• Published
  • By Peggy Hodge
  • SMC PA
To kick off Women's History Month, the Federal Women's Program Committee sponsored a luncheon in the Gordon Conference Center March 28. The guest speaker was Mrs. Iris Cummings Critchell, a very distinguished and honored aviator. She is a member of the National Association of Flight Instructors Hall of Fame and also honored by the FAA with the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, a member of the WASP (Women's Air Force Service Pilots) as well as an Olympian.

During her speech, "Women in Aviation History: Their Legacy and Our Challenge for the Future," Mrs. Critchell highlighted her venerable career from the very beginning in aeronautics and flight (1939-1941) to include her work in the Ferry Command Years (1942-1944), the All-Woman Transcontinental Air Race (1947-1977), and her experiences at both the University of Southern California and Harvey Mudd College.

"Those of us who came into the act of flying in 1939-1940 were very aware that we were standing on the shoulders of those pioneer rebel pilots of the last 60 years," said Mrs. Critchell as she described her thoughts and reflection of her career in flight.

"Their dedication and competency made it possible for us to gain experience quickly and move into the ranks of experienced pilots to adapt in order to serve in World War II, and my place to follow on with a career in aeronautics for the next 65 years in flight."

Her career in flight began in 1939 when she started her pilot training at Mines Field, now Los Angeles International Airport, as a Sophomore at USC in Piper J-2 Cub planes. She finished the Private Pilot and Advanced Acrobatic Courses in Waco bi-planes in 1939 and 1940 in the first Civil Pilot Training program at the University of Southern California.

In 1942, Mrs. Critchell reported to Houston, Texas, for Army Air Corps training and was then assigned to the WAFS (Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, which was later known as the WASPs).

She flew in the All-Woman Transcontinental Air Race (Powder Puff Derby) 15 times from 1950 where she placed 1st in two races and in the top ten places seven times.

Mrs. Critchell developed curriculum for the University of Southern California College of Aeronautics at Santa Maria. She established the training program for the Bates Foundation for Aeronautical Education. This college-age program began at Harvey Mudd College in 1962.

From 1962-1990, she served as Director of the Bates Foundation's Aeronautics Program, as Lecturer in Aeronautics on the Harvey Mudd College Faculty, and as Chief Flight Instructor for the Flight Training phase of the program. The College's alumni and graduates of this program now include many distinguished scientists, aero engineers, aerospace researchers and two astronauts.

To all of us in aviation today, Mrs. Critchell said our challenge "is to inspire youth to question and look with wonder at the physical world around them; help them be aware of flight, aeronautics and space; help them to welcome a broad physical and academic preparation for life; and offer the balance provided by our humble respect for those early pioneers of aviation on whose shoulders we all stand."