Background Information

The Ninety-Nines, Inc. is an International Organization of Licensed Women Pilots from 35 countries. The majority of its nearly 5,000 members live in the United States, and the organization has been international in scope since its founding. Although there are other female pilot organizations in various states and nations, virtually all women of achievement in aviation have been or are members of The Ninety-Nines.

Mission Statement

The Ninety-Nines is the international organization of women pilots that promotes advancement of aviation through education, scholarships, and mutual support while honoring our unique history and sharing our passion for flight.

 

How the Ninety-Nines came to be -- The Powder Puff Derby

In 1929, a Women's Air Derby, affectionately coined the "Powder Puff Derby," was held in conjunction with the Cleveland Air Races. Forty women pilots qualified to take part in the derby, and nineteen, including Amelia, actually raced.

Amelia Earhart was delighted at the opportunity, calling it, "A chance to play the game as men play it, by rules established for participants as flyers, not as women."

The race began in Santa Monica, California and proceeded through major cities across the U.S. en route to Cleveland. The rules were simple -- first one to arrive in Cleveland was the winner.

The Women's Air Derby drew much attention nationwide. In fact, when the pilots arrived at Columbus, Ohio (the second-to-last stop in the race) they found a crowd of 20,000 spectators awaiting their arrival.

Of the 19 pilots who competed, 16 finished the race. The winner, Louise Thaden, took home a prize of $3,600. Second-place finisher Gladys O'Donnell won $1,950, and Earhart, in third place, won $875 (an amount equivalent to $5,100 today.)

The Women's Air Derby served as a turning point in women's aviation. Never before had so many of the nation's top female pilots spent a significant amount of time together and, growing to know one another so well. With the camaraderie the women felt during the derby, several participants felt a need for a more formalized bond for women pilots.

Upon arriving in Cleveland, Amelia Earhart, Gladys O'Donnell, Ruth Nichols, Blanche Noyes, Phoebe Omlie and Louise Thaden gathered under the grandstand and discussed the possibility of forming an organization for women pilots.

Other female pilots had similar thoughts. Clara Studer, working in public relations at Curtiss-Wright Airfield, spurred east coast pilots into action. A letter was sent to all 117 licensed, women pilots in the United States requesting their support and participation in a new organization for women pilots. The letter was signed by Frances Harrell, Neva Paris, Margery Brown and Fay Gillis Wells.

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First Meeting

Eighty-six of the women responded to the call, and on November 2, 1929, twenty-six of these female aviators gathered at Curtiss-Wright Airfield, Valley Stream, New York, to establish a new era in female aviation, turning the dream of a female flying organization into a reality. They decided membership would be open to all women holding a pilot's license, and that the organization's purpose would be good fellowship, employment opportunities, and a central office with files on women in aviation.

Deciding on an organizational name proved difficult. Suggestions for names included: The Climbing Vines, Noisy Birdwomen, Homing Pigeons, and Gadflies. Finally, Amelia Earhart and Jean Davis Hoyt ended the naming nonsense with the suggestion to name the organization after the total number of charter members. After agreement from the body, the organization was temporarily named the Eighty-Sixes, the Ninety-Sevens and finally the Ninety-Nines.

The organization remained loosely structured for two years, until Amelia Earhart became the Ninety-Nines' first elected president in 1931. Membership was immediately opened to other women as they became licensed pilots. The organization's founding purposes continue to guide the organization today.

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Educational and charitable projects

The Ninety-Nines' thrust in the aviation and aerospace fields is primarily educational and charitable. Along with other philanthropic activities, local chapters sponsor several hundred educational programs such as aerospace workshops for teachers, airport tours for school children, fear-of-flying clinics for airline passengers, and flight instructor revalidation seminars.

For many years, Ninety-Nines have sponsored more than 75 percent of the Federal Aviation Administration pilot safety programs in the U.S. Members have also worked with the National Intercollegiate Flying Association's (NIFA) student flying competitions since 1948 as judges, aides, and teachers, as well as with funding assistance.

