This month’s blog takes us back to the 20-year period between the two World Wars, known as the ‘Golden Age of Aviation’. The Golden Age was an exhilarating era, when manned flight ‘came of age’ as airplanes progressed from slow, wood-framed, and fabric covered biplanes to more efficient, fast, and powerful metal monoplanes. While the term ‘manned’ is used as a general term of this progression, history tells us that ‘womaned’ flight not only played an equally impressive role in its advance, but that many future women pilots came of age during this progression. Janet Lee Hutchinson (WASP 44-W-6) was one of them.
After World War One, as the technology of aviation evolved and pioneering aviators competed for speed, endurance, distance, and altitude records during the 1920s, one of the greatest challenges was not only to demonstrate the capability of the airplane but to promote aviation to the public and have them embrace it as a safe, viable means of transportation.
With the approach of the 1930s, epic flight attempts across the Atlantic, Pacific, and the continents followed, and the men and women who undertook and accomplished these feats often rose to celebrity status.
Of the many who gained celebrity, was the flying family famously known as ‘The Flying Hutchinsons’. In 1931, pilot Col. George Hutchinson, with his wife Blanche, their two young daughters Kathryn and Janet Lee, and their pet lion cub, Governor, made headlines when they flew a Stinson to every one of the 48 state capitals in the United States. The family worked together on flights as a cohesive unit, assisting with navigation, radio, and weather reports while promoting aviation and proving that flying was safe and reliable transportation. When the news media commented on the dangers of flying with their children, George and Blanche’s response was that their daughters were safer in the air than on city streets.
In 1932, the Hutchinsons attempted to become the first family to fly across the Atlantic in a Sikorsky S-38 amphibian, but they were forced to make an emergency landing off the coast of Greenland due to rough weather and were washed ashore. They spent several days there awaiting rescue by a passing trawler. Later, their adventures were documented in two books, ‘Flying the States’ and ‘The Flying Family in Greenland.’ As their popularity grew, it earned them an appearance on a cereal box, a jigsaw puzzle, and engagements on NBC and CBS Radio programs where the family’s air travels were dramatized. Received by Presidents Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, the Hutchinsons knew aviation luminaries Charles Lindbergh, Eddie Rickenbacker, and Amelia Earhart.
In 1939, on the eve of World War II, George and Blanche Hutchinson, 16-year-old Kathryn, and now 13-year-old Janet Lee, departed Roosevelt Field, Long Island for a publicized goodwill flight around the world in a Lockheed Electra, named ‘Amicitia’ (Friendship). The Amicitia carried a Scroll of All Nations, with a message of peace to the 68 nations of the world on the tour, which would bear the signatures of each nation’s leader. Inscribed on the scroll was, “We the leaders of the nations of the earth, whose portraits and signatures are here assembled for the first time, proclaim our greeting and good wishes to all people in the fervent hope, that this document may serve to strengthen world fellowship, for the greater glory and welfare of humankind. But as the storm clouds of war gathered in Europe, the goodwill flight was abandoned after completing several stops in North America, Central and South America.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the declaration of war with the United States, Janet Lee Hutchinson independently signed up for flight lessons as the war began to escalate. In January 1944, at the age of 18, she became one of the youngest members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots with Class 44-6, serving her country as a test, ferry, and training pilot, before the WASP were disbanded in December 1944.
After the war, Janet Lee flew for an independent agency of the U.S. government, flying businessmen all over the country to meetings. She later opened a nursery school which ran for 39 years and taught at a flying school. Later, Janet Lee trained racehorses and had a stable of 10 horses.
On March 10, 2010, Janet Lee (Hutchinson) Simpson, the youngest member of the ‘Flying Hutchinsons’, was among the nearly 200 WASP who were able to travel to Washington D.C. to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. A month later, in an interview with The Ponte Vedra Recorder, Janet Lee said of the honor, “It was one of the happiest days of my life.”[i]
[i] Jones, Jesse S. “Janet Simpson.” Ponte Verde Recorder, 4 April 2010 www.wwii-women-pilots.org/uploads/4/4/5/2/44527045/jhsimpson44.6.pdf.
Written by: Julia Lauria-Blum
Photos courtesy of: Cradle of Aviation Museum | New York Heritage (nyheritage.org)
About Julia Lauria-Blum:
Julia Lauria-Blum earned a degree in the Visual Arts at SUNY New Paltz. An early interest in women aviation pioneers led her to research the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII. In 2001 she curated the permanent WASP exhibit at the American Airpower Museum (AAM) in Farmingdale, NY, and later curated ‘Women Who Brought the War Home, Women War Correspondents, WWII’ at the AAM. She is the former curatorial assistant & collections registrar at the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island and is currently editor-in-chief for Metropolitan Airport News.
Julia is the proud mother of two daughters and a rescued Boxer. Her many interests include swimming, painting, traveling, aviation history, cooking, and storytelling.