The skies were Mildred's next conquest. A display in a London shop window in led to Mildred's adventures in aviation.
Mildred had never cared about flying but in June 1930 she purchased a British built, single engine, open-cockpit, foldable bi-wing Bluebird airplane. It had been advertised "Ready to go anywhere, fly it round-the-world."
I had an urgent appointment in London at one o'clock on a typically wintry summer day: I found myself walking down Burlington Gardens, with an hour to spare and nothing to do. Such things nearly always lead to my spending money — if I have any. On this occasion it led too much more, for what did I see in a shop window but a full-sized airplane for sale? I had never seen one in a shop window before (and never have since, for that matter). I thought, `What are we coming to now, when we can buy airplanes out of shop windows? Soon I shall be so old-fashioned nobody will want to talk to me unless I learn to fly...' I came to another shop with a very pretty dress in the window: it was easily the best I had seen for years, and soon I was inside trying it on. The dress sealed my fate, for it didn't suit me, and I wandered back towards the shop with the airplane, still with half an hour to spare before my appointment. "
"Perhaps a salesman had seen me looking in the window, for now there was a ticket on the airplane with the words `Bluebird: Honeymoon model: ready to go anywhere'. I noticed the seats were side by side, not one behind the other, as was usual in light airplanes of that date. I was soon inside asking the price. I was greeted by a very smart salesman, who said, `Five hundred and fifty pounds, Madam.'
On asking: "Can one fly around the world in it?" the dealer replied, "Of course, Madam, the wings can be folded… "
For fun, Mildred opened an atlas and drew a line through Europe and Asia, all the way to Japan. Looking at the immensity of the Pacific Ocean, she remembered the salesman said the wings could be folded and decided that she and the airplane could be shipped across the ocean. Mildred purchased the airplane for five hundred pounds and bought a set of maps and charts.
When revealing her intentions to fly around the world to the Minister of Aviation, Mildred was asked how long she had had her pilot's license. "I haven't got one yet but I intend to get one before going." she replied and she obtained her pilots license at the end of her second week of lessons.
During the month spent planning the around-the-world trip, she installed extra fuel tank on the side-seat, accumulated maps and packed a meagre shoulder bag for herself containing her husband's treasured pocket compass, her passport, logbook, a bottle of water, sun helmet, light cotton dresses plus an evening dress. The Bluebird had a rudimentary radio capable of automatically sending a distress message and a spare propeller fitted beneath the fuselage. She chose taking a dictaphone to record her thoughts rather than taking a parachute.
When her round-the-world plans became known, reporters asked her for her itinerary. She politely refused their queries. She reckoned if she got lost no one would ever know it. They dubbed her journey "the mystery flight."
She planned to fly to Japan, take a steamer across the Pacific, fly across America, sail on to France, and from there she would return to London by plane. Her American mother gave her a flag to drop on the house where she was born in New Albany in Indiana.
Skeptics believed Mildred would not even make it across the English Channel but Mildred picked up navigation very quickly. She refused to learn Morse Code. She relied on Foreign Office dispatches to London to keep those back home apprised of her progress. By prearrangement British and French officials in Syria, Thailand, French Indo-China, India and Shanghai, supplied fuel, lodging and when needed, an occasional rescue. Her skill at locating airports posed a difficulty, but golf courses or stadiums were always to be found and she had smoke bombs to drop to warn people away.
She took off in Bluebird from what is now Heathrow Airport in the morning of September 25 1930. Four hours later, Mildred landed in Munich. By Day Four she was over the Persian Gulf. She already had a few close encounters with disaster. Near Belgrade, Mildred was following a train until it disappeared into a tunnel, giving her little time to avoid crashing into the hillside. Above Turkey, she accidentally kicked one of the rudder pedals, went into a spin, recovering less than 500 feet from the ground.
Crossing the Persian Gulf the engine lost oil pressure. Mildred managed to land nose-first onto a sea of mud and broke the Bluebird's propeller. Mildred escaped with only minor scratches, and later, dehydrated and exhausted, she was rescued by locals. Help came three days later when the British Officers of running Iranian radio depot, arrived by boat.
Mildred continued her flight to Calcutta, Rangoon, across the Gulf of Bengal, and onto Bangkok, the capital of what was then known as Siam.
In Indo-China, the French officials organized a tiger hunt for her, and when Mildred arrived in Hanoi, she received the "Medal of the Order of the Thousand Elephants and the White Umbrella" from their Governor for being the first person to have flown solo from London to Hanoi.
The Governor of Hong Kong welcomed Mildred. From Shanghai she had planned to land in Tokyo but was forced to divert to Korea for two days due to a Japanese law preventing any one looking down on their Emperor. Two days later, with the Emperor back in his palace, Mildred was able to resume her flight across Japan, and experienced wonderful views of Mount Fujiyama. Mrs. Mikimoto , wife of famous pearl seller, gave her a pearl necklace.
On December 4, Bluebird, with her wings folded, was loaded onto the liner, Empress of Japan and sailed to Vancouver.
Twelve days later, airborne once again, Mildred was flew to Seattle in the USA, and onto San Francisco.
Flying via America's southwest to Indiana, Mildred dropped the flag on her mother's house. Taking off from a too-short airfield in Baltimore, she stalled and spun into the ground. The plane flipped over and landed on its back. Fortunately for Mildred, across the road was an aircraft factory where she was able to have the damage repaired. Ten men were put on the job, and in five days all the damages were repaired. The owner did even more: he lengthened the field.
Mildred continued on to New York, flying along Broadway, over the Statue of Liberty and on to the Empire State Building that she circled several times. The police were awaiting her when she landed at the airfield, but she managed to talk her way out of it.
Once again folded, Bluebird was loaded on the French ocean liner Ile de France. Mildred landed in France and flew across the English Channel in Bluebird.
Mildred's round-the-world flight was classified as a series of long distance trips. She was credited with the first solo flight from England to Japan, the longest solo flight and the record solo flight from India to French Indo-China. Bluebird, with its wings and body covered with signatures and messages from people around the world, was displayed for a time in a London subway station. Although The Daily Telegraph had prepared Mildred's obituary in 1930, she went on to live a long life. She went on to set up a successful airline business, Air Dispatch Limited, employing the world's first air stewardess.
Aircraft were Mildred's focus from then on. Pioneering air-to-air refuelling, she captured the British air refuelling endurance record after a non-stop flight of 55 hours around the Isle of Wight, Mildred continued to fly, taking part in many flying competitions, and for some time she was part of the British Hospital's Air Pageant Flying Circus.
In 1939 won the show jumping event at the Royal Windsor Horse Show.
At the age of 83, she flew aerobatics in a DeHavilland Chipmunk.
Mildred Bruce died in 1990, aged 94. She said that going slowly always made her tired.
Some files were borrowed from "The Sky was Her Limit"
(Filed: 15/11/2003) David Baines the Daily Telegraph