Miami Daily News-Record from Miami, Oklahoma on January 12, 1930 · Page 19
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Miami Daily News-Record from Miami, Oklahoma · Page 19

Miami, Oklahoma
Issue Date:
Sunday, January 12, 1930
Page 19
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"II I wo Lady C 4 ' ^M?± .wH^PHV^MJ art Here is the unusual story of the first women to gain membership in the exclusive Caterpillar Club, mythical society of aviators whose lives have been saved by parachute jumps from planes disabled while in flight Here is a sketch of the golden caterpillar stickpin that is proudly Worn by every member of aviation's club-lhat-neoer- meets . . , The Caterpillars. By HELEN WELSHIMER S ELLING thritts. That was Irene McFarland's job. She and her husband traveled merrily across the country, visiting flying fields and county fairs, taking turns making the spectators catch their breath as they jumped from an airplane that sailed high in the sky. Fay Gillis, on the other hand, with the same spirit of daring, didn't mind flying in an airplane that was upside-down any mote than in one that was rightside-up. Each of the two women received the supreme thrill of her aerial adventures, and also the accolade of the air, as a double surprise, for each was forced to jump and depend on a parachute to save her life. Thus, it happened that Mrs. McFarland and Miss Gillis are the only two women in the world who are members of the Caterpillar Club — that exclusive, mythical organization whose membership is composed of aviators who have had to jump to save their lives. . Other women have told of escapes from jungle beasts and sinking ships, but they are the only two who had to depend on high jumps to save them from death. Neither woman was piloting her plane at the time that the parachute jump which served as her initiation into the Caterpillar Club was made. In fact, Mrs. McFarland has never piloted a ship, although Miss Gillis is a licensed pilot. Of the 148 who have made emergency jumps, 138 have lived to tell the story. Some have made more than one jump. Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh is recognized as the supreme commander of this club-which-never-meets, for he has been dependent on a parachute four times to gave his life. Drowning people, rescued in time, frequently say that their memories are very clear when the waves start to roll over them, and the same thing is true of those who seek adventure in the clouds. Mrs. McFarland and Miss Gillis recall eveiy detail of their spectacular jumps. And the touch of the small gold caterpillar pins they wear brings the memories back. T HESE pins, which are really made in the form of men's stickpins, may have chosen a masculine design because no one thought that feminine adventurers would wear 'them. They are fashioned in the shape of the caterpillar, for which the club is named — the caterpillar, which lets itself down to earth on its silken shrouds, spinning as it comes. Mrs. McFarland, of Canton, Ohio, was the first woman to invade the club which has become part of the unwritten tradition of those who fly. Her spectacular parachute jump took place at an aerial performance at Grisard Field, now Watson Airport, Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 28, 1925. But there is an interesting story which led up to the jump. Way back in 1923 when aviation was very, very young, Mrs. McFarland and her husband were living at Anderson, Indiana. Some friends of hers had constructed an airplane and had employed a man to do parachute jumps for them. "I ivish I could jump for you," Mrs. McFarland told Miem with a wistful note in her voice. "If ever you need ihyone to do it, won't you let me try?" Her wish came true much sooner than she had expected. When the day arrived for the man to perform his exciting Hunt in the air, his courage failed. He looked into the sky, wondere J if the parachute would really open, and decided that there were easier and safer ways to earn a living. The people who were in charge of the plane sent word lo Mrs. McFarland. "I had never jumped before, but I was too excited to be scared," she explains. "I went out to the field, got into flying togs, and they strapped the parachute on me and told me how to pull the cord. 64fTlHE first thing I knew I was up in the sky and it was \_ time to jump. I obeyed instructions and found myself floating through the air. . I wasn't at all frightened. The sensation was glorious. I guess the first jump always is more thrilling than any of those that follow, I always minded jumping more after that first time because the thrill was gone and it was just a business stunt." Mrs. McFarland was so enthused over her jump that she persuaded her husband, Edgar McFarland, to try it, too, He caught the fever and they decided to beconse professional parachute jumpers, For three years they traveled over the country, taking turns at aerial acrobatics, while the crowds applauded. They might have gone on with the business of marketing thrills if the accident hadn't occurred which won Mrs. McFarland her membership in the Caterpillar club. The McFarlands had been performing at an air circus in Dayton, Ohio, and gone to Cincinnati, where they had a three-day contract. One day one of them would fly and the next the other. There was a wind blowing as Mrs. McFarland wailed tor her turn to