In 2002 Betty Skelton donated a collection of materials outlining her career as an aviatrix and race car driver to the National Air and Space Museum. The donated material consists primarily of news clippings, pamphlets, magazines, photographs, and scrapbooks covering the span of Ms. Skelton's career.
Scope and Contents:
This collection consists primarily of news clippings, pamphlets, magazines, photographs, and scrapbooks covering the span of Ms. Skelton's career.
The collection has been divided into three series. The first series contains information on Betty Skelton's personal life, including birth and wedding announcements and family photos. The second, pertaining to her professional life, spans a broad range of materials covering the various careers pursued by Ms. Skelton. The third series consists of oversized items such as scrapbooks and large format magazines. Each series is further divided by format (i.e. news clippings, brochures, and photographs) and then chronologically.
SERIES I: Personal
SERIES II: Professional
News clippings, Programs and Pamphlets;
SERIES III: Oversized Materials
Biographical / Historical:
Betty Skelton Frankman, noted aviatrix, automobile test driver, race car driver, and business woman, was born in 1926 in Pensacola, Florida. Her interest in aviation was kindled at a young age while watching Navy stunt pilots practice. Soon, she and her parents began taking flying lessons and Betty soloed for the first time at age 12, four years before the legal age. As soon as she was legally able, age 16, Betty got her pilot's license. At age 19 she joined the Civil Air Patrol while also working as a flight instructor at her father's aviation school. She began a professional career as an aerobatic pilot in 1946, flying a 1929 Great Lakes 2T1A biplane. In 1948, while flying that aircraft, Betty won her first International Aerobatic Championship for Women. She would repeat this achievement in 1949 and 1950 while flying a Pitts-Special S-1C that she nicknamed "Little Stinker." By 1951 Betty realized that she had gone as far as a woman could go in aviation and retired.
Through a chance meeting with Bill France, the founder of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), Betty began a second career as a test and race car driver. She set multiple land speed records and two transcontinental speed records. Her work with Dodge and Chevrolet led her to her next career as an advertising executive for Campbell-Ewald Advertising Agency, the firm that handled Chevrolet advertising.
In 1959, Betty was given the opportunity to train with the original Mercury 7 astronauts. She completed the same physical and physiological tests as the astronauts, but knew a woman was not destined to be the first American in space. The experience resulted in only a cover story in LOOK magazine (Vol. 24 No. 3 Feb. 2, 1960). In 1965, Betty married Donald Frankman and, eventually, the two moved to Florida and started a real estate business.
Betty held more combined aviation and automotive records than any other person. Her aviation achievements included: a world speed record for piston engine aircraft (unofficial), two light plane altitude records, and three international aerobatic championships. Her achievements in the automotive field included a women's closed course speed record (144.02 mph), a speed record for 200-249 cubic inch piston displacement (105.8 mph), a 24-hour stock car endurance record, a transcontinental record New York to Los Angeles (56 hrs 58 mins.), four land speed records, a South American transcontinental auto speed record, and multiple Bonneville Speed and Endurance Records.
She was also inducted into many halls of fame including, the International Aerobatic Hall of Fame, the NASCAR International Motorsports Hall of Fame, the Corvette Hall of Fame, the Tampa Sports Hall of Fame, and the Florida Women's Hall of Fame. In 1985, Betty and Don donated her Pitts Special "Little Stinker" to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum (NASM). It currently hangs at the entrance to NASM's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles, Virginia.
Betty and her second husband, Dr. Allan Erde, retired to The Villages, Florida, a popular retirement community where many residents use golf carts to get from place to place. But Betty, in keeping with her moniker as the "fastest woman on Earth," drove a bright red Corvette convertible. She died at her home on August 31, 2011, at the age of 85.
The following timeline covers key events in Skelton's life, as well as in the aerospace and automotive industries. Events involving Skelton are shown in normal type while those of the latter are shown in italics.
