accounting for guts. Or desire. Not when three women with a
combined age of 202 fly around the world in a plane so small it
could fit into the first few rows of a 747. When Adele Fogle,
Daphne Schiff and Margaret Ringenberg took off from Montreal on May
1 in the 1994 Round the World Air Race, they pitted their knowledge,
experience and anti-gravity attitude against all the perils and
pratfalls high fliers are heir to: a radio that quit over the
Atlantic, a thunderstorm that threw them off course in the Middle
East, a typhoon that menaced their flight plan in the Far East.
Then there were the problems unique to their gender: air-traffic
controllers who couldn't or wouldn't understand them until they
lowered their chins and their voices, and the sudden concern for
veils when they were tracked by camouflage F-14 planes in Iran and
thought they might be forced to land.
Twenty-five days later, they landed in Montreal
via Morocco, Turkey, Dubai, India, Vietnam, Japan, Russia and the
United States. It was a feat few would try , even fewer would
accomplish. Dames extraordinaire!
Adele Fogle is the glamourous 60-year-old owner
of Aviation International in Guelph, Ont. ("They said I could only
bring 14 pounds of luggage - that's my makeup!"), Daphne Schiff, 70,
is a professor of meteorology and aerodynamics at York University in
Toronto. Margaret Ringenberg, 72, is a Second World War pilot from
Indiana whose plane and need for co-captains allowed Fogle and
Schiff a last-minute entry in the race when their Canadian partner
Margo McCutcheon had to bail out just weeks before lift-off.
These rare birds revel in the sensations John
Gillespie Magee, Jr. expressed in his poem "High Flight." When they
have "slipped the surly bonds of earth," they take their "laughter
silvered wings" and play with clouds. And when they've done "a
hundred things you have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and
swung high in the sunlit silence - "they enjoy the beauty of the
earth as heavenly observers.
This time, they'll ply their craft, the Spirit of
'76, on the world stage and in the process take aviation, women
pilots and the art of having a helluva a good time to new heights.
The task at hand isn't an easy one. The Cessna 340
they're flying has three of its six seats removed to make room for a
40-gallon fuel tank. There's a porta-potty at the back and the
three remaining seats are in scramped quarters at the front where
the women spend as long as 8 to 12 hours at a time. It's cold in
the cabin but they dare not turn on the heater because of the dense
gasoline fumes wafting from the ferry tank. On landing, they must
refuel, often by hand, check the oil and the air in the tires, do a
visual inspection around the plane, file a flight plan for the next
leg (and find a washroom), all while the timekeeper's clock is
The scores in an international air race are
calculated according to a handicap given each entry, determined by
the optimum speed the operator's manual claims a particular craft
can achieve. If you get a tail wind and go faster or get a better
altitude and find more speed or a more direct route, you score plus
points. If not, you risk falling behind. Whoever has the higher
point count at the end of the race wins. There are a number of
places along the way where the clock stops, when the pilots refuel
and rest. For the 13 other teams, that meant 12 stops. For Fogle,
Schiff and Ringenberg, it meant 21 - nine additional landings to
refuel, refile flight plans and deal with often prickly air-traffic
An all's fair-in-love-and-air-racing philosophy
prevails. One pilot, for instance, had a second jet follow him with
backup equipment and pilots.
Montreal to Marrakech via St. John's Nfld:
Trouble with radio. Got up to 19,000 feet. Good tail winds. Made
some time. In third place at St. John's. Crossed ocean in 12 long
hours. Day - blue skies. Night - scary. Radio unservicable.
Having it all is not their goal (there's no money in
this pursuit!) Doing it all, following your star, being the best
you can be, is the modus operandi of these women. The rewards
are certificates, trophies, goofy mementoes. But mostly it's their
proud standing in the famed Ninety-Nines.
More than 6,000 women in 33 countries are members of
the Ninety-Nines, an association started in 1929 by Amelia Earhart.
When Earhart wanted to fly, women were refused lift-off. She
thought it was a foolish rule that required changing and put a
notice to that effect in a New Jersey newspaper. Her notice invited
like-minded women to join her at a meeting. Ninety-nine women
turned up and the rest is aviation history.
Besides advancing the role of women in aviation, the
Ninety-Nines' mandate includes educational, charitable and
scientific activities. Not surprisingly, Adele Fogle, Daphne Schiff
and Margo McCutcheon have played leading roles in the founding and
operating of the Canadian chapter. Their own entries into the
aviation business were as unusual and determined as Earhart herself.
Marrakech to Istanbul: Switching fuel tanks
in flight is an interesting experience. Which engine will fail
now? Had to land in Tunis to refuel. The fuel was in barrels with
a hand pump. Don't ask what it cost in time and money. Cleared for
landing in Istanbul at 3 a.m.. without airport in sight. Not bad
for three old ladies who don't like flying at night.
