The East Canada Section 99s ‘Female Aviatrix Stamp Series’, 2010 stamp honouring Ridgeville Ontario resident Dorothy Rungeling was released on May 12, Dorothy’s 99thbirthday. Designed by Ninety-Nines member Suzanne Wiltshire, the Dorothy Rungeling stamp features a portrait of Dorothy with a Bell 47G-2 helicopter in the background.
Born in 1911, Dorothy was not a typical female in that she rode a motorcycle, as well as horses. She trained horses and judged horse shows, unusual activities for young women, particularly for the times.
Dorothy admits to being very nervous during her first flight, but then determined to overcome her fear. At first she was just going to take lessons until she soloed, but by then the flying bug had settled in. She completed her Private License in 1949 at the Welland airport.
Seeing how serious she was about flying, Dorothy’s husband Charlie didn’t want her flying an old airplane so he bought her a new Luscombe – for $2500! To build time for her Commercial Licence, Dorothy set out for Cuba with a group of pilots. Her navigation ability improved significantly when she became separated from the group. Dorothy later owned a Cessna 170, Cessna 172, Piper Pacer and then a Beech Bonanza airplane.
After completing her Instructor Rating, Dorothy instructed part-time and got a charter to set up her own business at the Welland Airport. But, in Dorothy’s words, “Seeing dark clouds on the horizon, I gave up the idea when I ran into opposition from an existing flying club.”
Dorothy embraced air racing with a passion. Seven times she competed in the Women’s International Air Race, also called the “Angel Derby”, an air race of approximately 1500 – 1600 kilometers between the USA and another country (Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean). Her team often placed in the top ten. