Louise Thaden, Former Beech Pilot

Louise Thaden, Former Beech PilotPilot-Performer Bonnie Johnson Operations Manager for Merkel Airplane Company, takes her audience back to 1958, as she reenacts the time when Thaden had just received her first ride in a jet aircraft with her son Bill.

Many historians are not aware that Thaden was the first woman to hold all three women’s records at the same time … Altitude, Solo-Endurance and Speed, all in 1929. She had also won the 1929 Women’s Air Derby, known as the Powder Puff Derby. All of this took place within a two-year time span. Bonnie Johnson, performing as Thaden, informs the audience of her experiences setting the records and winning the Powder Puff Derby. Thaden, after starting her family, went on to set one more record in 1932, Women’s Refueling Endurance, and went on to win one more race, the 1936 Bendix Trophy Race.

Thaden was working for Jack Turner as a salesperson for the J. H. Turner Coal Company in Wichita, Kansas in 1926. When Jack learned of her desire to fly, he put her in contact with a close friend, Walter H. Beech. Beech offered Thaden a job of learning to fly and setting records for his fledgling distributorship in San Francisco. Thaden introduced the Travel Air 4000 and Beechcraft Staggerwing to the awestruck public. Her record-setting flights, often bested those of her friend, Amelia Earhart. Over the concerns of her family, Thaden left her college aspirations behind and went with D. C. Warren to San Francisco to realize her dreams. Thaden reflects as Bonnie Johnson reenacts Thaden’s flying career, on how in her short flying span of 30 years, she has gone from Jennies to Jets.

Bonnie Johnson Pilot, Performer and EducatorBonnie Johnson Pilot, Performer and Educator, is Operations Manager for the Merkel Airplane Company, Ed Merkel’s company, working with Merkel on designing and building the all-metal biplane, Merkel Mark II. After 20 years as an aerospace test engineer, Johnson retired to teach high school mathematics. Johnson has also competed as an instrument rated pilot in the successor to the 1929 Derby, the Air Race Classic. Johnson has competed continuously since 1993. She has placed in the top ten three times.

Bonnie Johnson’s interpretation of Louise Thaden is based on her research of Louise Thaden and the 1929 Women’s Air Derby. Johnson holds three Master’s Degree’s in Business, Engineering and Education. Like Thaden, Johnson has a keen interest in flying and in her husband’s engineering company. Johnson developed the first person creation of Thaden not only to show there are other pioneering women in aviation besides Amelia Earhart, a friend of Thaden’s, but this woman also had ties to Kansas. As a result of Louise working for Walter Beech, she and Olive Ann Beech developed a lifelong friendship. This friendship kept bringing Louise Thaden back to Kansas until her death.