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Spring, Joyce
Porters Lake (N.S.), Pottersfield Press, 1994. 160pp, paper, $15.95
ISBN 0-919001-84-X. Distributed by Nimbus Publishers. CIP

Subject Headings:
Women air pilots-Canada-Biography.
Women in aeronautics-Canada-History.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up

Reviewed by Joan M. Payzant

Volume 22 Number 4
1994 September

This is the kind of book that is so gripping the reader is filled with nostalgia and wishes she could go back in time to share in the adventurous lives of the women portrayed in its pages. In Daring Lady Flyers Joyce Spring has collected true accounts of Canadian women's encounters with aircraft, whether they were merely passengers in very early planes or actual pilots.

Flying in Canada started in the Edwardian age, at a time when women were still thought of as rather decorative, frail creatures, not as well co-ordinated as men, and inclined to go to pieces in an emergency. The first women to accompany pilots were considered rashly daring, like Olive Stark who in 1912 sat on a board on the lower wing of her husband's flimsy plane, hanging on to the wire rigging to make a short flight. She was almost paralysed with the cold, but established a record as the first Canadian woman to fly in Canada (Grace Mackenzie, although also Canadian and daughter of Sir William Mackenzie, had previously flown with her husband-to-be, but in New York.)

There were many more firsts--first woman to fly in a seaplane, first woman to navigate a flying boat, first woman to fly in the Yukon, first licensed pilot, first airline radio operator, first airport manager, first helicopter pilot, and so on. Probably the most exciting careers of all these women flyers were of those who joined the Air Transport Auxiliary during World War II. There were four of them from Canada--Vi Milstead, Elspeth Russell, Marion Orr and Helen Harrison--and the astounding statistic is that they flew more different types of aircraft than any male pilots in the air force or out of it, under extremely dangerous conditions. Their bible was a looseleaf book that had basic instructions for flying every kind of plane used during the war. Navigational and communications radio was not available to them--only visual flight rules. They had to cope with barrage balloons and bad weather. So much for earlier beliefs that women would not be able to cope with emergencies.

Women pilots have had jobs as commercial pilots, aerobatic pilots, test pilots, instructors, and air traffic controllers, and have operated small regional airlines. Spring deserves praise for her extensive research and gathering of information to make the fascinating lives of her subjects available in the one gripping book. Photographs of most of the women and their aircraft add a further dimension to the chronicle. Almost anyone would enjoy the book because of its history of aviation in general, but it is especially recommended reading to alert girls and young women to the possibilities of careers in this exciting field.

Publisher Leslie Choyce also deserves praise for his decision to publish Daring Lady Flyers in its attractive format, bringing a previously unknown but important slice of Canadian history to the forefront.

Joan M. Payzant is a former teacher-librarian in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

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