Mildred Natalie Stinaff, my great aunt, was born in Akron, Ohio in 1912. People referred to her as Millie. She was the daughter of Charles and Lillie May Stinaff. She had two brothers, Charles Lloyd Stinaff and Girdwood Stinaff, my grandfather. As she grew into a young woman, she developed a great love for aviation, which was itself still in its infancy, and still a profession mostly only enjoyed by men. I found a newspaper clipping quoting her as having said, “Why couldn’t I fly the mail and take passengers as well as the men?”
She saw no boundaries, obviously; her interest in aviation was so strong, that in June of 1929, at 18 years old, she began taking flying lessons to realize her dream of becoming a professional pilot. My grandfather, Girdwood, helped finance her insatiable desire to fly. She began her lessons at the Akron Air Lines School under instructor Hap Roundtree and later with Byron Newcomb. She flew almost daily in order to build up the required hours necessary for her private pilot’s license. She became so proficient that after only 20 hours, she took her first solo flight. Not long after her solo, she got the license she so desperately sought and became only the second woman in Akron to learn to fly and one of the first 99 women to obtain a pilot’s license.
Flying led her into a job at the airport, working for Akron Airlines, Inc. She continued to fly and went on to receive additional instruction in aerobatic and commercial flight. In January of 1930, at the Mid-City, Akron Municipal Airport, she made 42 consecutive inside loops and set a world’s record for the most loops performed in an aircraft piloted by a woman. The next best had been 28 loops performed in Houston, Texas. She went on to thrill audiences, performing loops, stalls, and spins in many local air shows over the next year.
June 13, 1931, Millie accepted a job as acting secretary and hostess at the new administration building at Akron Municipal Airport. It was said that she had a charming personality, was very well liked, and quickly became a very popular figure at the airport. She was soon to complete her commercial pilot’s rating and was preparing to retake the looping record she set the year prior. June 23, 1931, just ten days into her job at the airport, she took off from the airport to perform some stunt maneuvers for an air show. She completed her first loop but lost control. The plane went into a spin at 1200 feet. Ultimately, she was able to shut off the motor, but was unable to recover from the spin. The plane crashed, severely injuring Millie. She was rushed to City Hospital, where 37 minutes later, at 8:45 p.m. she died. She was only 20 years old. Following is one many news clippings, this from the ‘Akron Beacon Journal’, printed many years after her death:
Personally, I wouldn’t think she minded dying the way she did. If there was ever a case of “Well, they died doing what they loved,” this was it. In fact, I’m posting this article as my mother, upon finding out that I, myself, have been taking lessons to get my private pilot’s license, sent me a large package of pictures, newspaper clippings, and letters that proved to me just how much she enjoyed and truly loved what she was doing with her life. After going through them all, I can’t see that she would have had any regrets. Not one.
Before her death, Millie became a charter member of the The Ninety-Nines (License No. 10491), the first 99 women in organized aviation. The group has since grown, but virtually all women of achievement in aviation have been or are members of The Ninety-Nines. This is an amazing accomplishment and made me finally realize after all these years, how truly important all those stories my grandfather told me about his sister really were. He talked about her often. And, when he did, no story would be remiss of that enthusiasm she had for flying. I wish I would have had the chance to have met and gotten to know her… She was a pioneer for women, in aviation and in life, was no doubt brave flying those early planes — and flying them aerobatically at that, and had a burning desire to live life.
Simply said, I admire her a great deal. I posted to some photos of Millie to the gallery.
To learn more about The Ninety-Nines, you can check out the following web sites: