The Flying Seven
Women pilots form Canada’s first aviatrix club
One brisk morning in November 1936, seven women gathered at an airfield outside of Vancouver. A few years earlier, an article in Chatelaine Magazine had wondered whether women were “strong enough” to fly. “Are they fitted temperamentally to operate aircraft?” Their goal was simple: to prove, as they’d put it, that a woman’s place was in the air.
At the time, these seven women were the only female pilots in all of British Columbia. At 20-years-old, Jen Pike worked during the day as a secretary at the airport. Betsy Flaherty had a career as a buyer for girls’ clothing at Spencer’s Department Store. Tosca Trasolini was a multi-sport athlete and top-ranked discus thrower who had even qualified for the 1930 Summer Olympics. Rolie Moore flew stunts in the air. Alma Gilbert shared her love of flying with her husband, who was a commercial pilot. Elianne Roberge was the first French-Canadian woman to have a commercial pilot’s license. And Margaret Fane, who also had a commercial license, worked as a bookkeeper, stenographer and, later, radio operator.
Aviation was still a young industry, and, like today, it was mostly populated by male pilots. But women were making headway — particularly in the United States, where Amelia Earhart served as the president of the Ninety-Nines, the organization for American women pilots. Trasolini and Fane had flown down to California to meet Earhart in 1935. They were told that they didn’t have the numbers to start a new Ninety-Nines chapter.
So, they formed their own club.
Established that same year, the Flying Seven — or, as the press called them, the “Sweethearts of the Air” or “Flying Flappers” or, simply, “Angels” — made it their mission to promote the inclusion of women in aviation. This was why, in November 1936, they were staging a dawn-to-dusk patrol. Over 11 hours, the women would take 25-minute shifts flying a range of aircraft — two Fairchild bi-planes, a Golden Eagle, two Fleets and two Gypsy Moths — over Vancouver. It would be the first and only patrol of its kind ever held at the Vancouver Airport.
But they didn’t stop there. At the height of the Second World War, the Flying Seven attempted to enlist. They were promptly rejected — it would take decades before the Royal Canadian Air Force admitted any female pilot. But that didn’t stop them from contributing to the war effort. In 1940, as sirens rang out across the city, the Sweethearts of the Air flew over Vancouver, raining down pamphlets. “SMASH THE NAZIS!” read one. “GIVE DIMES OR DOLLARS TO BUY OUR BOYS MORE PLANES!” said another.
The demonstration raked in $100,000 from the city’s residents, enough for eight new planes for the Aero Club of B.C., Vancouver’s new flight school — one, notably, that accepted women as students. After studying a range of subjects, from flight theory to aircraft maintenance, the school’s graduates went on to find work at many companies, including Boeing and other major aircraft manufacturers.
In 1939, three members of the Flying Seven — Trasolini, Fane and Roberge — were admitted to the famed Ninety-Nines. And while the Flying Seven eventually parted ways, the women remained in touch for decades. “We still get together now and again,” Roberge told The Province in 1980. “Tosca flew up from California on a commercial flight to see us at the Abbotsford Air Show last weekend. We’re still around.”
1. Davis, Chuck. [No. 43 in a Sunday Series of Little-Known Stories on Vancouver]. The Province, 17 Aug. 1980, www.newspapers.com/image/501940531/.
2. Flying Seven. BC Aviation Hall of Fame, www.bcaviation.com/flying7s.htm.
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4. Lazarus, Eve. The Flying Seven and the Cambie Street Rocket Ship. 10 Jan. 2020, evelazarus.com/the-flying-seven-and-the-cambie-street-rocket-ship/.
5. Ninety-Nine Newsletter — December 1939. Edited by Fanny Leonpacher, Ninety-Nine: International Organization of Women Pilots, Dec. 1939, drive.google.com/file/d/1_mt4R5334fKlFZ93C_CWa6SLYTVMLJWU/view.
6. “VIDEO: You Need to Know about This Band of Female Pilots from B.C.” Prince George Matters, Glacier Media, 26 Oct. 2019, www.princegeorgematters.com/local-news/video-you-need-to-know-about-this-band-of-female-pilots-from-bc-1768072.
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