A WING-WALKING thrill-seeker, Phoebe Fairgrave’s 15,200-foot plummet on July 10, 1921, was more than even she could stomach. “It was terrible; I never want to try it again,” the eighteen year old told the Associated Press after her plunge near Brighton, Minnesota, broke the previous women’s record of 11,000 feet. The aviator’s parachute failed to open initially, resulting in a free fall for the first 5,000 feet, and she got sick as she plunged.
The pilot had earlier established the Phoebe Fairgrave Flying Circus with future husband Vernon C. Omlie, walking on her Curtiss JN- 4D’s wings as Omlie put the plane through loops. She invented a double parachute drop for the show in which she would jump from the plane, cut her parachute loose in mid-air, free fall as long as she could, then pull the cord on a second chute at the last possible moment.
In 1927, Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie became the first woman to receive a transport pilot’s license and the first woman to earn an airplane mechanics license.

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