocean Beach sand dunes near Sam Francisco. Intending to qualify for a glider rating, she flew a Ferguson glider similar to a German training craft. She traveled 990 feet while staying aloft for 50 seconds. This exceeded the minimum of 30 seconds to receive a Class 3 glider license and eclipsed Amelia Earhart's glider flight of 17 seconds. The U.S. Department of commerce awarded her glider certificate number 8. She became the first
American woman to obtain a glider pilot license of any kind. Even though she was airborne for less than a minute, Maxine successfully executed two S curves and most important, a
smooth landing.

In March 1930, Maxine became president of the Bay Region Califomia Gliding Club and supported competitions in the area. She also continued flying motor-powered aircraft.
Her performances in the many air races across the country were notable. In 1935, she set a new 100-Km world's record for women for light aiaplanes in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her top speed was 76.799 mph in Spartan's first monoplane, a C2-60. American Aviation Historical Society Journal, Summer 2023