Expertise gained from working with the NIFA led to sponsoring the U.S. and Canadian Precision Flight Teams, as well as participating on the international level as judges for precision flying competitions.

In 1985 the Ninety-Nines became the first organization approved to host the World Precision Flying Competitions. The Ninety-Nines again hosted the competition in 1996. On the international level, the Ninety-Nines have also hosted two World Aviation Education and Safety Congresses in India, in 1985 and 1993.

In 1984, the organization was given the Amelia Earhart Birthplace, located in Atchison, Kansas, and has implemented an ongoing effort to achieve full restoration of the home to the era when Amelia lived there. The Board of Trustees -- consisting of five elected members of the Ninety-Nines and four Atchison and Greater Kansas City members -- oversee operations and long-range planning for the museum project.

In 1988, The Ninety-Nines completed and occupied the second of two buildings located on the grounds of Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. While the new building had a second floor, the headquarters staff only utilized the main floor. In 1996, fund-raising efforts began to complete the second floor as The Ninety-Nines Museum of Women Pilots. Dedication ceremonies took place in July of 1999, during 70th anniversary activities.

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Scholarships

As a living memorial to Amelia, their first president, the Ninety-Nines annually award Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarships. Started in 1939 by Ruth Nichols, the scholarships were established to carry on Amelia's enthusiastic and unselfish aims -- particularly the strengthening of women's permanent place in aviation. The scholarship is governed by a board of trustees and is available to qualified members for advanced flight training or course work in specialized branches of aviation.

In 1998, 15 Amelia Earhart Scholarships totaling nearly $49,000 were awarded, as well as two United Airlines Type Ratings, an achievement certification allowing pilots to fly certain planes, valued at $20,000. Funding sources for these scholarships include member contributions and major industry support from United Parcel Service and United Airlines. An Amelia Earhart Research Scholar Grant is awarded periodically for a specialized scholar to work in her field of expertise to expand knowledge about women in aviation or aerospace. And a number of chapters support local scholarships benefiting young women seeking their pilot certificates.

In 2010, approximately $180,000 of scholarships were awarded to 27 women along with four New Pilot Awards, one Academic Award and one Maule Tailwheel award. For more information on scholarships and how to apply click here. For a list of scholarships awarded by Sections and Chapters click here.

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Awards

  • The Katherine B. Wright Trophy honoring the sister of Wilbur and Orville Wright is presented jointly by The Ninety-Nines and the National Aeronautic Association to a woman who has made a personal contribution to the advancement of the art, sport, and science of aviation and space flight over an extended period of time.
  • The Ninety-Nines Award of Merit honors non-members or organizations making significant contributions to aviation, aviation education, science, history, or to The Ninety-Nines, Inc.
  • The Ninety-Nines Award of Achievement recognizes Ninety-Nines, sections or chapters making significant contributions to aviation, aviation education, science, history, or to The Ninety-Nines, Inc. The Award of Achievement has been broken down into three categories: Humanitarian Contributions, Contributions to the 99s, and for Contributions to Aviation. The 2010 winners can be found here.
  • The Ninety-Nines Award of Inspiration is a special recognition from the Board of Directors to an individual, group, organization or agency whose participation, achievements, or activities have significantly impacted The Ninety-Nines, the world aviation community, or the art and science of aviation or aerospace. In 1998, Past President Marilyn Copeland was recognized for her contributions as chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum.
  • A President's Award may be presented to a member, non-member or organization at the discretion of the current president.

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How to contact the Ninety-Nines:

Street address:
4300 Amelia Earhart Road
Oklahoma City, OK 78159-0965

Telephone: 405.685.7969
Toll free: 800.994.1929
Fax: 405.685.7985

Web address: www.ninety-nines.org

E-mail:
Headquarters: HQ@ninety-nines.org
President: President@ninety-nines.org

The Ninety-Nines, Inc. International Organization of Women Pilots has been designated a non-profit 501(c)(3) status by the Internal Revenue Service.

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