Meet Louise Thaden, a married mother of two; Ruth Elder, a beautiful Alabama divorcée; Ruth Nichols, a woman unhappily born into wealth; and Florence Klingensmith, whose promising aviation career ended in tragedy. True resisters, they were empowered by their recently gained right to vote and inspired by aviation’s rising popularity. Charles Lindbergh’s recent solo trans-Atlantic flight in 1927 was an achievement that begged for a female challenger, and it had one soon enough ... The women of aviation were 'friendly enemies,' competing for speed and distance records while supporting each other on the ground and in the air. Known collectively as the Ninety Nines, they encouraged young women to aim high. As Earhart said, a woman’s place 'is wherever her individual aptitude places her.'
They took off in wooden crates loaded with gasoline. They flew over mountains, deserts and seas without radar or even radios. When they came down, their landings might be their last. For pilots of the 1920s and ’30s, the challenges were enormous. Multiply that exponentially for women. Author Keith O’Brien recounts the early years of aviation through a generation of female pilots who carved out a place for themselves and their sisterhood. Despite the sensation they created, each 'went missing in her own way.' ... The story builds to a thrilling climax with the 1936 Bendix race, a cross-country contest that featured Earhart and Thaden and the men heavily favored to beat them. O’Brien’s rich details put the reader in the cockpit as pilots confront equipment failures, crash landings and the frenzy of the finish line Fly Girls winningly revives that contradictory decade of high flight and deepening Depression, when female pilots had to balance their intense rivalry with their need for friends.
Air races captivated the nation during the golden age of aviation in the 1920s and 1930s, and few participants drew more attention than the female pilots who challenged the male-dominated field. O’Brien focuses on five of those women: Ruth Elder, Ruth Nichols, Louise Thaden, Florence Klingensmith, and, of course, Amelia Earhart ... Drawing heavily from contemporaneous news reports, the author documents their achievements and setbacks as well as their sometimes complicated romantic relationships ... Although Earhart’s story has been recounted numerous times, the addition of the other female pilots makes for a more thorough and enjoyable read that should appeal to readers interested in history, aviation, and women’s achievements.