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Phoebe Omlie

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Phoebe Omlie of Memphis, Tennessee had not gotten to be a highly respected aviatrix before she was twenty-five by doing the Charleston, bobbing her hair, or hanging out in speakeasies. She was not shy about wanting to be the first or the best.

So, it is not likely there was much debate from the boys at the Mono-Aircraft Corporation in Moline when she appeared at the company offices in June of 1928 and announced that she would race their Velie-powered Monocoupe in the 1928 National Air Tour. There was no "please." She was to be the only woman in this 6,300-mile race, competing for the Edsel Ford Trophy and a first prize of $12,000. And she would fly the race solo. She named her Monocoupe "Chiggers."

When Chiggers tipped over in Texas, Phoebe Omlie traded it for a similar Monocoupe belonging to another participant, Jack Atkinson, and finished the race in respectable time.

The boys could hardly complain. Omlie's devotion to Monocoupes popularized the Moline airplane and increased sales. That devotion put Moline briefly on the aviation map. At the end of May 1929, Omlie held a press conference and announced that she would try for a new world altitude record over Moline. At about four on the afternoon of June 29th, she took off from the Moline airport in a Monocoupe 113, dressed in her winter flying outfit. Two hours later she returned to a cheering crowd, and to headlines that read “NEW ALTITUDE MARK IS SET BY WOMAN FLYER.” Omlie had climbed to 24,500 feet, eclipsing the old mark of 17,467 feet. Officials in Washington raised some questions about the accuracy of her instruments, but no one challenged her directly.

Phoebe Omlie had fallen in love with the Monocope. Over the next few years, she flew one she called "Miss Moline" to new distance and speed records across the United States, helping the company on toward success along with herself. Perhaps that is why, again without asking or saying "please," late in life, she listed one of her positions in a biographical encyclopedia as "assistant to the President of Mono-Aircraft."  Did the boys have a problem with that? I think not.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.