Daring Doers: Leah Hing
“Try everything” was Leah Hing‘s self-stated philosophy. A Chinese American woman born in Portland in 1907, she lived up to these words. From cutting off her long pigtails without parental permission, to touring the country as part of an all-girl band, to obtaining her pilot’s license, Hing lived life to the fullest. In her 80s, she reflected on her life, and remembered her father telling her: “You’ve got to do what you want.” She responded: “So I did!”
Leah Hing, second from right with saxophone. Source: Courtesy of Jackie Peterson-Loomis)
Raised in Portland, Hing and her siblings were encouraged by their father to obtain an education. While still in high school she formed an all-girl band with friends, and although she stated her ability to play a saxophone was poor, the group was eventually picked up by Mr. Wu, a musical entrepreneur. Billed as “Mr. Wu and His All-Chinese-Girls Band,” Hing and her friends toured the United States and Canada for a year.
April 1, 1932 The Post-Star, Glens Falls, NY
During a tour stop in Chicago, Hing took her first plane ride at an aviation school specifically for Chinese Americans. After the musical tour ended, she returned to Portland to work in her father’s restaurant and attend business college but knew she had to be a pilot. At the restaurant, she met customer Tex Rankin, a noted aviation instructor. He suggested she learn to fly for $2.00 per hour, and she agreed. Hing earned her pilot license in 1934, becoming one of the first Chinese American women to do so. Rankin planned on starting a women’s aerobatics team starring Hing, Mary Ridell and Dorothy Hester, but this never became a reality. Instead, with her father‘s help, Leah bought a 1931 Fleet, and flew it out of Pearson Airfield until 1938, when she sold it and purchased a more aerobatic airplane. She kept that plane until selling it at the start of World War II, when civilian flying on the west coast became very restricted.
During the war she worked at Portland Airport as a flight instrument mechanic. After the war, Hing was hired at the Aero Club in Portland as a coatroom checker, switchboard operator and staff photographer until she retired in 1970.
Hing’s 1931 Fleet Source: The Historic Trust
Hing’s first plane, the 1931 Fleet, had an exciting life like its owner. Once, while taxiing in the rain, she flipped the Fleet onto its top wing. In 1938, the Fleet suffered another potentially devastating accident when newsman Edward R. Murrow set it on fire by taxiing into it with another plane. Murrow and his brother Lacey purchased the Fleet from Hing, fixed the plane and later sold it. In 1941, the Fleet was upgraded with a more powerful engine. After its adventures, the Fleet returned to Pearson Airfield where it remains on display at Pearson Field Education Center.