perform. Three stunt flyers were shattering the crowd's nerves and she was to top the climax of skv adventure for them. Her husband had packed her "balloon" type of parachute and she had the utmost confidence in it. It weighed 40 pounds and was contained in a large canvas bag which .was fastened to the undercarriage of an airplane. The chute waa held in the bag by elastic at the bottom end. The parachute was designed to function when the jump•Vs weight broke the elastic and pulled the chute from the V jfi *£**/ V I First Lady Caterpillar Mrs. Irene McFarland . . . "/ obeyed instructions and found myself float? ing through the air. . . . The sensation was glorious, I wasn't at all frightened." cm- Second Lady Caterpillar Fay Cilia. . . . "/ just loosened the bell which strapped me in and sort of fell out of the plane . . . and into a tree." M AJOR HUGH WATSON and Major E. L. Hoffman, officials-of Grisard Field, examined Mrs. McFarland's equipment and weren't entirely satisfied with its manner of operation. "You had better carry an Irvin army parachute as a precaution," they told her. "I didn't want an extra parachute strapped around me," Mrs. McFarland says. "I thought the 35-pound pack would be too bundlesome, so I said I wouldn't go up if I had to wear it. They told me, then, that since this was a government field it was a rule that no one could fly without that particular type of parachute. Still I was determined I wouldn't wear it. After while, though, I yielded, let them fasten it around me, and I climbed into the plane which Major Watson was piloting." The ship which they used was a now obsolete Standard biplane, powered with a Curtiss OXX-6 motor. When they had reached an altitude of ' 3500 feet Watson circled his plane and signaled to Mrs. McFarland to jump. "I was riding in the cockpit," Mrs. McFarland says. "I jumped, but my leap ended with a sharp jerk." She hung suspended in the air, 10 feet below the surface of the plane. Her weight wasn't sufficient to break the elastic and release the parachute, although she weighed 130 pounds. The crowds below gasped at the sight of a plane scaling above iliem with a girl dangling from it. Edgar McFarland knew instinctively that something had happened to the parachute. And h,e had packed it so it would be safe! Major Watson, studied the situation. There was nothing but danger in any course of action. T HE girl maneuvered herself as much as possible, wriggling aiound in the sky, and jerked at the rope lending to the chute bag. It wouldn't open. "1 couldn't climb up the single strand of rope to ihc plane's undercarriage. Major Watson knew it meant clcaih for me if he landed the plane while J dangled underneath. I'll admit I was scared. I didn't know what was going to happen." But iX/alFon knew there was one chance left. That was 1 ' ' ^cFarland to open the Irvin chute. The (Copyright, 11*30. liy Kvery Wot k Caterpillar McFarland ... as she appeared with the balloon type parachute in a bag just before the thrilling air ride that ended with her leap from death way bad; in 1923. chute might soar upward and entangle with the plane, fouling the controls and causing a crash. He knew 'it, and so did Mrs. McFarland. But he took the chance. She reached for the ring to release the chute. It opened and bulged upward toward the plane. Quick as a flash Watson sent the nose of his ship down and the tail up. The chute passed clear of the tail. Then the added pressure broke the elastic on her other device. "But I didn't know^vhat was going to happen," the youthful stunt flyer remembers now when she tells the story—w h i c h is almost never. S 1 HE doesn't like to think about it. Neither does her husband, nor her parents. Mr. and Mrs. J. D. McFarland, of Canton, who didn't know—until the whole story was over— that their daughter had ever done anything more exciting than climb a tree. "The wind started lo blow stronger and I started to wonder just where I would land—and how," the bl u e-eyed, wavy- haired paiachule jumper continues. "1 couldn't tell." She started in the direction of the hangar, but a fortunate gust of wind blew her away just in time. It didn't help matters much, though, for it carried her directly towards the high tension wires that stretched above a railroad. Suddenly the course changed and she swayed above an apple orchard and then floated down. "I've never jumped since, and probably I never shall," she says now. "That ended it. Some day I would like to pilot a plane. But I don't know whether or not I'll be able to do it." Mrs. McFarland was the 44th member of the lamous club. She is slender and fair, graceful and feminine, but admits that she was a youthful tomboy. Now her only interest in rpyrts center); in aviation. She is employed as a bookkeeper in a business (irm at Canton, Ohio, but admits that once in awhile the rows and rows of numbers develop wings. And when she looks from the window she sees a slendet figure ,-waying high in the aii while thousands of people walcl) |j( low. .l.iH.v/.int—Printed in U. S. A.) A Caterpillar thai /H7s Ifept her wings Licensed Pilot Fay Cillis. . . . Thirty minutes after her brush with death she was bacl( in the air, piloting her own plane. lOuvtiss Flying Service phoio) The Ceometridae caterpillar . . . /e(s itself down to earth on a self- spun thread of sill(. • • • Thus it it the symbolic emblem of those who have