Once upon a time, there was a woman named Katherine Stinson who dreamed of a musical career in the great halls of Europe. But she ditched that grandiose plan when she discovered the magic of flying high in the sky. She took lessons from Max Lillie, a pilot for the Wright brothers, who initially refused her as a student because she was a female, but at long last relented to give her a trial lesson. This girl was so good that she took the plane up all by herself after only four hours of instruction! Giving up her piano career, she became a full-time aviatrix at the ripe old age of 16 on the exhibit circuit under the name The Flying Schoolgirl. She was the fourth woman in the US to obtain a pilot’s license.
Not long after, her family moved to San Antonio, TX where the climate was ideal for flying and she and her sister, Marjorie, set up an aviation school. The majority of their students were from the Canadian Air Force because it was one of the few airfields offering to teach them.
In 1915, Katherine was the first woman to perform a loop the loop trick and went on to perform the stunt over 500 times without incident, and one of the first women to authorized to carry airmail in the US. During WWI, she flew on fundraising tours for the American Red Cross. Unfortunately, it was around this time that the US put a ban on civilian flying and Katherine was forced to close the school and so she became an ambulance driver in Europe. She later married and became an architect, living a long and full life.
I stumbled across this gem of a lady when I needed Gwyn from A Rolls Royce in No Man’s Land to have a proper motivation to stay away from William in search of her own dreams for adventure. All the little details fell perfectly into place from the school closing just when the plot needed it to and all the way to Katherine becoming an ambulance driver which was the perfect wink to Gwyn. None of this was planned as I added this flying school idea well after the story was complete. Of course, I had to fudge a few details as there isn’t that much information available about the school so I invented the application process, single requirements, and waitlist, but in the end I think it worked out quite well.