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YOUR PURCHASE OF THESE BOOKS SUPPORTS THE WEB SITES THAT BRING TO YOU THE HISTORY BEHIND OLD AIRFIELD REGISTERS

Your copy of the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available at the link. 375 pages with black & white photographs and extensive tables

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The Congress of Ghosts (available as eBook) is an anniversary celebration for 2010.  It is an historical biography, that celebrates the 5th year online of www.dmairfield.org and the 10th year of effort on the project dedicated to analyze and exhibit the history embodied in the Register of the Davis-Monthan Airfield, Tucson, AZ. This book includes over thirty people, aircraft and events that swirled through Tucson between 1925 and 1936. It includes across 277 pages previously unpublished photographs and texts, and facsimiles of personal letters, diaries and military orders. Order your copy at the link.

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Military Aircraft of the Davis Monthan Register, 1925-1936 is available at the link. This book describes and illustrates with black & white photographs the majority of military aircraft that landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield between 1925 and 1936. The book includes biographies of some of the pilots who flew the aircraft to Tucson as well as extensive listings of all the pilots and airplanes. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author, while supplies last.

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Art Goebel's Own Story by Art Goebel (edited by G.W. Hyatt) is written in language that expands for us his life as a Golden Age aviation entrepreneur, who used his aviation exploits to build a business around his passion.  Available as a free download at the link.

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Winners' Viewpoints: The Great 1927 Trans-Pacific Dole Race (available as eBook) is available at the link. This book describes and illustrates with black & white photographs the majority of military aircraft that landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield between 1925 and 1936. The book includes biographies of some of the pilots who flew the aircraft to Tucson as well as extensive listings of all the pilots and airplanes. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author, while supplies last.

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Clover Field: The first Century of Aviation in the Golden State (available in paperback) With the 100th anniversary in 2017 of the use of Clover Field as a place to land aircraft in Santa Monica, this book celebrates that use by exploring some of the people and aircraft that made the airport great. 281 pages, black & white photographs.

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Thanks to Guest Editor Bob Woodling for help researching this page.

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I'm looking for information and photographs of Sweeley and her airplane to include on this page. If you have some you'd like to share, please click this FORM to contact me.

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Ruby LaVELLE (Sovern) SWEELEY (Howard)

WORK IN PROGRESS

Ruby LaVelle (Sovern) Sweeley was born in July 25, 1902 in Lane County, Oregon. I don't know what her family called her, but most of the aviation-related references I have reviewed use the name "LaVelle Sweeley," so that is the one I'll use here.

According to the 1910 U.S. Census, her first, she lived at age seven in Eugene, OR with her father, George (age 33; 1876-1938), mother Dora (31; 1877-1951) and a roomer, Charles Kernan (44). Her father was a "Barber" in his "Own Shop." Mr. Kernan was also a barber. Interestingly, George would reinvent himself through the years from cutting hair to become an undertaker and then to local elected office as coroner. I have no information about LaVelle's early life or schooling.

According to her marriage certificate, below, she was married September 8, 1918 to Gilbert D. Roach. She would have been 16 years old.

Ruby LaVelle Sweeley & G.D. Roach, Marriage Certificate, September 8, 1918 (Source: Woodling)
Ruby LaVelle Sweeley & G.D. Roach, Marriage Certificate, September 8, 1918 (Source: Woodling)

 

Modesto News-Herald, June 14, 1929 (Source: newspapers.com)
Modesto News-Herald, June 14, 1929 (Source: newspapers.com)

 

By the 1920 Census, LaVelle's family was moved to Portland, OR, and George had taken up undertaking. Living with George and Dora were their son-in-law of two years Gilbert D. Roach (22) and daughter Ruby L. Roach (19). He was an electrical company salesman and she a bookkeeper. I do not know how long their marriage lasted, but LaVelle was divorced and remarried during 1927 to Register pilot William R. Sweeley (see below).

A couple of years after her second marriage, she appeared in the news, left, as a passenger in the Fokker Fokker F-10 NC394E. We know the registration number, because it was the only F-10 operated by the Richfield Oil Company. Note that her husband was the commandant of the Air Corps Reserve at Clover Field. Note too that, besides Sweeley, other Register pilots are cited, for example, Vera Dawn Walker, Bobbi Trout and Dudley M. Steele. Pilot Thomas J. Fowler is signed in both the Santa Monica Register and the Davis-Monthan Register.

