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Pilot helps children to fly back to study life of aviation pioneer

by: Baker Maultsby

Spartanburg Herald Journal

Harriet Quimby flew across the English Channel in a plane weighing just more than 700 pounds. Connie Tobias flies a jumbo jet that weighs nearly half a million pounds over the Atlantic Ocean. Tobias is a pilot with US Airways, making regular trips to London. It is the sort of career in aviation she says Quimby predicted in articles she wrote for Leslie’s Illustrated after becoming America’s first licensed female pilot. “In 2001, I’m doing what she envisioned in 1911,” Tobias said.

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Tuesday, Tobias, who lives outside Charlotte, NC, helped a group of Spartanburg area children envision the life and accomplishments of Quimby. Dressed in a replica she had made of the hooded purple flying outfit that Quimby wore, Tobias played the part of the aviation pioneer in a mock interview by Ed Hall, a Spartanburg resident and author of Harriet Quimby-America’s First Lady of the Air. Hall asked about the historic flight across the English Channel. Tobias, as Quimby, described weather conditions and meticulous preparations for the day’s flight.

The students from Jesse Boyd and Wellford elementary schools, the Spartanburg Day School, and the District Horizon program asked questions about the airplane Quimby flew an open-cockpit Blertiot, and how she felt in the air. Hall noted that Quimby’s historic flight was completed at the same time the Titanic was sinking. A flight in the air that would have be in front-page news in major papers worldwide was relegated to the back pages because of the tragedy, at sea.

Hall was happy with the students’ interest in a woman he said “missed out on the notoriety she deserved.”

Quimby died in 1912 when her passenger she took on a test fell and caused her plane to lose control. At that time, Amelia Earhart was 9 years old, and Charles Lindbergh was years away from making his first-ever international flight. As Hall put it, “The world of aviation was robbed of a bright star when Quimby perished.”

But he and Tobias, who wanted to fly planes since she was a youngster, believe Quimby’s life offers plenty of inspiration to children. “We want to convey that it takes desire, determination and discipline to do anything worthwhile,” Tobias said. “And I want to help give Harriet Quimby the place in history she deserves.”