11 December 1917: Katherine Stinson flew her custom-built Curtiss biplane from Rockwell Field, North Island, San Diego to the Presidio of San Francisco, a distance of 606 miles (975 kilometers)*, in 9 hours, 10 minutes. This was a new American duration distance record. Of her flight, she later said “It was easy to tell where I was all the time . . . towns, cities, farms, hills and mountains passed rapidly. . . . I never had any fear. The main thing was speed.”
*Some sources cite a distance for Stinson’s flight of 610 miles or 981.5 kilometers. The Google Maps Distance Calculator puts the straight line distance between North Island and the Presidio at 461.606 miles (742.883 kilometers).
A contemporary magazine article described her flight:
MISS STINSON FLIES OVER TEHACHAPI MOUNTAINS
Under the auspices of the Pacific Aero Club, Katherine Stinson, on December 11, flew from North Island, San Diego, to the Presidio at San Francisco via inland route, crossing the Tehachapi mountains at 8,000 feet. The official distance covered is 460.18 miles. Time, nine hours, ten minutes; non-stop flight. Left North Island at 7.31 a.m., flew over Tehachapi mountains at 8,000 feet, arrived at San Francisco at 4:41 p.m.
The flight was observed and timed at San Diego by Captain Henry Abbey and Captain Dean Smith, United States Army aviators, and was accompanied as far as Ocean Side by Theodore McCauley, Army Instructor, who piloted a Curtiss reconnaissance machine; the finish was observed and timed by Rear Admiral Chas. F. Pond, U.S.N., President of the Pacific Aero Club; Lowell E. Hardy, Secretary; J.C. Irvine, official observer, Aero Club of America; Robert G. Fowler, Chas F. Craig, and F.C. Porter of the Contest Committee Pacific Aero Club. She was given a very a very hearty reception by thousands of soldiers at the Presidio upon her arrival.
The aeroplane used was built by Curtiss from two lower wings of Curtiss J.N. 4 with triplane fuselage, Curtiss OX2 90–100 H.P. engine.
Miss Stinson is now the only living aviator to fly over the Tehachapi mountains. Silas Christofferson, deceased, was the only other aviator to perform the feat. The performance does not break the American record for distance held by Miss Ruth Law, but establishes a new record for duration cross country flight and is a most remarkable performance. — Flying, Vol. VI, No. 12, January, 1918, at Page 1063
Katherine Stinson sold the family piano to pay for flying lessons. In 1912 she became the fourth woman in the United States to become a licensed pilot. Later, her younger sister, Marjorie, also learned to fly. After the family moved to San Antonio, Texas, the sisters taught at the Stinson School of Flying at Stinson Field (now, Stinson Municipal Airport, FAA location identifier SSF).
During World War I, Katherine Stinson flew exhibitions on the behalf of the American Red Cross, raising more than $2,000,000. She attempted to join the Army as a pilot, but instead was sent to Europe as an ambulance driver . While “over there” she contracted influenza, and later, tuberculosis. Although she survived and lived to the age of 86, her illness prevented her from continuing to fly. Katherine and her mother formed the Stinson Aircraft Company, building airplanes designed by her brother, Edward Anderson Stinson, Jr. Later, she became a successful architect in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Fear, as I understand it, is simply due to lack of confidence or lack of knowledge—which is the same thing. You are afraid of what you don’t understand, of things you cannot account for.—Katherine Stinson
Miss Katherine Stinson with her Curtiss JN-4D biplane, Buffalo, New York, ca.1917. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.)