By: Mary Ickes
Shooting Star: The First Attempt By A Woman
To Reach Hawaii By Air by Richard DuRose
Loathe to abandon flying’s daring excitement after World War I (1918), pilots purchased surplus military airplanes to seek paying passengers or to to perform daring stunts in an air circus. Four days after Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight from New York to Paris (1927), Pineapple King James Dole announced the Dole Transpacific Air Race. The first pilot to reach Hawaii from the West Coast would receive $25,000, the second $10,000. His posters omitted that women need not apply because what woman would dare invade male turf? Mildred Dolan, a school teacher from Flint, Michigan!
Ms. Doran (age 19) hesitantly consented to her first ride, but landed convinced . . . that she wanted to be a flier. When not studying for her teaching degree, she learned to fly and navigate at Flint’s Lincoln Airfield, owned by Doran family friend, employer, and benefactor William Malloska. Even before he announced that he was entering a plane in the race, she asked to go along. An astute businessman, Mr. Malloska realized the benefit of his company name on a plane crossing the country, especially one carrying a female passenger. He also knew that Mildred never took no for an answer in aviation matters. When questioned by the media about permitting a woman to participate, he replied, “I have all the confidence in the world in Miss Doran. . . . She will go through this flight just as she has gone through other hardships.”
A Gallery of Pictures shows why Ms. Doran was a media star long before the term was coined. Whether standing by the Miss Doran, answering media questions, or talking to adoring fans, she exudes intelligence, confidence, and daring. After the plane was christened the Miss Doran she said, “ . . . I have driven a plane considerably and am confident I could pass the examination. I won’t handle the plane unless an emergency occurs, and I am confident that I could handle it then all right.” Ms. Doran never missed an opportunity to stress that women were as capable as men.
The Detroit Times: “. . . Is there any reason why a woman can’t do anything a man can do in aviation? Women certainly have the courage and tenacity required for long flights.” Fort Worth, Texas: “. . . What I am attempting to do will be nothing out of the ordinary in a few years. Flying an airplane . . . will be just as common as driving an automobile.” Long Beach: “. . . I haven’t the slightest misgiving about the coming jaunt to Hawaii. I’ve always wanted to do something different and to be the first woman to do it.” In San Diego, she was honored at a dinner as the flying schoolmarm because her hosts believed that she deserved the same tributes as the male pilots and navigators. Eighty miles short of Oakland, the Miss Doran, due to engine trouble, landed in a field, breaking off a wheel. Lest they be scooped, the Oakland Tribune sent a car of reporters to drive her to Oakland. She told them, “I am so excited and thrilled and happy. I don’t have words to express my feelings, and I’m looking forward so much to our arrival in Honolulu.”
On August 16, 1927, eight of the eighteen applicants lined up on the Oakland Airfield. Ms. Doran, surrounded by the media and fans, eagerly boarded the Miss Doran. Three planes were grounded by mechanical problems or crashed after take off; another returned for repairs and took off again 3 days later; two reached Hawaii about 27 hours after takeoff. The other two planes, including the Miss Doran, disappeared into the ocean. It was the most extensive Pacific search and rescue operation in history. It continued day and night for over a week. The search yielded no trace of the planes or people. Mr. DuRose writes that . . . like a shooting star, she abruptly disappeared from view forever.
Mildred Doran’s role as a passenger now seems inconsequential, but her bravery and outspokenness connected women with flying, in any capacity, in the public’s mind. She paved the way for The Ninety Nines, Inc., the first association of female pilots, including Amelia Earhart, and their derby from Santa Monica, California, to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1929.
This is not a maudlin, sentimental tribute, Reading Friends, but one that marches along with the spirit and spunk that Ms. Doran displayed every time she headed for a plane. Her story, told in parallel with aviation’s rise in the United States, provides ample proof that Mildred Doran and the Miss Doran earned a prominent place on the shelves of aviation history.
Mr. DuRose’s mother, Helen, was Mildred Doran’s younger sister, aged 12 in 1927. His mother, if she mentioned Mildred at all, she said only that she died in an airplane race. He has been researching the story of the Dole Race and his Aunt Mildred for over three years and continues to be interested in learning the stories of participants of that race. Mr. DuRose’s e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org