Did You Know…
This Week in Sapulpa History – It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a Strange Object in the Sky
Rachel Whitney, Curator, Sapulpa Historical Museum
Oklahoma City, June 1, 1931, en route to the Pacific Coast, a strange object would fly over Oklahoma, and make a stop at the capital for a day. Arrangements were made at the Fair Park for a crowd of 25,000 to witness the strange craft. The floating vehicle would land in Oklahoma City on June 14.
The flying vehicle and its pilot had completed a transcontinental flight. “Navigating the craft through rain and fog, which caused other planes to be grounded, the [vehicle] arrived in Los Angeles on June 8. The plan was to depart that same day on a return trip to Philadelphia “by way of Phoenix, Arizona and El Paso, Texas.”
Unfortunately, the ocean flier crashed in Texas on June 12. Aviatrix escaped the crash unhurt when the Autogyro crashed taking off for Dallas in Abilene.
Autogyro is a Greek word meaning “self-turning.” The floating vehicle that has characteristics of a helicopter and slices through the clouds like butter like a plane.
In 1931, however, autogyros were described as making more noise than an airplane, but looked like a small plane with a windmill on top.
Aviatrix means “a female pilot”.
The pilot stated, “the landing didn’t jar us. If it had been any other plane than an autogyro we might not be here now. As it was, we weren’t even shaken up.” Aviatrix “landed in the only cleared space, a circle about 60 feet in diameter, between a crowd along the airport fence, and another highway. Her mechanic was with her in the ship.”
However, the crash did not seem to delay her departure. “‘Mrs. Putnam’s autogyro will not prevent her appearance here Sunday in a ‘Milk and Ice Benefit’ performance,’ sponsors announced. The famous woman flier’s scheduled appearance at Enid Monday for the State Lions’ Convention was expected to be kept.”
Mrs. Putnam, pilot, took off that very afternoon to head toward Dallas, then make her way to Oklahoma City.
This week in Sapulpa history, June 13, 1931, Sapulpans at the Sapulpa Country Club heard a strange sound around 5 o’clock that Saturday evening.
“Golf playing was suddenly halted when a strange whirling mechanism spun thru the air overhead. The golfers stopped their games and stared at the [strange] sounding vehicle of the air.”
Mrs. Amelia Earhart Putnam flew over the town of Sapulpa.
The golfers “learned later that the thing they had seen was the autogyro, which was flown to Oklahoma City, for the famous woman flier.”
“The autogyro driven by the noted aviatrix, Amelia Earhart, was seen by many citizens ast it passed over our city. The plan was the first of its kind ever seen here.”
Later that week, after her trip to Oklahoma City, Sapulpans had another chance to see the majestic aviation vehicle. “Twice within a week, Sapulpans stretched their necks skyward to stare at Mrs. Amelia Earhart Putnam’s autogyro. She was flying slowly, at an altitude of about 1,000 feet, proceeding toward Tulsa.*”
*Note: the 1,000 feet that she flew over Sapulpa is not even a quarter of a mile above our heads.
Later, Earhart reflected on her crash in Texas. “‘The crowd was desirous of seeing the autogyro closely and I was taking off closer to the crowd on that account. I had gained some height when suddenly my gyro began losing altitude. I brought it down in the only open space available to prevent hitting any cars or hurting people. It is true that one of the rotors struck a car, but I don’t believe it did any serious damage.’ She said she was not aware that she struck a floodlight while taking off. Washington’s Department of Commerce announced that Amelia Earhart would receive a formal reprimand for her “carelessness and poor judgment” in her crash in Texas.
1931 was a big year for Amelia Earhart. Her accomplishments that year:
She married George P. Putnam on February 7, 1931.
She was also the first woman to fly an autogyro in early 1931.
First President of the Ninety-Nines in early 1931. Ninety-Nines is an organization for international women pilots; they are still active today.
The speed record for the type of vehicle was reached 181 miles per hour, by Earhart in early 1931.*
*Note: today’s commercial planes fly just under 600 miles per hour.
With her autogyro, Earhart also beat the altitude record for the vehicle. She reached 18,415 feet on April 8, 1931*.
*Note: commercial airplanes today cruise at the altitude between 33,000 and 42,000 feet (or six to eight miles above sea level)
Amelia Earhart became the first woman to cross the United States in an autogyro summer 1931.
“To Tomorrow’s Neighbors - Perhaps the future will put your gyro in a garage next to your auto, noted aviatrix Amelia Earhart, declares. To say the least, she is looking ahead to travel, that will make neighbors of us all. Tomorrow’s neighbors will not be the family across the street, or next door, or across the city. They will be further away than that, several hundreds of miles further. They will be neighbors because it will take such a short time to reach them if the aims and hopes of aviation materializes.”
The information found on this page has been researched through Sapulpa (and area) newspapers, Sapulpa Historical Society archives, books, and photographs, Sapulpa yearbooks, city directories, and other local authors. Any other sources will be labeled and named as the research continues. Any mistakes will be noted and adjusted as needed.