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Soaring Pioneer Betty Loufek

Soaring Pioneer Betty Loufek (1924-2013)


Betty Loufek and her twin sister Claire Walters started flying in 1941. Claire chose power flying and became a successful flight instructor. Betty chose sailplane flying in addition to power flying and became a successful soaring pilot.


Betty loved the mountains and in 1947 found herself working at a weather station in Bishop, CA where she met Bob Symons and Harland Ross who ran the operation at the airport. Bob instructed Betty in auto tow and aero tow, thermal and ridge soaring, and the art of cross-country soaring.


In 1947 she crewed at the National Soaring Contest in Wichita Falls, TX where she met and then married John Loufek who was the owner of a Laister-Kaufmann 10A. They kept the L-K at Bishop where Betty could fly it during the week and husband John, a graduate student at Cal Tech, could fly it on weekends.


By 1948 there were 90 Silver “C” pilots in the United States, one of whom was a woman – Ginny Schweizer (#86 in 1947). Betty wanted to be #91 and the second American woman. The pilots at Bishop were studying and exploring the wave and Betty's turn to fly it came on April 15, 1948.    


Bob Symons flew the BT-13 tow plane and Harland Ross ran the wing. Betty released 2,800 feet above the airport and slope soared to 11,000 feet. She made her way through the turbulent air and found the wave. She then flew south along the mountains reaching an altitude of 21,000 feet. She passed the Silver distance mark and now had Silver #91, the second American woman. She was also the first American woman to fly a wave. She glided to a landing at Olancha to claim Silver #91, Gold altitude gain, and set the women's national altitude gain record of 14,496 feet.


In 1950 she flew with her sister Claire to set three women's multi-place records. The same year she set the American women's distance record of 124 miles (previous record 94 miles) in her L-K during the 9th West Coast Championships with the added handicap of dragging Bill Ivans' 300 foot tow rope behind her although she did not know until landing. Betty participated in soaring regattas and West Coast Championships flying from El Mirage in the late 1940s and early 1950s competing with such pilots as Gus Briegleb, John Robinson, Al Santilli, Paul Bikle and Paul Tuntland. She was usually the only woman although now and then Betsy Woodward joined her. Betsy became the third American woman to earn the Silver badge (#116) in 1949.


In 1954 Betty entered the 21st National Soaring Contest at Elsinore California and earned the title of Women's National Soaring Champion. As she says, “I could hardly miss; I was the only woman among 36 pilots.”


Betty was a flight instructor for the Douglas Soaring Club at El Mirage. Her support of soaring continued through 2002 with contributions to the Eagle Fund. She attended the 12th Landmark of Soaring at Bishop in 2002 commemorating the Sierra Wave Project where she renewed many friendships. She is the author, with her sister, of the book This Flying Life published in 1999.


Betty passed away peacefully at home on January 24, 2013.

Posted: 5/1/2013

Final Glide 

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