History Takes Flight

Local female pioneers of aviation, By Cindy Chapman

If you’ve driven east on Highway 114, there’s no question that DFW International Airport is one of the top ten busiest airports in the world. But did you know that just three nautical miles north of Roanoke, there’s a little airport worthy of top ten status all on its own?

Northwest Regional Airport, originally named Aero Valley Airport, opened in 1969 by one of the leading women in aviation, Edna Gardner Whyte. At the age of 69, she built a runway and acquired enough aircraft to open her own flight school. Mrs. Whyte was an avid cross-country air racer and she competed in various aerobatic competitions. She served as president of the Ninety-Nines, the International Organization of Women Pilots and was the first female inductee to the Order of Daedalians, the fraternal and professional order of American military pilots.

In 1994, just two short years after Edna Whyte’s death, Marion P. Jayne and her daughter, Patricia Jayne Keefer, set out to make history of their own. In Marion's 1970 Piper Twin Comanche, the two competed in the French organized international competition for the second around-the-world pilot-skilled speed air race. Although, this was Marion’s second around-the-world race, it would be her first gold medal victory.

The plane was modified with FAA approval to fly around-the-world with nearly triple the fuel on board in eleven tanks. They flew to the start of the race in Montreal, Canada and then raced in twelve flying days. They traveled from Montreal to Montreal by circumnavigating the globe over twenty-four days, totaling 21,000 miles at over 200 mph.

Marion and Pat fought icing four times, thunderstorms over the Atlantic, turbulence which caused mechanical issues, illness and debilitating fatigue. Several of the flights were eleven hours non-stop in a tiny cockpit that was only thirty-six inches wide. With months of preparation and awesome teamwork, their combined forty-nine years of racing experience earned them gold medals for the longest air race in history.

For her many flying and business achievements, Marion Jayne has been inducted into the aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame. Marion was also named a top aviator for the First Century of Flight along with the Wright Brothers, John Glenn, Sally Ride, Charles Lindbergh, and Amelia Earhart. Earlier in 2020, Marion’s family received the Award of Achievement to the Ninety-Nines on her behalf for being the only U.S. pilot, the only twin-engine pilot, and the only woman pilot to race twice around the world.

Pat Keefer, a current Trophy Club resident, continued her mother’s legacy by competing in air races during her time off from her thirty-year career at IBM. Today, Pat and her husband still fly Marion’s famous Twin Comanche from Northwest Regional Airport.

So, the next time you’re enjoying the big blue Texas sky, keep an eye out for history flying by. You just might see the Piper Twin Comanche, the only American plane to race around the world – twice!

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