Grace Huntington and her Taylorcraft altitude record flight in 1940, by Berkeley Brandt.

I am the son of Berkeley Brandt Jr. and Grace Huntington. Both my parents were pilots and both learned to fly in southern California. My father started as a pilot with United Airlines and then moved to American Export which became American Overseas Airlines. AOA was bought out by Pan American. I began flying in 1962 and earned my private license, but stopped flying in 1969 when medical school interfered. I spent my professional life back east but have now semi-retired and returned to my family roots. With more time to commit to things other than work, I have rediscovered my love of flying. I obtained my instrument rating in Sept and am currently taking the EMT course at CP aviation. I have also committed to telling my mother's story. She learned to fly in the 1930's and became interested in high altitude flights and subsequently set two records for small planes. She died when I was 6 and my father never spoke about her. She did write a book, which is still unpublished, about her experiences at that time. She also maintained a scrapbook which contained a number of artifacts pertaining to this time in her life. The original scrapbook and the awards certificates from her altitude records were donate to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. I hope to supplement the book with these pictures and have it published.

This paper is a summary of my talk to the Ventura County 99’s about my mother, Grace Huntington. I will restrict this discussion to her altitude records and particularly the one set in the Taylorcraft in 1940. The material presented is from an unpublished book written by my mother entitled Please, Let Me Fly. I also used material from her scrapbook which I donated to the National Air and Space Museum. The pictures and documents are used with the permission of the National Air and Space Museum and are from the Grace Huntington Collection.

Both my mother and my uncle Charles Huntington learned to fly at Joe Plosser’s flight school at Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale. They shared their love of flying and my uncle was very supportive of my mother. It was not easy for woman in aviation at that time. My uncle bought a Fairchild 24 and my mother logged a great deal of time in that plane. Shown below is the plane and my mother and Uncle Charles.

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I believe she obtained her private license in 1937, but I have had trouble dating some of the things in her book. Below is a copy of letter from the CAA. It is dated 1927, but she was only 14 years old in 1927. You can also note that the latest revision of the form shown in the upper left corner is 1934. As a new instrument pilot, I was taught: 'always check to be sure you have the latest up to date charts.'

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Sometime after getting her license she worked for Joe Plosser and he introduced her to altitude flying. She was looking for an area within aviation to which she could contribute something and this seemed to be a possibility. I believe that the social norm at the time was that women didn’t have the physical strength to compete with men. Women had to prove themselves. This is reflected in this quote from her book when she was deciding to pursue high altitude flying.

"I had heard that altitude affected people’s hearts; that it made some faint and others nauseated, etc., so, just in case I did collapse, I asked Jo Plosser to go with me in one of his ships. We didn’t plan to go very high because we thought that 12,000 or 13,000 feet without oxygen would test whether or not I could "take" the rarefied air."

At Joe’s suggestion, she set out to learn as much as possible about altitude flying. Some of the things she investigated were:

She also learned about publicity and how it could help her in funding her flying. Another quote from the book:

"Then one day I saw an article in the paper that Jacqueline Cochran had made an altitude record of 33,000 feet. The paper called the record a "World’s Record." That didn’t make sense, especially as I knew that the world’s record was 48,000 feet. Further investigation proved, however, that the newspapers were mistaken. It was an American record, not a world’s record, and the official barograph showed it to be a little better than 30,000 instead of 33,000 feet as reported. But it still caused a news story and gave Jackie more publicity."

She also investigated the status of current flying records. Jo referred her to Larry Therkelsen, the official representative of the N.A.A.

She learned that a new classification of records had been set up which cancelled all previous ones. This meant that national light-plane records were wide open. Light planes were now divided into four classes according to their engine cylinder displacements, the smallest competing for records both national and international only in their own class. She also learned that there was not a separate category for women. Below is a copy of that letter.

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I wrote to the NAA via E mail recently and obtained the following information:


In addition to helping with a job and encouragement, Jo Plosser also tried to help with publicity. He suggested that my mother and another woman pilot named Evelyn Hudson have a ‘friendly competition’ and he would arrange to have it covered in the newspapers.

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Of course, Joe used it for his own publicity as well:

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Her first altitude record was set in a Fairchild 24 on May 31, 1939. The official altitude was 18,679. Thanks to the publicity she achieved at Plosser’s flight school, Norm Larson, the dealer for Fairchild airplanes agreed to lend her the newest model.

Some things she had to learn about were the equipment that she would need for the flight. These included warm clothing and Jo lent her his woolly flight suit and flying boots. However, the plane had much better cabin heat and was so much better enclosed that she didn’t need as much warm clothing. She also wrote to the Mayo Clinic to obtain information on the use of oxygen. She communicated with William Randolph Lovelace II, who ultimately help set the medical criteria for the astronauts. One of the letters is shown here:

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Also shown below is a biographical summary of William Randolph Lovelace II and the award named for him:

William Randolph Lovelace II Award

The Award recognizes outstanding contributions to space science and technology

As a young flight surgeon, Lovelace performed high altitude parachute experiments and received the Distinguished Flying Cross for an experimental parachute decent from over 40,000 feet in 1943. He was later first assistant to Charles Mayo of the Mayo Clinic and later Chief of the Aero-Medical Laboratory at Wright Field. He was chairman of the Board of Governors of the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and promoted the development of aerospace medical technology through that clinic. He was Director of Space Medicine for NASA and was instrumental in establishing criteria for the selection of astronauts. His untimely death, at the age of 58, came in 1965 in the crash of a private plane