From the September 15, 1929 issue of the Modesto News-Herald (CA), below, we can deduce when she learned to fly, and when she married William R. Sweeley. She had "recently" won a bet with Bebe Daniels (wife of Register pilot Ben Lyon) that she would be the first of the two of them to solo at the Long Beach, CA airport. A photograph of Daniels is at Lyon's link. They apparently soloed during the summer or early fall of 1929 (see the article at left).

Modesto News-Herald, September 15, 1929 (Source: newspapers.com)
Modesto News-Herald, September 15, 1929 (Source: newspapers.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to the article, LaVelle had been married to William Sweeley (11/12/1892-?) for 2.5 years, making their wedding date sometime in 1927 (May?). She would have been about 26 years old. William was a long-term army officer. Please direct your browser east to his link at the Davis-Monthan Airfield in Tucson, AZ.

Notice in the article the mention of her instructor, Register pilot Al Ebrite, and a witness to her first solo, Register pilot Pete Reinhart.

Regarding her appearance in the Clover Field Register, she signed her name as LaVelle Sweeley. She was among a group of at least 19 other women who landed at the same time, about mid-day, on Friday, May 9, 1930. She flew the Travel Air she identified as NC684K, a Model BE-4000, S/N 1274. She recorded no passengers. She indicated in the Register that the airplane belonged to her.

The women's flights originated at several airfields around Los Angeles (Sweeley's originated in Long Beach (where she lived at the time because of her husband's army assignment there), but their unanimous destination that day was Culver City, CA. Register pilot Clema Granger was opening an airfield there, so their flights were a gathering in celebration of that event.

From the Register, the group consisted of (in order of signatures in the Register), W.V. Ludlow (?), Melba Gorby(*), Mary Cline, Jean Stuart, Ethel Richardson, Helen M. Beck, E. Curley, Clema Granger, Eunice Sargent, Patty Willis, Ruth AlexanderGladys O'Donnell (*), Aline Miller, Sweeley, Elizabeth Kelley, Katherine Truett, Lindsay Holladey, Edith Bond, Felice Farrow and Peggy Gilliland. If you know anything about these women, please let me KNOW. I list their names here so that the search engines will find them. The ? after Ludlow signifies that I am not sure of gender or whether Ludlow was a member of the group. The asterisks denote charter members of the newly-formed (1929) Ninety-Nines, a women's aviation organization still active today. Curiously, when I checked the lists of 99s membership names, Sweeley was never a member of the 99s.

The photograph below is from this REFERENCE by Kelly, page 41. It was taken on May 9th at Granger's Culver City Airport opening. The women listed above, except for Sweeley (was she the photographer?), are pictured, plus a number of others. Not all signed the Register. The logo at upper left

Women Meeting at Culver Field, May 9, 1930 (Source: Kelly)
Women Meeting at Culver Field, May 9, 1930 (Source: Kelly)

About the same time, women pilots on both the east and west coasts saw possibilities if they offered their aviation skills in the event of a war or other national emergency. A couple of organizations were formed, but faded within a couple of years. For example, the Betsy Ross Corps (BRC) was organized on the west coast, aspiring to become an auxilliary Army Air Corps. Register pilot Opal Kunz was a prime mover in the Betsy Ross Corps, as was Pancho Barnes. The (tautological) Women's Aeronautical Air Force was organized on the east coast. It faded quickly and I can find no record of it online. And the Women's National Air Corps (WNAC) was conceived and promulgated by Register pilot Mary Charles in 1935. To my knowledge, her full plan for the WNAC was never activated. Please direct your browser to Charles' Web page over on the Davis-Monthan Airfield site for information about WNAC.

LaVelle Sweeley in The Blue Book of Aviation, 1932 (Source: Webmaster)

 

In 1932, Sweeley was featured in the prestigious Blue Book of Aviation (cited, left sidebar). At right is the biographical entry for her in the Blue Book.

Sweeley was involved with yet another women's flying organization named the Women's Air Reserve (WAR). WAR was actually incorporated as a non-profit entity 80 years ago (as of the upload date of this page) on November 20, 1935. It is no longer in business. Its Franchise Tax Board was canceled, date unknown, but it is still registered with a corporate number in the state of California. It was formed with the primary purpose to aid in disasters, where it was impossible to reach people in need of medical attention except by airplane. The organization's purpose was nicely illustrated in the March, 1935 issue of Popular Aviation you may download at the link (PDF 165kB).

