On the Wing: Jessie Woods and the Flying Aces Air Circus



The story of 1920’s barnstormer and wing-walker Jessie Woods of the Flying Aces Air Circus. At age 82, Woods wing walked over EAA’s Sun N Fun and then appeared on both the Carson and Letterman show. Signed by: Jessie Woods and Ann Cooper Jessie E. Woods (January 27, 1909-March 17, 2001) was one of the first women air pilots in the United States. Jessie E. Schulz was born Jan. 27, 1909, in Stafford County, Kansas, the daughter of William and Clara (Miller) Schulz.She also lived in Wichita, Kansas, where she garnered a love for aviation since she was a child. In Wichita, she would see aircraft come and go very often every day, as they were manufactured nearby. In 1928, at the age of 19, Jessie left home with her boyfriend, Jimmie Woods, and they married August 28 of that year in Wichita. The Woods then went on to form the Flying Aces Air Circus, which lasted until 1938, setting a record for the longest-lasting air circus of all time. The Woods and other pilots performing with them flew every weekend at different places. Woods was a daredevil. She was also the "circus lady." She would fly aircraft on the circus show, often performing dangerous landings. She walked on the wings of flying aircraft, she would parachute off aircraft, or dangle below them, with her knees holding her to a rope ladder. Once while wing walking, she fell off at 3,000 feet (910 m); ordinarily, she did not wear a parachute, but this time she did.[4] The circus closed in 1938. During World War II, Woods served with the Civil Air Patrol. Upon returning from the war, she became an aircraft mechanic and a piloting teacher. In 1941, she and her husband Jimmie leased a field in South Carolina, with the American government granting the couple licenses to train military pilots on that field not long after. After Jimmie Woods, who became a legend himself because of the connection with the "Flying Aces" circus, died in 1956 or 1959, Jessie Woods continued flying all over her home country. She gained a commercial aviation license, but never made use of it, sticking with general aviation. She was admired by many during the era when feminist ideas were gaining prominence among American women. She was employed by the State of Washington and in 1967, was named the state of Washington's pilot of the year. In 1985 she was elected to the OX5 Aviation Pioneers Hall of Fame. In 1991, she received the A.E. Aviation Award from the Zonta Club of St. Petersburg, Florida, and in 1994, she was the only woman to be honored as an Eagle at the Gathering of Eagles, Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama. She was a member of Ninety-Nines International Women's Pilots OX 5 Pioneers, and Lutheran Church. Jessie E. Woods retired from flying in 1994, and died on March 17, 2001, at Great Bend, Kansas, at the age of 92. She was buried at Fairview Park Cemetery in St. John, Kansas. Ann Cooper: WAI [Women in Aviation, International] notes Ann Cooper is both a commercial pilot and flight instructor. However, she is best known for promoting women in aviation as an aviation author. She has authored more than 700 magazine articles, acted as editor of aviation publications, and written several biographies. As editor of Aero Brush, the newsletter of the American Society of Aviation Artists, Cooper was instrumental in establishing an award for the “Best Art Depicting Women in Aviation.” Ann co-authored “Tuskegee Heroes” and “How to Draw Aircraft Like a Pro.” Her biographies on women aviation pioneers include “Rising Above It” with Edna Gardner Whyte, “On the Wing” with Jessie Woods, “Fire and Air, a Life on the Edge” with Patty Wagstaff, “How High She Flies” with Dorothy Swain Lewis, and “Weaving the Winds" with Emily Howell Warner. WAI notes that Ann "is an author who has created works that inspire others – to dream, to fly, and to write."

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