Upon the postflight briefing, she handed me two pieces of paper: the first was an application to join The Ninety-Nines, and the second was my temporary pilot certificate. Thus began a 20-year relationship with the “matriarch” of aviation women.
Along with joining the Palms Chapter (now the Los Angeles Palms Chapter) came signing up for my first Palms to Pines Women’s Air Race. Claire started this race in 1969 at the request of a former student who wanted the lady racers to put Independence, Oregon on the map by creating a race. Last year marked its 40th anniversary with 20 participants racing to Bend, Oregon. Claire was present and glowing as prizes were handed out and she was signing and dating each racer’s logbook.
| Claire’s flight instructing began in the ’40s when she was one of 100 women instructors (the rest were riveting airplanes or baking cookies). Her racing career began when, with Fran Bera, she won her first Powder Puff Derby. It was after this 1951 Derby that Claire’s student pilot, Mike Walters, joined her on the return trip home to California, and they were married.
Claire’s Flight Academy was established at the Santa Monica Airport in the ’50s, and she taught many hundreds of young students how to fly.
By this time she and Mike Walters had two children, young Michael and Susie. Claire was eight and a half months pregnant and still instructing — Susie said by the time she was born she already had 30 hours of flight time.
So the thousands of students she didn’t instruct were tudents who eventually took check rides from her. As a flight instructor myself, I teach flight instructor refresher courses and there is always at least one
Back to the Palms Chapter. In 1996 one of our members brought in some flying memorabilia from a relative of Matilde Moisant, who in 1911 was the second woman to earn her pilot certificate. Her good friend Harriet Quimby was the first. The Chapter wanted to take these pieces to The Ninety-Nines Headquarters. Claire always talked of The Ninety-Nines building in OKC that housed the nternational staff and had a museum. Off we went, Claire, Gail Kass and I, to deliver the 1911 goods — pilot certificate, goggles, flying togs and boots — going to a repository to be held for all time. We arrived at Headquarters and found that there was no museum, only a couple of cabinets, has become our Museum of Women Pilots.
It was my pleasure to encourage and assist her drive in that fundraising effort as only she could until her mission was completed. She will be sorely missed by all whose lives she touched.
Lois Erickson,Past International Presidey pleasure to encourage and assist her drive in that fundraising effort as only she could until her mission was completed. She will be sorely missed by all whose lives she touched. Lois Erickson,would see her stand up and would take out their checkbooks again and again. They had heard it before, but they loved her passion, and they believed in her.
The Ninety-Nines had built the building hoping to rent out the empty second story, but when we walked upstairs and viewed the over 5,000-square-foot space, I said, “A couple of walls and a little paint we could have a museum.” Claire became the fundraiser and I, having a background designing film sets, the designer/architect. I told Claire that when she raised $60,000 I would head back to OKC and begin the museum. Thus began Claire’s stumping for dollars for the museum.
Claire attended every Southwest Section, International and Winter Board meeting — Ninety-Nines would see her stand up and would take out their checkbooks again and again. They had heard it before, but they loved her passion, and they believed in her.
Finally, the 99s Museum of Women Pilots opened in the summer of 1999, three years after the first embryo of an idea, to grand fanfare. There are many stories of her flying exploits, like the woman she flew down to Mexico to rescue from dire straits or her maiden voyage as a young instructor running out of fuel in the Piper Cub and being forced to land on the train tracks in the desert.
There were the stories of her flight school and the famous people connected with it, including Judith Krantz who used Claire as a character in one of her novels. And the time a wealthy metal foundry owner from the Caribbean gave Claire 300 one-ounce silver coins with The Ninety-Nines logo on one side and my Museum prop with roses logo on the other, with no explanation other than saying he wanted to help us.
My final chapter on Claire’s life as I know it will be a Claire Walters Memorial Fund for Women Pilots to assist women who want to learn to fly. We still have over a hundred of the sterling coins and hope to generate them into funds for her scholarship.
In Claire’s spirit of fundraising they will be sold for $75 each. Contact me, CJ Strawn.
Claire Walters died January 1, 2010 of coronary failure following surgery at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.
We will miss you Claire!