It had been less than six months since Blanche Wilcox Noyes earned her pilot’s license — becoming Ohio’s first aviatrix. Yet in August 1929, Noyes started her Travel Air biplane, Miss Cleveland, for the first-ever Women’s Air Derby from Santa Monica to Cleveland in Clover Field. Noyes was sponsored by the Halle Brothers Co. and set to visit the store after the eight-day race to promote the latest aviator styles.
When the Lakewood actress wasn’t performing for Roberson-Smith Stock Co. at Gordon Square Theater, she was climbing clouds in her WACO 10 at Cleveland Municipal Airport. In 1930, Noyes piloted 90-year-old John D. Rockefeller on his first and only plane ride. She would become head of the Bureau of Air Commerce’s air-marking division and win the 1936 Bendix Trophy race with Louise Thaden.
The 1929 derby was brutal. Navigation by “dead reckoning” was only the start of Noyes’ problems when she inadvertently landed in Mexico. Flying to El Paso, a smoldering cigarette caught fire in the cabin near the engine. Noyes sideslipped 2,000 feet and drifted to the earth, smacking into three-foot mesquite bushes. She ripped the extinguisher from its screws. Then the can failed to spray. Desperate, Noyes smothered the flames with sand. Her plane arrived in Pecos resembling a wounded duck.
Noyes was able to find a blacksmith who was willing to weld the damaged landing rig while the pilot spent most of her night sewing the plane’s wing together with fabric before taking off the next day.
On Aug. 26, to loud Cleveland applause, Noyes finished fourth, right behind Amelia Earhart. Noyes later told The Plain Dealer, “I think I’ve autographed everything but flypaper."