Timeline of Betty Skelton
6/28/1926 -- Betty is born in Pensacola, Florida
May 1927 -- Charles Lindbergh makes the first solo west to east transatlantic flight
May 1932 -- Amelia Earhart becomes first women to solo across the Atlantic
1937 -- Amelia Earhart and Captain Fred Noonan go missing
12/7/1941 -- Bombing of Pearl Harbor forces American entry into World War II
1942 -- Officially soloed and received pilot's license at age 16
1944 -- Women's Airforce Service Pilots program ends
1945 -- Joins the Civil Air Patrol, eventually achieving rank of Major
May 1945 -- End of War in Europe
August 1945 -- Atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki followed by Japanese surrender and end of World War II
1946 -- Begins career as aerobat at Southeastern Air Exposition in Jacksonville, Florida
1947 -- The United States Air Force becomes an independent military service Chuck Yeager breaks the sound barrier becoming the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound
1948 -- Becomes International Aerobatics Champion for women Buys "Little Stinker" Orville Wright dies at age 76 Berlin Airlift begins operation NASCAR is formed
1949 -- Pilots the smallest plane to cross the Irish Sea Represents United States in RAF Pageant – Belfast, Ireland Sets World Light Plane Altitude Record (~26,000 ft) First non-stop round the world flight is made by Capt. James Gallagher Represents United States in International Air Pageant – London, United Kingdom Unofficially sets world Speed Record for engine aircraft (426 mph) Retains title as International Aerobatics Champion for women
1950 -- Retains title of International Aerobatics Champion for women Becomes hostess of radio program "Van Wilson's Greeting Time"
1951 -- Four monkeys become the first living creatures to travel in space Retires from Flying Sets World Light Plane Altitude Record (~29,000 ft)
1953 -- Jacqueline Cochran becomes first women to fly faster than the speed of sound Stars in a movie short about motor boat jumping Meets Bill France and takes first ride in pace car
1954 -- Sets Stock Car Flying Mile Record (105.88 mph) Sets new world women's closed course record (144.02 mph) Sets new world women's closed course record (143.44 mph) First woman to drive an Indy Car
1955 -- Participates in Stock Car Endurance Run
1956 -- Becomes an advertising executive for Campbell-Ewald Participates in Stock Car Endurance Run First successful launch of a Chrysler Redstone Rocket from Cape Canaveral Sets new land speed record (145.044 mph) Sets transcontinental record New York to Los Angeles (56 hrs 58 mins)
1957 -- Sputnik 2 carries first dog into space Participates in Mobilgas Economy Run Sputnik is launched by the Soviet Union
1958 -- United States launches Explorer 1, the first US satellite to enter Earth's orbit National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is established South American Transcontinental Auto Speed Record (41hrs 14 mins)
1959 -- Trains with Mercury 7 astronauts
1960 -- Participates in Mobilgas Economy Run
1961 -- Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space Participates in Mobilgas Economy Run Yuri Gagarin becomes first man in space
1962 -- Cuban Missile Crisis Participates in Baja Run
1963 -- John F. Kennedy is assassinated Valentina Tereshkova becomes first women in space
1965 -- Sets new land speed record (315 mph) Marries Donald A. Frankman
1967 -- An accident during testing of Apollo 1 kills Virgil Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Edward White
1969 -- Successfully lobbies to end discrimination against female pilots in air racing Becomes Vice President of Campbell-Ewald's new Women's Market and Advertising Department Apollo 11 is launched with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, making Neil Armstrong the first man on the moon
1970 -- Explosion onboard Apollo 13 First scheduled service of the Boeing 747
1972 -- The last manned mission to the moon, Apollo 17 is completed President Nixon announces funding for the building of a reusable space shuttle
1974 -- Charles Lindbergh dies at age 72
1975 -- Apollo/Soyuz Test Project and Soyuz 19 successfully dock in Earth orbit
1977 -- Begins working for First Florida Realty Publishes book Little Stinker British Airways and Air France begin regular Concorde service from New York's JKF Airport National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launches Voyager I & II
1980 -- Jacqueline Cochran dies at age 74
1981 -- Space Shuttle Columbia launches for the first shuttle mission
1983 -- Sally Ride becomes first American woman in space
1985 -- Donates Little Stinker to NASM
1986 -- Space Shuttle Challenger explodes on take off Soviet Union launches Mir Space Station
1988 -- Inducted into International Aerobatic Hall of Fame (1st woman)
1989 -- Destruction of the Berlin Wall
1993 -- Inducted into NASCAR International Motorsports Hall of Fame (1st woman) Inducted into Florida Women's Hall of Fame
1997 -- Inducted into Women in Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame Mars Pathfinder lands on surface of Mars
2001 -- Space Station Mir ends its 15 year life in space Inducted into Corvette Hall of Fame (1st woman) Donald A. Frankman dies
2003 -- Concorde service between the United States and Europe ends Inducted into International Council of Air Shows Foundation Hall of Fame
2005 -- Marries Allan Erde Inducted into National Aviation Hall of Fame
2008 -- Inducted into Motorsports Hall of Fame of America
8/31/2011 -- Betty dies at her home in The Villages, Florida
Betty Skelton, Gift, 2001
No restrictions on access.
National Air and Space Museum. Archives Division. Search this
Drawer AP, Folder 607012-80
Scope and Contents note:
The majority of the Archives Department's public reference requests can be answered using material in these files, which may be accessed through the Reading Room at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. More specific information can be requested by contacting the Archives Research Request.