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Betty Skelton, ‘First Lady of Aerobatics’, passes

Renowned pilot named to IAC Hall of Fame in 1988

Betty Skelton

Betty Skelton
Betty Skelton at the controls of her famed Lil Stinker biplane that’s now in the Smithsonian. (EAA Library photo)

September 1, 2011 –Aerobatics legend and International Aerobatics Club Hall of Fame member Betty Skelton - the “First Lady of Aerobatics” - died at her home in Winter Park, Florida, on Tuesday at the age of 85. Skelton was a pioneer as a female aerobatic competitor and air show performer, winning the U.S. National Female Aerobatic Championships for three straight years (1948-1950).

She also made the Pitts Special airplane famous, as her performances in her Lil Stinker created a market for the biplane designed by Curtis Pitts. That airplane is now part of the National Air and Space Museum collection.

Among her other aviation achievements were her participation in the post-World War II Cleveland National Air Races, speed records in a P-51 Mustang (421.6 mph) and an altitude mark of 29,050 feet in a Piper J-3 Cub.

She was also a participant in early EAA fly-ins, including the first one held at Oshkosh in 1956, according to Sport Aviation magazine.

Along with her aviation accomplishments, which supposedly began when she soloed an aircraft at 12 years old and earned her pilot certificate at age 16, Skelton drove race cars and set speed records of more than 300 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

She is a member of both the Aviation (2005) and Motorsports (2008) Halls of Fame, and was inducted into the IAC Hall of Fame in 1988 in the second group inducted. She is also a member of the International Council of Air Shows Hall of Fame and the Corvette Hall of Fame.

Skelton also landed on the cover of LOOK Magazine in 1960 after successfully completing NASA’s same physical tests required of the Mercury 7 astronaut candidates and tried unsuccessfully to become a U.S. Navy fighter pilot.

Motorsports Hall of Fame bio  |  National Aviation hall of Fame bio


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