Since weight was not part of the criteria in determining airplane class, she removed as much weight as possible. Some things that were removed included:

Some of the things that were added to the 'Stock' Model Fairchild were:

Her reasons for the writing board were clearly stated in her book:

"I carried in my lap a large writing board with pencil and a chart which I had typed out to fill in with certain information which both Norm and I were interested in. It included a record of the oil temperature, oil pressure, outside temperature, and manifold pressure, which I entered at each thousand feet of ascent. I also marked the exact time I reached each thousand feet using my brother’s stop watch. This information was worth nothing to anyone but us. Again I wished I could bring down information that would be interesting to the aviation world, but for the time being I should be satisfied to do a good job of making this record."

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Shown below is a copy of her record keeping:

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The flight got her more publicity. It also taught her about dealing with the press. You will note that the newspaper reported her altitude as more than 20,000 feet. The only reliable measure of altitude was the barograph certified by the NAA and that had to be sent back to Washington before it was official. The news media couldn’t wait.

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This is a copy of the official record:

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Her second altitude record was set in the Taylorcraft in September 1940. She initially thought that a Cessna would beat the Fairchild’s record. Bill Pike was the dealer for Cessna in Southern California at that time. He suggested that she try a Taylorcraft as he also had that dealership with Russell Ross. They both insisted that their little airplane would do better than 20,000 feet.

They offered to let her have a plane for a "test" hop and see what it would do. She tried the ship with the same oxygen equipment as the Fairchild which people thought was silly in such a small plane, but to her surprise she did use it. The ship climbed over 20,000 feet.

Apparently, there was competition in the area of altitude records. My mother read a newspaper article reporting that Betsy Ross of Pennsylvania reportedly flew a Taylorcraft and reached a height of 18,000 feet. She and her new team thought they could do better so they continued the preparations.

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She flew several different planes to find the best one to use for the record. She used different combinations of planes and propellers to get the best performance that she could. The changes in the plane in terms of things removed and added were much the same as those that had been made on the Fairchild. She did add a rate of climb to the instruments and it helped her do a better job of determining the right angle of climb.

She took more gas on the practice flights than she needed for the trip on the real flight, and stayed aloft until she had burned almost all of it. She spent only enough time to learn which ship was going to perform the best.

She learned also, that the time day made an enormous difference and that the conditions over the mountains behind Burbank were better than those over the ocean.

She had learned from the first record flight that she had to wait for the best weather conditions and not be forced to abide by the owner’s or news media’s schedule. She delayed the flight on the first attempt because of weather. On the day of the record

The weather was perfect with a wind of 20 m.p.h. at 15,000 feet.

She began breathing pure oxygen forty-five minutes before she intended to take off. She had learned about this from the Mayo Clinic. It is a technique used to purge the nitrogen from the blood to prevent the ‘bends’. She then had to avoid the press, as talking would defeat the benefits gained by breathing the oxygen. So, she took off as soon as possible.

She described the flight as follows:

"Usually I make conservative take-offs, being sure not to climb a plane too steeply but that afternoon the plane was going up like an elevator. Before I was past the tower my altimeter read 1000 feet. I took down the readings of the instruments at each thousand feet as I had done before.

I was at nineteen thousand feet before I knew it. I looked for possible up-drafts but there didn’t seem to be any. My sensitive altimeter read 22,750 feet. The regular altimeter stuck at 21,000 feet. Every once in a while the rate of climb would register a small ascent, so I kept on working.

I found a good spot over the mountains where there was a small up-draft. I decided to stay in it as much as possible and kept circling to the left. I was almost dozing, not from lack of oxygen but from boredom, when there was a sudden ‘Boom!’

I woke up in a hurry. I didn’t know what had happened. The windshield had cracked from top to bottom, but fortunately it had not caved in. The windshield broke because the sudden changes in temperature due to first flying into the sun and then directly away from it, where at that height the temperature was below zero.

The rate of climb stopped registering. The altimeter was still at 22,750 feet. Then I noticed a change in the outside air temperature. This meant I had been going up. I kept on circling over the mountains and hoped. The altimeter had reached its ceiling. The rate of climb was frozen. I had not been aware of how cold I was until the altimeter began to show descent. Then I was shaking with the cold. It was 12 degrees below zero outside and the wind had been blowing in through the cracked windshield.

When she landed, the press wanted to know, "How high did you go?" 'The altimeter registered 22,750 feet', was all I dared say." She had a sneaking suspicion that she had gone higher but it was only a suspicion .

When the barograph was calibrated in Washington it showed 24,310.975 feet.

Below is another page from her in flight recordings. Note the change in penmanship as altitude increases. I don’t know if this is a result of cold or hypoxia.

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These are pages from the barograph report:

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Two more pictures and the plaque from NAA

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Unfortunately, this was water stained. I am hopeful that the National Air and Space Museum can restore it.

My mother died in 1948.

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