Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie (1902-1975)

phoebe_f_omlie.jpg Phoebe Omlie

Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie was born in Des Moines in 1902 and died in Indianapolis in 1975. In between she broke numerous flying records, including winning the Women's Air Derby in 1929. In the 20s, she was also a member of Glenn Messer Flying Circus where she developed and performed a double parachute drop.

During the 1920s she received the first federal pilot's license and the first aircraft mechanic's license to be issued to a woman, and during FDR's campaign in 1932, she was his pilot. After his election he appointed her to serve as liaison between the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and the Bureau of Air Commerce.

She was also active in the Civil Aeronautics Administration until into the 1950s. She and her husband operated a training school at Memphis and I believe the control tower at Memphis International is named for the Omlies.


In 1933, PFO had been appointed a special assistant for the governmental department that would many years later become NASA. She convinced the Airport Marking and Mapping Section of the Bureau of Air Commerce to get the states involved, and she directed the all-woman staff as the Bureau of Air Commerce's National Air Marking Program.(women were cheaper and would work harder.)

In 1935, Omlie chose five leading women pilots as field representatives for the program: Louise Thaden (first woman to beat men in a cross-country race), Helen Richie, Blanche Noyes, Nancy Harkness(Love) (who would head the U.S. Air Transport Command in WWII), and Helen McCloskey.

Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie

Aviation pioneer Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie, a contemporary of more famous women flyers like Amelia Earhart, Jacqueline Cochran and Florence "Pancho" Barnes, began her career in the early 1920s when barnstorming was one of the few ways to make a living by flying.

She progressed beyond this daring and dangerous aspect of aviation to become one of the field's most ardent supporters and innovators, a central participant in the move to legitimize and eventually bureaucratize commercial and private aviation in America.

She contributed much of it through her work in the federal government - working with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA). Throughout her career, Phoebe used her influence to give other women a chance to prove themselves as capable as men.

Phoebe Fairgrave was born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1902. One day just before her high school graduation, she saw her first air show and fell in love with aviation at first sight. She thought about it; she dreamed about it. She began hanging out at the local airfield, begging the manager until he finally agreed to let one of his pilots take her up for a ride.

The pilot's instructions were to give the girl "the works" - a few loops, maybe a nosedive or two - and get her good and sick. Then maybe she would leave them alone. But the pilot's efforts to discourage Phoebe were counterproductive, to say the least. She loved it! ...more

Famous high-flying female
Phoebe Omlie and the Velie Monocoupe took to the skies

Remember Amelia Earhart? Well, her fellow female pilot Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie (1902-1975) flew Velie Monocoupe planes in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Actually, "flew" is a rather tame word for Omlie's activities. She raced and set records, performing stunts and gaining fame in the aviation industry.

Born in 1902 in Des Moines, Iowa, Phoebe became fascinated with parachute jumping at an early age. In fact, she financed her early passion for flying by performing wing-walking feats and by stunt flying for the "Perils of Pauline" motion pictures.

She married her instructor, Vernon Omlie, and together they set out to take aviation beyond entertainment to a higher level of respectability. They were the first to demonstrate the nonmilitary value of airplanes by flying mercy missions during forest fire or flood emergencies and serving as fire spotters. Based in Memphis, Tennessee, they also operated the first airport in the state and one of the nation's first flying schools

In addition to all the "firsts" she won in numerous flying competitions, Omlie was the first woman to earn a federal pilot's license and the first to receive an aircraft mechanic's license. She went on to win numerous races against male pilots and later joined other pioneering female pilots, including Amelia Earhart, in an organization called the "Ninety Nines." ...more

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