PORT CLINTON – It’s a common site locally – a helicopter, the words “Life Flight” across its body, speeds through the air above Northwest Ohio.
Transportation of patients by air has been a part of medical care for decades, but it was an Ohio woman named Lauretta Schimmoler who came up with the idea. Schimmoler is one of the many members of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots, who made aviation history. The group’s local chapter, the All-Ohio 99s, meets monthly.
Schimmoler, an Ohio native born in 1900, was inspired to become a pilot after watching an altitude flight test in Dayton in 1919. Not only did she learn to fly, but she also made an impact on aviation that is still felt today. Schimmoler invented the idea of an air ambulance after a devastating 1930 tornado left many people wounded.
Building on that idea, she formed the Aerial Nurse Corps in 1936, which became the model for today’s Air Force Flight Nurses corp. Although her early efforts at emergency medical transport were initially ignored, she is now recognized as America’s first flight nurse, and, in 2011, the Air Force Association created the Schimmoler Award for Excellence in her honor. Schimmoler made further aviation history when she became the first woman in America to manage an airport, located in Bucyrus.
Schimmoler was friends with one of the most famous female pilots of all time, Amelia Earhart, who became the first president of the Ninety-Nines in 1931. The Ninety-Nines was formed on Nov. 2, 1929 on Long Island, New York, by 99 female American pilots. That group consisted of nearly 85 percent of the entire American female pilot population, for at that time, only 117 women had obtained a pilot’s license.
The Ninety-Nines was formed for the purpose of the advancement of aviation through education, scholarships and mutual support. The original membership of 99 has grown to include thousands of licensed female pilots from over 40 countries, including Edna Hansen, Port Clinton city treasurer, who learned to fly at the age of 40 in 1979 at a time when women still were not welcome with open arms in the aviation world.
Hansen’s husband, Jim Hansen, who died in May, was not one of her detractors. He bought her a plane ride for her birthday which inspired her to take lessons, and he happily rode as her passenger on multiple trips
Hansen has been a member of the Ninety-Nines since earning her pilot’s license in 1979 and was named a “Top Ten 99s Pilot” in 2006. Through her involvement with the group, became another pearl in the long strand of women pilots whose success opened doors for women in aviation. Many of today’s members are professional pilots who work in both the commercial and government sectors.
“I imagine (the Ninety-Nines) do a lot of helpful things nobody knows about,” Hansen said. “Thanks to them, I’ve been to a lot of places across the state I’d never been.”
The Ninety-Nines had a huge impact locally when they painted a Compass Rose at the Erie-Ottawa International Airport about seven years ago.
“Pilots can set their instruments by it,” Hansen said. “It points toward true north, because true north is different than north.”
For more information on joining the All-Ohio 99s, call Edna Hansen at 419-734-2423.
Contact correspondent Sheri Trusty at email@example.com.