Towns in Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas pay tribute to pioneering women who proved their aeronautical skill and their courage when aviation was new, navigation was more challenging, and aircraft were not nearly as capable. Tributes take the form of museums and other locations where you can experience the communities that produced these accomplished aviators.
There have been other women to blaze a trail in the world of aviation, though Amelia Earhart’s record-setting flights (she set seven women’s speed and distance records from 1930 to 1935 and achieved three important solo flight milestones for all aviators) and her mysterious and well-chronicled disappearance at age 39 while on a circumnavigation attempt in 1937 have made her among the most widely recognized female pilots in history.
Because of that notoriety, you can find her included in displays in many aviation museums around the world. For a full study of Earhart, her family, and her career head to Atchison, Kansas, on the state line just north of Kansas City.
She was born there in 1897, in her maternal grandparents’ house that is now the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum. The blufftop home overlooking the Missouri River and a bridge named in her honor are now owned and operated by The Ninety-Nines, the international organization of women pilots for which Earhart served as the first president in 1931. There are exhibits featuring family memorabilia and others detailing her career. You’ll come away with many facts about Earhart that will surprise you.
Find more displays on her time in Atchison at the Atchison County Historical Society Museum. You’ll also want to make arrangements to see Muriel when you arrive or before departing the Amelia Earhart Airport.
Muriel is identical to the airplane flown by Earhart when she disappeared over the South Pacific and is the last known surviving 1935 Lockheed Electra L–10E airplane among the 14 that were produced. It is housed in a newly constructed art deco-style hangar that eventually will be the Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum.
The museum section is still under construction; check in advance about the possibility of viewing the aircraft (with a donation to the foundation) by calling 913-372-0021.
Explore more about a visit to Atchison in this previously published AOPA article.
The legacy of Louise M. Thaden is being kept alive in her hometown of Bentonville in northwest Arkansas. Born in 1905, Louise would set speed and endurance records as a pilot and in 1936 she became the first woman, along with her co-pilot Blanche Noyes, to win the Bendix Transcontinental Air Race.
While not technically a museum, the LOUISE Café offers a lesson in aviation history and a great meal. The modern diner is inside the Fieldhouse at Bentonville Municipal Airport/Louise M. Thaden Field, home to a buzzworthy aviation scene chronicled in this AOPA article.
Displays throughout the namesake eatery detail Thaden’s National Aviation Hall of Fame career, from a copy of her pilot certificate to the entry form and entry fee check for the Bendix.
Fort Worth, Texas
Among the more than 25 aircraft on display in a World War II B–29 hangar at the Vintage Flying Museum at Fort Worth Meacham International Airport is a Beech 18 previously owned by a famous female pilot.
The aircraft’s identity wasn’t known until a few years ago after it was donated to Tarrant County College to be used as a training aid in the college’s aviation maintenance courses. Instructors researched its ownership and discovered it was the last aircraft owned and flown by National Aviation Hall of Fame inductee Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran.
Cochran finished her career with more speed, distance, and altitude records than any other pilot, male or female, including being the first woman to break the sound barrier (1953) and setting the standing women’s world speed record of 1,429 miles per hour (1964).
The Twin Beech is on display while undergoing restoration. Displays surrounding the airplane highlight Cochran’s flying career and a timeline of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Cochran is credited with spurring the creation of and then heading the program for training civilian women to be noncombat military pilots during World War II.
The Vintage Flying Museum also is home to the Rosie the Riveter Memorial Rose Garden, opened in 2021 to honor and recognize the women who served our country as Rosie the Riveters. Learn more about flying into and exploring Fort Worth in this previously published AOPA article.
If you’re interested in learning more about the WASP, the Woman’s Collection at Texas Woman’s University in nearby Denton is the official archive of the WASP, Women Military Aviators, Whirly-Girls International, the International Society of Women Airline Pilots, the Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance, and the Air Race Classic. You can visit in person and also view scans of original documents, military records, images, and artifacts in the collection’s online archives.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
The headquarters for The Ninety-Nines moved to Oklahoma City in 1955 from New York City. The organization opened a museum in 1999 at its location at Will Rogers World Airport.
The Ninety-Nines Museum of Women Pilots is home to special collections, including the Jacqueline Cochran Collection, and has exhibitions covering a range of topics: Amelia Earhart’s historic flights; the first all-female air race in 1929; women aviators of World War II; space exploration including the women of Mercury 13; and Marion P. Jayne, best known for racing her airplane twice around the world (1992 and 1994).
The Ninety-Nines recently announced plans to expand the museum by 5,000 square feet; visitors can continue to explore the original upstairs display area during building renovation.
Read more about visiting Oklahoma City in this previously published AOPA article.