Adele Fogle learned as a young child that chasing
rainbows can cash out in spiritual gold. The youngest daughter of a
Russian mother and Polish father, she grew up in a tiny apartment in
Toronto with her parents, sister, aunt and grandmother. "My sister
and I slept in the dining room. My aunt paid half the rent so she
got the other bedroom. My mother saved every penny she could and
sent us to a summer camp. I saw what those kids had and I wanted it
too. The girls had cashmere sweathers, they drove cars and had
bedrooms of their own."
She grew up, married and had two children, but by
the time her kids were in high school she was looking for a new
direction. When a neighbour dropped by and said he was taking
flying lessons, I said I wished I could do something like that, and
he said, "Come along". I did.
After about 15 hours of flying time, Fogle was ready
to solo. And soon after that, she experienced her first crash
landing. "I was landing, come in too fast. I pulled back and the
plane stalled. I broke off the nose wheel and rammed the propeller
into the ground. I was 37 years old, sitting in a wrecked plane,
with all the young kids who hang out at the airports watching me. I
felt a little out of my element."
"I wasn't at all frightened. I just figured,
next time I'll do it better. I won't give up. I persevere and
persevere. It's like a flaw in my character."
When she got her instructor's licence, there were no
jobs so she bought an old Aztec plane and flew as a courier. "I'd
leave Toronto at midnight every night for Montreal to deliver the
mail. Then I'd wait until 4 a.m. to return with the newspapers."
Today she's the president and owner of Aviation
International, where she teaches flying, charters planes, does
aircraft maintenance, sells fuel and runs a restaurant. A
five-foot-four blond with cover-girl good looks, she says "I never
felt as much in control of my life as I do now."
Istanbul to Agra via Diyarbakir and Dubai:
The smog is two miles high. It's so hot the desert sand has been
sucked up to our flying altitude. One of the crews has had to pull
out. We're down to 13. We have to land at a military base for
fuel. Two American guys at the end of the runway tell us their
mission is to feed the kuds. We think all that radio equipment
they're using is to monitor the Iraqi no-fly zone. Indiana Jones
has a lonely life here."
Daphne Schiff has been flying in the face of the
status quo for most of her life. When she registered at the
University of Toronto in 1941 as a first-year student, the professor
asked her what she wanted to study and she replied "Chemistry,
physics and math." "Sorry", said the prof, "that's for boys"
Daphne took the courses anyway, and when she graduated in 1945, went
to work in Chalk River, Ontario, purifying plutonium. She married,
had two children, and when they were eight and nine years old, she
went to work as a science lecturer at York University.
Her attitude about teaching science is indicative of
the style she applies to everything she tackles. "At York, every
student must take at least one course in science. Let's face it,
you need a gimmick to teach science. If you talk equations, they
leave the room. The science of flight and weather - how you stay up
there - works wonders. It's all the same theory." Every year she
lands an aircraft on the campus as the ultimate demonstration for
Schiff's decision to fly in the first place was a
creative solution to a time-honored problem. "My husband has a
pilot's licence as well. When the kids were small and going to camp
in Quebec, I missed them and wated to see them. He said we could
fly but it wouldn't be safe unless we had two pilots. So I learned
When the fliers reviewed their gear in Montreal, the
five-foot-five Schiff tried on the survival suit, declared it too
big and heavy, said it would leak and promptly tossed it out of her
Agra to Ho Chi Minh City: Saudi Arabia
refused air clearance so we had to dodge over Iran. Iranian F-14
jets begin to track us. They want to know what women are doing
flying this plane. The view of the Guney mountains is spectacular.
Less so are the veils we equip ourselves with in case we are forced
down. A few touchy moments in a thunderstorm. Thank goodness for
radar! Reception for pilots in Ho Chi Minh City. Snake and other
interesting items for lunch.
A pair of Margs - Margaret Ringenberg from Fort
Wayne, Indiana, and Margo McCutcheon from Toronto - round out this
team. The former is one of the onboard pilots; the latter, like
spiritual radar, is "flying with them emotionally." During the
Second World War, Ringenberg had the extraordinarily dangerous
assignment of ferrying war-wounded heaps of aircraft from the bases
back to the manufacturers for repair. When the war ended and the
male pilots took cushy jobs in the airlines, Ringenberg and her
female colleagues were expected to go home and take care of the
kids. Ringenberg got her instructor's licence but discovered to her
chagrin that no one wanted to take lessons from a woman. She
rededicated herself to the Ninety-Nines.
Ho Chi Minh City to Sendai via Okinawa:
Typhoon Page is blowing around, coming towards us. We can't
watch for advancing clouds because it's nighttime. We decided we
have to get ahead of it. The next leg is worrisome. We'll need to
stop to refuel and at this point don't know where we can find a
landing strip with suitable gas for this plane.
