OWEN, Bessie

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OWEN, Bessie (1896-1967), one of America's first woman aviators who won fame on a flight from Paris to Shanghai. Born into a wealthy San Francisco family, she learned to fly in San Francisco in 1924, and she became a close friend of Amelia Earhart. Owen eventually earned her commercial pilot's license.

Al Vail remembered in the early 1930s a plane landing on Santa Rosa Island as he and his brother, Russ, watched. Three women got out: Bessie Owen, Effie Fairchild, and Al's spinstress aunt, Louise Mills. The two older women held onto their hats and their skirts in the wind. In the early 1940s, Owens piloted Phil Orr over Santa Rosa Island on a preliminary aerial survey for the purpose of determining the extent of the fossil elephant beds. Although plans for an expedition were interrupted by the war, with the aid of the Coast Guard, Orr's aerial reconnaissance was continued. [Leaflet November 1947]. Owen’s pre-World War II activity included flights over Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India, and China. Bessie Owen died in Mexico at age 71.


Santa Barbara Independent (2011): Aviator Bessie Owen