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date: 28 May 2020

Omlie, Phoebe Jane Fairgravelocked

(21 November 1902–17 July 1975)
  • Dorothy S. Cochrane


Omlie, Phoebe Jane Fairgrave (21 November 1902–17 July 1975), aviator, was born in Des Moines, Iowa, the daughter of Andrew Fairgrave and Madge Traistor (or Traister). Phoebe Fairgrave graduated from Mechanic Arts High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1920 and began work as a stenographer in a downtown business office. Within weeks she made a decision that would determine the course of her life: she wanted to earn a living in the aviation business. To begin this venture, she visited the Curtiss Northwest Company at a St. Paul airfield, which was offering civilian flight training in a surplus Curtiss JN-4D Jenny, and asked for her first airplane ride. Reluctant pilots laughed and walked away, until one agreed to take her up. Encouraged by his friends to shake her up a bit, the pilot instead succeeded in further whetting her appetite for flying. She promptly bought the aircraft with a $3,500 inheritance from her grandfather and began to learn the art of parachute jumping, reasoning that this was her best avenue into aviation. Aerial barnstorming acts were the most visible aviation business and about the only one open to women. Her first jump was made on 17 April 1921, and only three months later, on 10 July, she set a women’s altitude record by jumping from 15,200 feet. With stunt pilot Glenn Messer, she established the Fairgrave and Messer Flying Circus and learned a repertoire of aerial acts, including wingwalking, trapeze work from the wings and landing gear, double parachute jumps (cutting away the first parachute, freefalling, and opening a second chute), and air-to-air and ground-to-air transfers. Stunt work for the movies included a part in ...

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