Margo McCutcheon's story echoes the trials of most
women pilots. As a high school graduate in the '50s, she was
offered the usual trio of career choices: nursing, teaching,
secretarial work. She chose nursing because an R.N. was a ticket to
aviation. She was a mother of four when her brother took her for a
ride in a helicopter and she decided to make her adolescent dream
"I love flying for the feeling of freedom, escapism
from the real worl and the need to be completely focused on
something entirely different," she says. In 1985 she teamed up with
Fogle and Schiff to enter the New York to Paris Transatlantic Race.
They placed first in the women's division.
McCutcheon was also instrumental in turning the
Canadian Ninety-Nines into Spies in the Sky. In 1976, they began
flying pollution patrols for the Ontario Ministry of the
Environment. They sweep the lakes and forests to track the source
of fouled lake water and follow lonely forest roads to illegal dump
sites. The low-level aerial photography they produce as evidence
makes a significant contribution in the war against pollution.
Today the program operates under the jurisdiction of the ministry's
investigations and Enforcement branch. It's called Operation
Sendai to Petropavlovsk: We have
terrible head winds. The area below is very isolated. No place to
land. It's very cold. There's ice on the wings. We have to climb
higher. We land in Petropavlovsk and the customs agent wants to
know if we have any guns, drugs or copies of Playboy or Penthouse
During the 24 days when they circumnavigate the
world, the women also reflected on the global village below. "We
saw crumbling humanity and countries taken over by cockroaches,"
says Fogle. "In most of the places w visited, the people live a
hard, sad life."
"Flying gives you a chance to look at the world from
God's point of view," says Schiff. "Even if it's a desert, it's
shining and glowing. God did a pretty good job when She created the
world. But when we land it's obvious that people aren't doing a
very good job with the world God gave them. Despite that, I am
always impressed by the great spirit people have."
Petropavlovsk to Anchorage: This is the most
difficult leg of the journey. We realize that without a tail wind
we cannot make it, so we decide where our point of no return is when
we file the flight plan. Taking off from Petropavlovsk is tricky.
There are volcanos at one end of the runway and a submarine base
that is off-limits at the other. We need elevation fast to avoid
the mountains. The perils of all three force a circling takeoff. A
very stressful experience. But then, as we fly over Nome, one of
the magical gifts only pilots know is presented to us. The sun is
behind us. There's a deck of clouds below us. A circular rainbow
forms. There's a shadow in the centre of the circle. The shadow is
our aircraft. It's a wondrous sight.
The finish line is starting to look attainable. The
race heats up. For the frontrunners, every second counts. Secret
weather reports, even a hoarded pencil becomes an unfair advantage
to the most competitive crews. The unofficial congeniality award is
also being decided. Atul Dev, the media director who flew in the
chase plane, toasts the trio and says, "In my opinion, Adele,
Daphne and Margaret are the real winners in this race. They have
had a disadvantage from the beginning having to refuel so often.
They've been left behind overnight, refused fuel and tracked by
potentially hostile military planes. But they never game up. They
were always in good cheer."
Anchorage to Calgary: It's a relief to be over
land. We've flown this route before and find our way through the
pass in the mountains without any problem. We play with fluffy
clouds along the way that lift the plane upward and make us feel
like we're riding a horse. Even with a stop for refueling in
Whitehorse, we make our handicap on this leg.
At a stopover in Calgary, the pilots are feted at a
ranch in the mountains. During a barbecue of steak and beans, they
kibitz about the obstacles they've faced and the finish line just 24
hours away. The strain of the voyage is showing. Their flight
jackets and oil-stained. They're all talking about the trip home
and the celebration dinner in Montreal, Adele and Daphne slip away
from the crowd. They have plans: to ditch the life raft - 85 pounds
of baggage they don't need - and find a way to get to Montreal in
time to leave their mark on this race.
Calgary to Montreal: Although it won't alter our
last-place finish on the scoreboard, we want to be the first women
to land in Montreal, the first Canadians and the first small plane.
They're only one way to do that. Leave before everyone else. At 6
a.m., we're airborne.
Just before 4 p.m. on May 24, a little white Cessna
340 is spotted in the skies over St. Hubert Airfield in Montreal. A
roar goes up from the landing strip. The pilots from crews of the
faster planes are cheering on the Spirit of '76. An even more
boisterous welcome is being waved from a row of women standing
behind them. Margo McCutcheon has flown her on Baron from Toronto
for the occasion. Her passenger list? A crew of ecstatic
Ninety-Nines. They're here to welcome their heroes home!
Ninety-Nine Anna Pangrazzi welcomes her high-flying friends home.
Want to learn about Adele and Daphne's Air
Solidarité flying missions in Africa?