The Short Flight of Pennsylvania’s First Licensed Female Pilot

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A 25 year old Pittsburgh resident named Rose C. Collins was reported to be the first woman granted an aviator’s license in Pennsylvania in 1929. Rose attended flight school at the Morris Flying Service at Rodgers Air Field in O’Hara, and flew at Bettis Field in West Mifflin.

Pittsburgh’s Early Aviation History
You’re forgiven if you can’t place any of those locations, or if you didn’t think Pittsburgh had much to contribute to aviation industry. You’d be misinformed about the latter, though. During his tenure as director of the Allegheny Observatory in the 1880s, Samuel Pierpont Langley experimented with making a working piloted heavier-than-air flying machine. Pittsburgh even has a contested claim to the first flight of a powered airplane, that of 25 year old Gustave Whitehead, an Oakland resident whose steam-powered air ship supposedly sailed in 1899 from Bates Street up what is now the Boulevard of Allies. The flight ended when the vehicle crashed into the third floor of an apartment building and his assistant was scalded by steam from the busted plane (which would presumably make him the first injured airplane passenger).

Whitehead’s alleged flight has gone officially unrecognized in historical annals, but other flight experiments place him among Pittsburgh aviation pioneers. Later, plenty of record-setting pilots called Pittsburgh home, and the city’s industrial infrastructure produced the aluminum, propellers, and technology that went into airplanes.

In the 1920s when Rose Collins was earning her wings, there were many small airports in rural areas surrounding Pittsburgh. Bettis Field was originally known as Pittsburgh-McKeesport Airport, but was renamed in 1926 to honor a fallen local aviator, Lt. Cyrus Bettis of the US Army Air Corp. In Rose’s day, its most famous visitor would have been Charles Lindbergh, who landed there August 1927 in the Spirit of St. Louis on his good-will tour of…

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