Sweeley and Barnes did the legwork of writing the preamble, rules and regulations and getting them approved by Register pilot Major Hap Arnold. LaVelle resigned from WAR early at the request of her husband, because the women expanded the group and, as of 1933, Captain Sweeley did not want his name "mixed up" with hers. Small chance this would be a consideration today.

Although the WAR, BRC and WNAC were not long-lived or effective in and of themselves, more broadly, a few years later, the Women's Army Corps (WAC) and Women's Air Service Pilots (WASP) of WWII assumed the organizational characteristics that were outlined in spirit by Kunz, Sweeley and Charles in the mid-1930s.

Modesto News-Herald (CA), September 5, 1931 (Source: newspapers.com)
Modesto News-Herald (CA), September 5, 1931 (Source: newspapers.com)

 

 

Modesto News-Herald (CA), September 9, 1931 (Source: newspapers.com)
Modesto News-Herald (CA), September 9, 1931 (Source: newspapers.com)

 

It's so easy to digress. To continue, I don't know what LaVelle's flying experience was like between 1929 and 1931, but, overall, it was an intensely active time for aviation in southern California during those years.

LaVelle was cited in the September 5, 1931 issue of the Modesto News-Herald, above, left, as flying from Long Beach to Modesto, CA to attend a family function. She acquired her "highest pilot's license," which was the Transport certification. Interestingly, and keeping with the times, almost all the news articles I found for her state her name as Mrs. William R. Sweeley and not Ruby or LaVelle Sweeley. Regardless, hers was a flight of about 300 statute miles, which she flew in four hours and twenty minutes. Her flight was, at that time, "...the longest the aviatrix has made."

Another article in the same newspaper for September 8th, right, added more details around her flight and provided her impressions of it. it also clarified that she was accompanied by a mechanic who was also the owner of the aircraft, an unidentified cabin monoplane.

Speaking of "aviatrix," the incidence of that word in the English language has changed over the years. It was zero, of course, in the early 1900s and peaked in 1942. The graph below is from the Google Ngram Viewer and shows how common usage has changed for the words "aviatrix," "Aviatrix," and "AVIATRIX." The incidence today is approximately what it was in 1930. It's been on a downward trend since the early 1990s. Most of the women I know who fly airplanes today call themselves pilots and prefer it that way.

Incidence of the Word "Aviatrix" in "Lots of Books," 1900-2016 (Source: Google Ngram)
Incidence of the Word "Aviatrix" in "Lots of Books," 1900-2016 (Source: Google N-Gram)

 

Modesto News-Herald, June 22, 1933 (Source: newspapers.com)

 

But, I digress again. On behalf of the army, William Sweeley was moved around the country and the world as his military career developed. In most cases, LaVelle moved with him and they lived a wide social life with their families and military officers and men. Please direct your browser east to his biogaphy page at the Davis-Monthan Airfield for details about his assignments.

For example, The Modesto News-Herald, June 22, 1933, left reported their travel to Montgomery, AL thence to Panama. They were based in Panama for a number of years. The 1940 Census placed LaVelle (36) and William (47) living together in army housing at France Field in the Panama Canal Zone. Below is an aerial photograph of France Field from your Webmaster's father's collection. He was stationed there 1938-39. Perhaps he knew the Sweeleys. We'll never know.

France Field, Ca. 1938 (Source: W.F. Hyatt)
France Field, Ca. 1938 (Source: W.F. Hyatt)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometime between the 1940 Census and 1943 William Sweeley and LaVelle divorced. They had been married about 15-16 years. He remarried a third time to Betty Lou Cobb on December 27, 1943 in Spokane, WA. 

In a confusing bit of naming, LaVelle either remarried someone named Howard, (because she shows up in this REFERENCE under the name LaVelle Sovern Howard), OR, she adopted both her father's last and her mother's maiden names, which were Sovern and Howard, respectively. If you know anything about her remarriage or alternative name choice, please let me KNOW.

According to the California Death Index, LaVelle Howard died in California in January 16, 1983 at age 80 years, five months. She flew West carrying Transport pilot certificate T9444. Except for news articles and genealogical information found at subscription sites, she has almost no Web presence. If you know anything about her activities from 1940 to 1983, or if you have photographs, please let me KNOW.

 

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THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 08/29/16 REVISED: 09/27/16