top of page

She Was a Natural Aviatrix!

It has been a process that has required patience in very large doses, and it has taught me humility and acceptance. I came face to face several times with the realization that perfection is an illusion and I am good enough, just as I am with all my flaws - and there are many. It’s ok. Of course I strive to be the best I can be, but I am very human and so is everyone else who worked with me to bring these books to publication. (So are the women I have written about!) We found two very disturbing typos that were more than spelling errors in the second edition of They Persisted. Apologies. We have corrected them and moved on. They Roared is on bookshelves locally and available through Amazon. Book signings and book talks are happening. Deep gratitude to the team of angels who helped make this happen. I feel very grateful, and blessed.

The following is an excerpt from They Roared:

Elizabeth “Betty” Huyler was born on January 7, 1908, in Syosset, Long Island, New York, to Frank Huyler and Jemima Stewart Huyler. The family was moderately prosperous and there is every indication Betty had a happy childhood along with her two siblings, but there is scant information about this part of her life.

In the spring of 1929, Betty was a twenty-year-old student nurse at Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, training in the pediatric ward. Nursing and studying were her top priorities, and Betty was very committed to them. But when she met a handsome young pilot, Brewster Allen “Bud” Gillies, she developed another passion–flying! Betty earned her pilot’s license, #6525, after just twenty-three hours of flying time. She was a natural aviatrix! She earned her commercial license the following year.

When Betty was twenty-two years old, she married Brewster Allison “Bud” Gillies, naval pilot, and the vice president of Grumman Aircraft Corporation. Flying had brought them together initially, but they fell in love. Now she had not only a husband but also a Grumman Widgeon amphibian, which she flew frequently.

Betty’s husband was fighting in the war, and she wanted to join the fight too. In 1942, she was the first woman pilot (in an original class of twenty-five) to be “flight checked” and accepted by the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), which later became the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). She was now almost thirty-four years old and had been flying since she was twenty, logging over 1,400 hours of flight time, and was qualified to fly single and multi-engine aircraft.

Betty was the squadron leader assigned to the 2nd Ferrying Group at New Castle Army Air Base in Wilmington, Delaware. She was the first woman to fly the P-47, a fighter plane produced by the American Aerospace Company from 1941 to 1945. The P-47 was one of the toughest Allied planes during WWII with the most firepower. It had eight 50-caliber guns with 3,400 rounds of ammunition. This aircraft was one of the most effective as a ground attack vehicle and could carry up to 3,000 pounds of external ordnance. It was a monster!

Betty was rigorously tested before she could fly the craft. That “check” included emergency procedures, flight characteristics of the plane, and a complete understanding of the aircraft systems. Her plane also included specially made blocks on the pedals so she could reach them. The P-47 was a single-seat aircraft, so consequently, Betty’s first flight in the Thunderbolt was also her first solo flight. One can’t help but wonder if she was anxious or excited about flying this craft by herself. Perhaps guardedly excited.

Betty served as chair of the All-Women Transcontinental Air Race (AWTAR). She felt that this chairmanship was one of her most important life accomplishments. It required detailed organization and promoted the “average” woman in aviation. She was very proud of that. Under her leadership, the race grew from an original forty-nine aircraft and ninety pilots to 101 aircraft and 201 pilots. Betty was one of those 201 pilots and flew the de Havilland DH.60 Moth, which is a British two-seat touring and training aircraft manufactured by the Havilland Aircraft Company.

Betty’s lifetime accomplishments certainly out-sized diminutive Betty Huyler Gillies! One newspaper article described her as “a 5-foot-1-inch, 100-pound dynamo.” It is interesting to note that a few of our brave, intelligent, talented, and dauntless women pilots were tiny in stature, while gigantic in energy, bravery, and spirit. Her peers nicknamed her the “Mighty Atom.” Betty was humble, considered herself ordinary, and was fond of saying, “I was just living my life.” After over fifty years in the air, Betty stopped flying in 1986, because of vision problems.


bottom of page