Thursday, September 10, 2015

Aviatrix Margaret 'Marge' Hurlburt of Painesville

Last weekend's Cleveland Air Show garnered thousands upon thousands of visitors.  I'd bet only a handful at best wandered over to the aerospace museum on the airport property and took in a part of American history seldom told.  It is the history of women's aviation.  It is a history rich in Lake County roots.  Margaret Hurlburt was a graduate of Harvey High School (1942) and local educator at Champion JHS.  Her gold medal approved by Congress in 2009 can be viewed at the Women's Air & Space Museum at Cleveland's Burke Airport.  She is one of nearly 1074 Women's AirForce Service Pilots from WWII and her story is shared today.

'Marge' Hurlburt was recruited in 1942 by famed aviatrix Jackie Cochran to become a member of a pioneering core of women aviators serving the Air Force and General Hap Arnold.  As production of aircraft increased throughout WWII, the lack of male pilots stateside was an issue.  Cochran and Arnold aligned needs and the 'WASP' was formed.  These selected woman pilots would be trained and used to ferry completed aircraft to the military bases assigned.  Hurlburt whose training and licensing occurred at the Willoughby Air Field (current North High School) was now part of a 1074 member women's society who would affect history.  Hurlburt ferried planes, tested new models and towed targets during gunner training sessions throughout the war.  She flew B-24s, B-17s and logged more than 300 hours before the war's end.  In 1946 the WASP was disbanded but Margaret was only one of two females asked to stay on.  She became a valued instructor and key aviator guru.

The year 1946 saw her career take on a new phase as her skills with an AT 6 and the new Piper aircraft were in demand.  She became a fixture on the air circuit and participated in the 1946 Cleveland Air Races.  In 1947 she set a new flight speed record of 292.2 MPH besting her mentor Cochran for the title.  'Marge' was now a reknown barnstormer.  Tragically her career ended July 4 that same year at the Iowa Air Show as she crashed using a borrowed plane.  Her plane had been damaged earlier that week while teaching student pilots.  She was flown home to Painesville and was interned at Evergreen Cemetery.  The woman aviators achieved veteran's status in 1977 and living female aviators were honored with gold medals at a 2010 Congressional program.  Margaret 'Marge' Hurlburt is another member of America's greatest generation and WWII veteran who hailed from Ohio's smallest county but one with the most history!

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