Fly A Bit Higher with Aviation History Under Your Wing, Dr. Janet Bednarek

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By Sherry A Borzo. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.
Something rare awaits you in this episode of The Delicious Story. We visit with aviation and urban historian Dr. Janet Bednarek, professor at the University of Dayton.
She takes us on a journey covering the historical highlights of aviation after WWI, including the evolution of the airport system, and the role of barnstormers in igniting the public’s interest for flight. You’ll also learn the surprising impact the United States Postal Service played in aviation development.
Prepare to be surprised and intrigued by the history that makes your travel by plane possible today. Seat backs up and buckle in.
LADIES IN AVIATION
Dr. Bednarek does stand apart in the aviation historian world. It turns out that female aviation historians are quite a rarity. She was the only one who appeared in my search, as a matter of fact, but she assures me there are other women in the field of study as well.
Dr. Bednarek and I connected to talk about the unique role of woman in aviation and how their involvement led to greater safety in the early days of flight. Those ladies were true trailblazers given they had to face the headwinds of inequality of opportunity, many of them active right around when women were finally given the right to vote.
My fascination with females in aviation started with the story of Bessie Coleman who was the first African American and Native American woman to earn her pilot’s license in the mid-20s. Her achievement was doubly notable as a woman of color.
Did you know that the history of aviation spans 3000 years? If you include all the ways humans have interacted with sending things aloft, it all began with the first kite invented in China in 1000 B.C.E.
Ever since then, ladies had to work extra-hard to make their way into the air, and yet they kept on taking every opportunity to do so. After the Wright brothers got the first plane airborne in 1903, Blanche Scott was permitted to taxi a plane and it became airborne making her the first female pilot.
A quick review of Scott’s bio reveals that she was known to be an adventurer, having completed a transcontinental automobile journey before she became a pilot. Her tour by car occurred in the early 1900s at a time there were no more than 218 miles of paved roads outside of cities across the U.S.
Blanche’s life spans a period of incredible changes in aviation, from when planes were invented to watching Glen Armstrong set foot on the moon. It was men and women who made the flight you can take today a reality.
BARNSTORMERS IMPACT FOR AVIATION
It’s easy to get sort of romantic about the courage (and craziness) of barnstormers who piloted temperamental planes made of wood, wire, and paper surrounding an engine. These men and some women would do nearly anything to fly, which is why so many of them turned to entertaining audiences.
Here is footage from the 1920s with a sampling of the types of air acrobatics these aviation daredevils would perform.
Dr. Bednarek explains the circumstances that led to the barnstormer phenomenon. You’ll also learn more about the state of the military after WWI, that led pilots to become entertainers.
It was the barnstormers who captured the imagination of the public. These flyers brought entertainment and aviation antics to the masses. Audiences found flight exciting, but the draw also might have been an appetite for watching death-defying tricks in case they turned for the worse.
Unfortunately, just like Bessie, many pilots didn’t live a very long life. And as to the influence they had on the public, Dr. Bednarek explains that their feats may have worked against those who were trying to make air travel more mainstream.
For some pilots, there were additional employment opportunities to consider. Dr. Bednarek explains how the United States Postal Service played a pivotal role in finding a use for airplanes in the service of mail delivery, for instance.
Dr. Bednarek details the backstory and some of the ideas and technology the U.S. Postal Service (link) incorporated in flight between WWI and WWII that helped shape it for the future. Even though pilots who worked for the postal service had the security of a paycheck, the work was nearly as dangerous as that of a barnstormer.
AIRPORT DEVELOPMENT
The next time you enter the airport, consider all the history that occurred to make it possible for you to have access to flight.
Dr. Bednarek explains there was an interest to make a commercial interest of flight after WWI. However, it was an idea that would require an organization of airport facilities to dot the country, and more acceptance by the public.
In the 1920s, there were grassy airfields throughout parts of the United States, but for true success as a means of transportation everything hinged on an organized system. Per Centennial of Flight, “In 1929, Pan Am replaced its rickety pier at Miami and built the first true, U.S. land-based international airport, 116-Pan American Field.”
Listen in during the interview as Dr. Bednarek walks us through the changes that influenced airports, which in turn had an impact on the urban communities nearby.
MEMORABLE TABLE MANNERS
Once grounded, I do ask Dr. Bednarek to share a memorable meal story. She had a couple of interesting ones that were not so much about food as on the mishaps of the meals. Her first story had all the potential of being romantic: she had just gotten married and Paris was involved. But alas, everything came down to table manners.
Admittedly, formal dining etiquette will trip most of us at some point. It’s easy to forget or not know the rules. My knowledge has lapsed as I eat at home in isolation with my hubby in front of the TV during pandemic times.
I found this video by Real Men Real Style titled the Ultimate Guide to Table Manners to give you a quick 101. It’s funny with helpful brush-up reminders.
FLIGHT ETIQUITTE
Since we are talking etiquette, it seemed right to mention airline passenger manners, too. Maybe you’ve experienced rude behavior during a flight or heard about belligerent passengers caught on video in the news now and then.
Or, perhaps you’ve been pushed to it in a state of exhaustion on a flight yourself and not put your best self forward. Air travel can get hectic and bring out the worst in people.
As a public service announcement, here’s a printable that you’re welcome to wear on your next flight. Consider it a gentle reminder for everyone to be chill and kind to each other.
And if we all observe some passenger etiquette flights will be more pleasant, too. Over at Thrillist they offer a hearty list of manners to mind. I’m not sure if I agree with rule number 8 about hot food, but you can read the full list and see if you generally agree.
THE PAST IS YOUR FUTURE
The next time you’re at the airport waiting to check bags or removing your shoes to pass through security, remember that there have been many stories in the past to make your adventure possible. Isn’t it remarkable that something people could only dream of doing 100 years ago we largely take for granted today?
Once you’ve boarded the plane, stowed your baggage in the overhead and buckled up, consider what a marvel it is to fly. And then smile politely to your neighbor and honor your shared space before turning your head to nap.
Dr. Bednarek’s book she wrote with her husband is available to purchase.
Details about the Walter Prescott Web Memorial Lectures Dr. Bednarek mentioned can be found over at University of Texas Arlington, Department of History.

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