saved their lives by means of silken parachutes, Y work is interesting," she adds, speaking of the prosaic task which is hers • now- t> "And anyway, that's the way it goes I" Fay Gillis's career didn't end when she jumped to save her life. Rather, it was-merely beginning, and it's been going forward merrily ever since. When she became a member of the sales organization of the Curtiss Flying Service recently she had the distinction of being the first airplane saleswoman to be employed by a national firm. Miss Gillis is extremely matter-of-fact on the subject of her descent from an airplane on September 1, 1929. while flying with Lieutenant John L. H, Trunk oVer Curtiss Field. L. I. She and the test pilot had taken up an experimental plane .which "flew to pieces" while they were in it. "My sensations as I was coming down? You see I really didn't have time to go having sensations," Miss Gillis admits. "I knew what was happening to me and I knew there was nothing to worry about. We had been flying upside 5jdown and when our plane went into a nose dive, I knew something was wrong. I just loosened the belt which strapped me in and sort of fell out of the plane. "The next thing I knew I was pulling on a rip cord, and before I had time to analyze my feelings I had landed between the tops of two trees that were very close together. I swung myself over to one of them. And ..." She paused and shrugged her shoulders at that part of the story. "Well, there I was, much to my embarrassment, with one foot caught in some twigs and what looked like a couple of thousand people milling about under the tree below me. "After a bit an old man climbed up and released my shoe, and then somebody found a stepladder arid I climbed down. A policeman just sort of cleared the way and we made a grand dash for the car." A ND that is all there is to it, the second feminine, blue- eyed member of the Caterpillar Club insists, except that she was back in a plane a half hour later acting as her own pilot. The next day she was on the field at her regular class, for she was a student at the Curtiss Flying Service School located on the field. Miss Gillis received her ground and flying training in the Curtiss Schools at New York University and at Valley Stream, L. I. She went into aviation because her father, John H. Gillis, a consulting and designing engineer, insisted that she decide between going back to school and learning to fly. She had been a student at Michigan State College last year, but left because'she found college dull. Her father's proposition sounded good, for she didn't want to be a co-ed and she did want to be an aviatrix! Miss Gillis started flying on August 6, and received her license two months and three days after she started instruction. She was born in Minneapolis but has lived in a number of states. New York City has been her home tor the last six years. "Flying has always held a strong appeal and it will forever more," she insists. "I like swimming, tennis, basketball and track, too ... anything but golf I And I'm interested in art. I've kept house too long to be violently interested in domestic art, though." Miss Gillis keeps house for her father, sister and brother. She rides gaily through the clouds by day and then goes home to bake a cherry pie and wash the cups, and saucers. Life is loads of fun no matter what she is doing! J UST now Miss Gillis is tremendously interested in marketing her salesmanship. "I see no reason why a woman, particularly a woman who is herself a pilot, should not be a good aid to other women in choosing a plane," she says. Miss Gillis is going to assist in putting the feminine touch in aircraft. She has discovered that women are especially interested in interiors and color schemes of planes, lust as they arc in automobiles. And some day, maybe not so far away, when they fly to tea parties and luncheon engagements as easily as to business, and the adventure element will be lessened when airplanes seek the clouds, women will want crimson or blue or orchid ships. And if they want them they should have them, according to those who are pioneering in aircraft salesmanship. They are convinced that the commercial side of aviation is growing steadily. And if a woman wants to sell a combination of speed and comfort and—maybe thrills, aeronautic salescraft will answer her purpose. D l k UR!NG the four years that have elapsed between Mrs. McFarland's sensational parachute jump and the leap to safety which Miss Gillis made, aviation has taken a serious turn, away from the spectacular, as is demonstrated by the experiences ol the two women members of the Caterpillar Club themselves. One had gone into the clouds in the gay, buccaneering days of old when aerial acrobatics were at theii height, 1 he other is entering il on a purely business basis—'although I he liirills do help, of course—and her predecessor in the Caterpillar Club admits (hat she, too, would like to enter the sky as a pilot the next time. Aviatipii has grown up, Fay Gillis is going right along with il and Irene Mcf'ar- land would like to do so, loo. They stand in a class alone, the only two women who have jumped with parachutes lo save their lives . . . very slim and straight and fearless and . . . feminine I "One (' • 'i'l have to be masculine to enter aviation," they •m *• 532 ••=3

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