The first woman pilot in South Dakota, Nellie Zabel Willhite, had an extra hurdle to fly over. She was deaf. Earning her pilot certificate at age 35, she soon earned her living barnstormer.
Nellie was one with the plane, “Even though I could barely hear the engine roar, I could tell right away if anything was wrong – just from the vibrations.”
Nellie is inducted in the South Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame alongside many pilot greats, including Vi Cowden. Vi was a W.A.S.P (Women Air Force Service Pilot) during World War II. She ferried war planes throughout the world, she flew so often she could have circumnavigated the Earth 55 times.
Celebrating the history of South Dakota’s remarkable female pilots, the South Dakota Air & Space museum presents two events during Women Of Aviation Week. On March 7th, historian Norma Kramer will transport you into the past with a presentation of this history of women and flight in South Dakota. Next, a female B-1 bomber crew member will snap you back into the present with her tales of her experiences.
On Saturday, March 9th, explore the cosmos in the GeoDome, a portable planetarium provided by the Journey Museum. Starting at 9am, participants will be guided through the skies, learning all about their home on Earth and the solar system.
The South Dakota Air & Space Museum is all set to fuel the minds of future pilots and astronauts. Maybe someday, because of their efforts, we’ll be celebrating even more great South Dakota aviation history!