AVIATRIX by Eleanor Smith

AVIATRIX

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KIRKUS REVIEW

At 17, Eleanor Smith flew her father's Waco under all four of New York's East River bridges, ""something I don't believe has been done since."" At 18, she was setting records. At 19, she was named Best Woman's Pilot in the US--over Amelia Earhart, among others. And that's what the book turns on, though there's plenty of hangar-and-cockpit poop for early (1927-30) flying buffs too, and Smith doesn't spare the mustard. It's the multiplicity of her grievances, in fact, that casts some doubt on the charges she levels against publisher George Palmer Putnam, Earhart's manager and husband-to-be, while her strong competitiveness makes one wonder if she doesn't still resent Earhart's renown. According to Smith, Earhart was set up by Putnam as ""Lady Lindy""--to rake in money from personal appearances, endorsements, an eventual life-story--when she could barely fly. And, according to Smith, Putnam tried to keep Smith out of the air when she loomed as a serious competitor. The clinching story, if it's so, has Earhart appear in Delaware to buy a plane promised to Smith for a record-setting flight--and then, going up with Smith, ""slip"" and ""skid"" all over the sky. Just five months later, however, Earhart was racing in the fastest plane aloft. ""This was gut courage that transcended the sanity of reasoning,"" Smith writes; and she believes that daring over prudence--plus G.P.'s impatience, egocentricity, and financial need--sent Earhart off, improperly equipped, on that last, fatal flight. Otherwise it's Eleanor's triumphs and setbacks, the transition from $5 potato-field rides to functioning airports, the quest for endurance and altitude records to demonstrate the practicability of flying, the use of women to show, ostensibly, that anyone could do it--even a slip of a girl like Eleanor. Plus, an interesting sidelight: the linkup between her upbringing--dad was a vaudeville headliner--and her public performance (on radio) too as a flying marvel. No particular grace or color in the telling; but, with the Earhart connection, medium-hot stuff--and an auxiliary to the George Vecsey-George Dade Getting Off the Ground (1979), in which Smith appears along with other pioneers (and tells part of the same story).

Pub Date: May 18th, 1981
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich