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A Look Back ... On Grand Forks Aviation Firsts

March 16, 2022 12:53 | Anonymous

By Penny Rafferty Hamilton, Ph.D. 

In 1910, Archie Hoxsey, who flew for the Wright Brothers, performed at the Grand Forks Fairgrounds. The special air performance was highly advertised. The Grand Forks Daily Herald proclaimed, “Don’t miss the Aeroplane. The most thrilling and sensational marvel of the age…flights diving from dizzy heights to depths below, mounting majestically to the clouds, death defying but delightful. First and only opportunity to see this greatest of all thrillers in the Northwest.” Wow, pretty compelling copy. North Dakota residents showed up, with over 17,000 attending the performance. 

But wait! There is even more. A “lucky” Grand Forks citizen won a free demonstration flight in the aeroplane with sky star, Hoxsey. The Grand Forks postmaster, Frank V. Kent, was the winner. Grand Forks earned more firsts because the night flight was the first in the nation with a passenger. This flight was the first under a searchlight. Shrieks and gasps were heard from the crowd. Passenger Kent reported it as the thrill of a lifetime. He was now ready to buy his own airplane! 

Fast forward over 105 years, Grand Forks was still making aviation history. In celebration of Women’s History Month, an entire crew of U.S. Air Force women, dubbed Lady Hawk, set a world-aviation record. This all-female Air Force crew flew the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk-RQ-4 a record-setting 34.3 hours, nonstop back and forth across North Dakota. The Global Hawk is a high-altitude, remotely-piloted surveillance aircraft. Global Hawks are newer than the Lockheed U-2 with a similar mission. The Global Hawk has a wingspan of 130 feet, equivalent to the size of a Boeing 707 airliner. 

This stellar team was led by Lt. Col. Amanda Brandt, along with Lt. Col. Catherine Todd, Maj. Mary Marshall, Capt. Natalie Winkels, 1st Lt. Joli Chaisson, and 2nd Lt. Kourtney Kugler piloted the RQ-4. In addition to the six women pilots managing the remote flight, more than 50 support staff and ground crew were also women. According to Lt. Col. Brandt, what differentiates this particular record from others like it, is that all of the women pilots included in the mission came from the same squadron. 

Historically, groups have had to reach out to other squadrons or units to get enough women together to achieve a record. And while Lt. Col. Brandt is proud of the Lady Hawk record-breaking flight, she also hopes that one day all-female feats will no longer be historic, but a regular occurrence. Amen, sister!

The newer technology in the Global Hawk uses high-resolution synthetic aperture radar (SAR) combined with long-range electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors. Star Wars over North Dakota. The Global Hawk crew from Grand Forks surveys as much as 40,000 square miles of ground terrain in a single day, comparable to the size of the nation of South Korea. The obvious intelligence collection capability to support military forces worldwide from the Grand Forks Air Force Base is key in our national defense. 

In 2015, the mayor of Grand Forks declared a “Grand Forks Celebrates Lady Hawk Day.” In 1955, the Grand Forks Air Force Base was established. By January 1957, it was opened and named after the city of Grand Forks. North Dakota has always been a leader in aviation and innovation. 

Air Force members of the 348th Reconnaissance Squadron and 319th Air Base Wing in Grand Forks, North Dakota, set a new record for the longest flight by a military aircraft without air refueling. On March 29, 2014, they broke the old record with their RQ-4 Global Hawk remaining aloft for 34.3 hours. The entire flight and ground crews were female. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. David Dobrydney)

Dr. Hamilton is a Laureate of the Colorado Aviation, Colorado Authors’, and Colorado Women’s Halls of Fame. Read about her aviation history books at www.PennyHamilton.com 

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