Learning & Engagement

Learning and Engagement

The Historic Trust is committed to bringing history to life through programming and experiences that open minds. It is not about studying and learning in traditional ways; it’s about enriching yourself by gaining a new perspective. The Trust wants to help people of all ages think, and feel, and see in new ways to gain new perspectives.

Let’s keep imaginations percolating and engage in some interesting historical and STEM-related content. Check out the content below and let’s start learning! For the prior weeks’ content email pfec@thehistorictrust.org.

Lesson 5: The Daring Doers of Aviation

From the earliest beginnings of aviation, people have been willing to risk everything to for a chance to experience the world from a new perspective.  From balloonists to test pilots, both men and women have pushed the boundaries of what is known to be possible to expand aviation and encourage the next generation to take to the air. Allow Pearson Field Education Center to introduce you to a few Daring Doers of Aviation.

1. Sophie Blanchard: The First Female Aeronaut

Sophie Blanchard was born in 1778 in France. During Sophie’s lifetime, women were supposed to be quiet, feminine, and second to men in everything. On the ground she was shy, and even riding in carriages made her nervous, but once she was up in the air in a balloon, she became a different person.  She started her ballooning career as an assistant to her husband, Jean- Pierre Blanchard in 1804, then took over the business when he died in a ballooning accident. She was a favorite performer of kings and emperors and pushed the boundaries of what was believed possible for balloonist at the time.  To learn more about Sophie and her daring ballooning feats, checkout this episode of the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast.  – Listen to podcast

2. Lt. Alexander Pearson: Pearson Air Field Namesake, Grand Canyon Aerial Surveyor

Lieutenant Alexander Pearson was born in 1895 in Kansas and moved to the Pacific Northwest to attend the University of Oregon.  While Pearson was a student, he joined the U.S. Army in response to World War I.  After completing his degree, Pearson became a test pilot for the army and set many records, including a world speed record in 1923.  During his time as an army pilot, Lt. Pearson, with co-pilot Sgt. Arthur Juengling, became the first person to do an aerial survey of the Grand Canyon in 1921. He and Juengling were under orders to find the safest commercial and airmail routes through the Grand Canyon.  Our own Pearson Field Airport is named in honor of Lt. Pearson, who lost his life in an airplane accident in 1924.  If you would like to investigate more aerial photographs of Vancouver and the surrounding area, check out these resources from the Clark County Historical Museum. – Learn more

3. Tex Rankin: Instructor, Innovator, Aviation Promoter

John Gilbert ‘Tex’ Rankin was never supposed to be a pilot.  His family owned a newspaper in Texas and was supposed to follow in his father’s publishing footsteps.  Tex had other plans. He began flying in 1913 and opened his first flight school in 1920 in Walla Walla, WA. By 1928, Rankin Flying Service of Portland was the largest civilian flying school in the world.  During the 1920’s Tex became a popular barnstorm and his ‘Flying Circus’ was famous throughout the western United States.  Rankin was always looking for ways to expand aviation and his own popularity.  He created all-female flying circus acts and played up superstitions during airshows and races to generate more press coverage.  One of his more infamous publicity stunts occurred during the 1928 National Air Races and Aeronautical Exposition.  Tex decided to test his luck by taking a black cat named Alba Barba as his copilot during the endurance race. For the most part Alba Barba seemed to be a natural flyer and Tex’s good luck charm until she managed to get out of Tex’s plane in Kansas City.  Rankin came in 5th over all in the 1928 race and Alba Barba survived being towed back into the plane by her tail! – Listen to podcast

4. Edith Foltz: Barnstormer, 99, ATA, Aviation Fashion Innovator

Edith Foltz earned her pilot’s license in 1928 after marrying Joseph Foltz, who operated a small barnstorming group on Swan Island in Portland, OR. As soon as Edith earned her pilot’s license, she was determined to break records and push boundaries.  She entered the first Women’s Air Derby in 1929 and took second place.  Foltz was not content just to be a showy performance pilot, she became the first women in the Pacific Northwest to hold a transport license and the first female governor of a chapter of the National Aeronautics Association. Edith Foltz was also a founding member of the 99s: International Organization of Women Pilots, and president of the of the Pacific Northwest Chapter.  She used her prestige as a way to promote aviation to other women in the Pacific Northwest and to create an outfit known as a “Foltzup” to make transitioning from flying to being seen around town easier for female pilots.  If you would like to know more about Edith and her fellow aviation fashion innovators, check out this article from aviation historian Barbara Schultz. – Learn more

5. The Night Witches: All-Female Bomber Group, WWII

The 588th Night Bomber Regiment was an all-female aviator regiment in the Soviet Union’s Red Army during World War II.  At first women in the Soviet Union were not allowed in combat positions, like their counterparts in the US (WASPs) and Great Britain (ATA), but Major Marina Raskova used her personal connections to Josef Stalin to push for the creation of female regiments.  The pilots of the 588th were used to fly harassment and precision bombing missions against the Nazis.  They earned their nickname of “Die Nachthexen” or Night Witches because of the sounds their plans made while making bombing runs.  The Night Witches flew surplus wood and canvas biplanes known as Po-2s.  These planes were used as flight trainers and cropdusters before the Night Witches used them.  Even though the Po-2s were not an advanced aircraft, the Nazis had a hard time shooting them down because Po-2s had a slower stall rate than Nazi aircraft.  Learn more about one of these incredible women in the short documentary above. – View video

6. Yuri Gargarin: Soviet Pilot and First Human in Space

Yuri Gagarin was born in a small village in the Soviet Union in 1934.  While he was training to be a metal worker, Gagarin volunteered at his local flying club to be trained as a Soviet Air Cadet.  In 1955, Yuri was accepted into First Chkalovsky Higher Air Force Pilots School, to be trained as a fighter pilot. He commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1957 and was recommended to the Soviet Cosmonaut program in 1959.  After receiving approval for training (Yuri fit all of the cosmonaut specifications), Gagarin began training for the Vostok program in early 1960.  In May of 1960 Yuri Gagrin became part of the Sochi 6, who were the counterparts of the American Mercury 7.  In January of 1961 Gagarin and his fellow Sochi 6 members began the final rigorous testing phase of the Vostok program, and in April,1961, Gagarin was chosen to man the first flight into outer space.  Gagarin lifted off on April 12, 1961 at 6:07 am and landed in the history books two hours later.  Yuri returned to Earth as a Major in the Soviet air force and after his one and only flight into space returned to flying fighter jets for the Soviet Air Force.

7. Make a Hot Air Balloon

Learn more about local history through Historical Newsreels.

Explore the Trust’s Learning Opportunities.

Experience Pearson Field Education Center.

Participate in The Vancouver Chautauqua.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust


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