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News / Life / Clark County Life

Clark County History: Edith Foltz, who often flew out of Pearson Field, won the 1930 dead stick landing contest at the Municipal Field dedication

By Martin Middlewood, Columbian freelance contributor
Published: June 8, 2024, 6:10am

When America entered World War II, male pilots were at a premium here and abroad. Jacqueline Cochran, an able pilot, lobbied Army Air Corps Gen. “Hap” Arnold and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to recruit women pilots for the British Air Transport Auxiliary. Among those Cochran recruited was Edith Foltz, who placed second in the first Women’s Air Derby, often flew out of Pearson Field, and won the dead stick landing contest at the 1930 Municipal Field dedication.

Born Edith Margalis, she graduated from Dallas (Texas) High School and studied music, piano and voice at Lenox Hall, hoping to become a singer. After moving to Oregon, she married World War I aviator Joseph Foltz Jr., who ran a barnstorming operation. In 1924, after losing premature twins two years earlier, they had a son, Richard.

Eventually, Foltz came to Vancouver and housed her plane in a Pearson hangar. Dressed in flying togs, Foltz spoke to The Columbian, saying she started flying after selling tickets for airplane rides. Her husband encouraged her to fly. She soloed with just two hours of training in 1928, buying a plane later that year. Orville Wright signed her pilot’s license. In 1929 Foltz flew in the Santa Monica (Calif.) to Cleveland Women’s Air Derby, placing second in the light-aircraft division. Humorist Will Rogers nicknamed the cross-country race “the Powder Puff Derby.”

Among the flyers were women pilots of note and a few record holders. They flew without instruments, radar or control towers. The pilots were given maps identifying the route and made daily stops for rest and food. Most flew open-cockpit biplanes. Foltz flew a new monoplane, the Alexander Eaglerock Bullet, a closed cockpit aircraft many men argued a female couldn’t handle.

Foltz joined the Air Transport Auxiliary in 1942 and held the rank of T-officer (captain) by 1945. Foltz flew 50 different aircraft types, including fighters, transports and bombers. Because their planes carried no ammunition, when attacked by German planes, ATA pilots fled or hid in the clouds. Once, while flying a pursuit plane into the south of England, Foltz was mistaken for a Nazi buzzbomb. Friendly anti-aircraft shells burst around her. She throttled the engine and got away fast.

For her ATA ferrying years, Foltz received the King’s Medal, the highest award to foreigners for providing exceptional contributions to the British. Foltz later explained why she remained with the British ATA rather than returning home and joining the U.S. Army Air Corps WASPS, the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, which Cochran had led after the United States entered the war.

“The British treated us strictly as pilots, according to our experience and ability without regard to sex,” she told The Oregonian in 1946.

After the war, Foltz returned to Portland and sold real estate. To get back into flying, she moved back to Texas. A 1947 Corpus Christi, Texas article noted Edith Foltz Stearns Grissom married a new husband that year. The story highlighted Foltz’s decision to return to aviation as an instructor at Cuddihy Field.

Before her death, Foltz taught instrument flying to naval cadets using a Link flight simulator. She died of cancer in 1956. By then, she’d flown hundreds of different aircraft, logging more than 5,000 flight hours.

Martin Middlewood is editor of the Clark County Historical Society Annual. Reach him at ClarkCoHist@gmail.com.

Columbian freelance contributor