Born on March 28, 1899, in Walla Walla, Washington, Gladys Ingle was destined to live an extraordinary life. Raised in Oregon, her daredevil spirit started young as she walked on fences and created towering stilts that she climbed from her home’s rooftop. This bold spirit later guided her to motorcycle racing before eventually leading her to the skies of Southern California.
Earning Her Wings
In 1921, Gladys took to the air alongside her sister Ann as part of the C.P.O. Aerial Circus. They began their aerial adventure parachuting from balloons, but by 1922, airplanes were their new playground. Gladys swiftly earned her pilot license, making her the fourth woman in the United States to do so.
Defying Gravity with the 13 Black Cats
In a team dominated by men, Gladys Ingle stood alone as the only female member of the 13 Black Cats, an acclaimed aerial stunt team. Her stunts—ranging from plane-to-plane transfers mid-air to wing walking while her aircraft swooped under bridges—left spectators and fellow aviators alike awestruck. Her daring maneuvers earned her world-wide recognition throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
Changing a Wheel in Mid-air
One of Ingle’s most famous stunts involved a daring mid-air repair. An airplane wheel would ‘accidentally’ drop, and Ingle would swoop in with a replacement strapped to her back. Transitioning from her plane to the distressed aircraft in mid-air, she would skillfully install the new wheel on the landing gear—a feat filmed for posterity.
Shooting Arrows and Looping the Loop
Ingle’s audaciousness didn’t stop at repairing planes mid-air. She also tried her hand at archery while wing-walking, shooting arrows at targets. Her bravery reached new heights when she stood on an aircraft’s wing while it performed a loop-the-loop, one of her most daring exploits.
Doubling for Stars and More Than 300 Mid-air Transfers
Hollywood took notice of Ingle’s talents in 1928. Not only did she appear in films, but she also doubled for movie stars, executing the dangerous stunts that they couldn’t—or wouldn’t—perform. Throughout her career, she successfully completed more than 300 mid-air transfers from the wing of one aircraft to another.
From the Skies to Arroyo Grande
Despite her perilous job, Gladys Ingle led a long and fulfilling life. After years of thrilling audiences and pushing the boundaries of what was considered possible, she retired to Southern California. In 1981, she moved to Arroyo Grande, California, to live with her daughter Bonnie. Gladys passed away in her daughter’s home on October 27, 1981, at the age of 82.
A Legacy Soaring High
Even though Gladys Ingle is no longer with us, her daredevil spirit lives on. Her audacious stunts, preserved in pictures and films, continue to inspire at aviation museums and the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. The story of Gladys Ingle serves as a potent reminder that the sky was never the limit for this pioneering aviatrix.