Elinor Patricia Smith (1912-2010) was a teen sensation. At 15 she was the youngest female in the world to fly solo. That was in 1926. In 1927 she became the youngest licensed pilot on record. When she was 17, she set a solo endurance record for women.
In 1928 she flew under all four bridges spanning New York's East River, the only person ever to do so. Mayor Jimmy Walker pulled her license, but since it was signed by Orville Wright and because the mayor was smitten by the youngsters charm, Walker limited the suspension to 10 days. Retroactively.
Elinor’s feats brought her in contact with famous fliers Bert Acosta, Clyde Pangborn, Clarence Chamberlin and George Haldeman, all of whom flew for designer-builder Giuseppe M. Bellanca. When in 1928 Henry B. du Pont induced Bellanca to relocate to New Castle, Elinor applied to become a Bellanca test pilot. She became the company's first female in that capacity.
She flew demonstration flights for potential customers, including Amelia Earhart. Elinor lined up sponsorships for herself for competitive flying events and record attempts for endurance, altitude and speed—all specialties of Bellanca airplanes.
Aviatrix of the Year 1930
In 1929 she set four world records, including speed: 190.8 m.p.h. She also toured the United States piloting a Bellanca Pacemaker for mass parachute drops.
In 1930 she set a light plane altitude record of 11,889 feet and an endurance record of 26 hours and 21 minutes in a Bellanca CH. In 1930, she was selected by licensed pilots across the country as "U.S. Aviatrix of the Year." (Friend Jimmy Doolittle took men's honors.)
Elinor married in 1933. She and husband Patrick Sullivan, New York lawyer and legislator, raised a son and three daughters. Mr. Sullivan died in 1956. Now 96 years old, Elinor lives in Palo Alto, Calif.