Maude Tait, Pioneer Aviatrix
by Carol G. Leonard
Maude Irving Tait Moriarty, born in 1901 in Chicopee, Massachusetts, was one of the world's greatest flyers of her time. Long before women made history in space, like Sally Ride and Kathryn Sullivan, Maude Tait was a pioneer aviatrix during the 1930's. Tait became a very accomplished pilot and established several flying records. She posted a new speed record for women on September 6, 1931, when she flew fifty miles at an average speed of 187.5 miles per hour; this beat even Amelia Earhart's previous record by 10 mph, and missed the existing men's record by only 1 mph. In 1929, she set an unofficial altitude record for women by soaring to 16,500 feet. She also was the first woman in New England to hold a Transport Pilot license, the highest rating given by The United States Department of Commerce.
Tait met her challenges flying in one of the famous Gee Bee airplanes. The name comes from the initials of the manufacturers name, letters "G" & "B", which stood for Granville Brothers Aircraft, Inc. Five brothers from New Hampshire started their own aircraft repair business, Granville Air Service, in Boston in 1925. The name was later changed and the Gee Bee trademark was designed. The Granville Brothers' innovative ideas and contributions to aerodynamic design had a tremendous impact on the advancement of aviation technology. Their high performance racing craft, designed and built in their little shop at Springfield Airport in Massachusetts, were the sensation of their time.
Maude Tait, daughter of Springfield's prominent Tait family (which was instrumental in bringing the Granvilles to Springfield, MA), became the country's top woman air racer in her Gee Bee Model Y Super Senior Sportster. White with bright red trim, the new aircraft featured the "Filaloola Bird" painted on its sides, a comic strip character of the day whose claim to fame was its reputation for flying in ever diminishing circles until it flew into its own tail feathers. The Senior Sportster was truly a versatile plane, whether used for racing, aerobatics or high speed cross-country flying. Considered ahead of its time, it was propelled by a powerful Pratt & Whitney engine. Tait's Senior Sportster was a deluxe model, built by the Granville Brothers for her. In addition to standard equipment, it was equipped with a Haywood starter, metal prop, compass, and turn and bank indicator.
In 1929, within a few months of setting up shop in Springfield, the Granville Brothers' Gee Bee planes won national recognition in a series of air races, in which pilots like Tait flew city-to-city over much of the country. This was during the tremendous growth in aviation that followed Lindbergh's flight from New York to Paris in 1927. Maude Tait's exploits in the Gee Bee Racing planes brought the Granville Brothers and the city of Springfield to world preeminence in aviation.
Maude Tait's world fame rested on many racing achievements. Over the Labor Day holidays in Cleveland, Ohio, Tait won major contests. It was in September of 1931 at the Cleveland National Air Races that she flew her Sportster to victory, winning the Aerol Trophy Race, the big Free-For-All race for women. She set a new women's closed-course world speed record of 187.6 mph, a feat recognized by the National Aeronautic Association and the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. The prize for winning back in 1931 was a whopping $3,750. She also piloted one of the little Model E Sportsters to victories.
1931 was the year of great achievement for the Granville Brothers and their planes. Their Gee Bees, piloted by Lowell Bayles, Bob Hall and Maude Tait, swept the championships in the week-long events. With their victories, Springfield became for a time the world's capital city in aviation. When they all returned home to Springfield, a crowd of 10,000 were at Springfield Airport to greet them. Car horns blared, a drum and bugle corps provided martial music and newsreel camera crews and press photographers were everywhere. There followed a parade through downtown Springfield and a formal city reception, dinner and fireworks. The planes were roped off and visited by thousands of spectators.
Maude Tate was educated at Springfield's MacDuffie School for Girls, LaSalle Seminary and Holland House School. She began her professional life as a school teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in Hampden, MA., later teaching third grade at East Longmeadow's Center School. She taught school until 1928, when she decided to become a full-time competitive flyer. Her father and his three brothers were all aviation enthusiasts. Together, they backed the Granville Brothers early efforts to produce the sports-type airplanes.
She became one of the nations first commercial pilots. While doing so, she established a new altitude record for women, reaching 16,500 feet over Connecticut in 1929. On her first commercial express flight, she delivered a radio set for a radio company and a wedding gift for John Coolidge, son of the former U.S President. Maude also flew over opening day of a professional football season to drop the game football. She was a "daredevil" to be sure!
Besides breaking speed and altitude records for women flyers, she had several mishaps, including forced landings due to weather, a fire in her Gee Bee, a flight with fuel running out, and a plunge to earth in a Crane Primary Glider due to a gust of wind. Hospitalized for six months following her crash in the glider, she was forced to wear a back brace for two years.
Maude ended her flying career when she married attorney James Moriarty. Mrs. Maude Tait Moriarty said that during her precarious years of flight she lived only "from day to day" and thought not about longevity. In her later years she made few public appearances, two of them in Springfield in 1978. She met with and signed autographs for her many fans and friends, (this writer included), during observances on the 75th anniversary of the Wright Brothers Flight, and later appeared at the Springfield Science Museum for ceremonies inaugurating the Museum's Hall of Flight.
Mrs. Moriarty lived to be 81 years old. She was quoted as saying, "I always wanted to pilot my own plane, I didn't feel daring, just curious and interested in speed and altitude, and always wanted to explore their possibilities."
The world of flight has greatly changed since the early days of the Gee Bee airplanes, but the same courage and enthusiasm still soars in the hearts of future women aviators.
Carol G. Leonard, a feelance writer, resides in Massachusettes. This article is copyright © 1998 Carol G. Leonard.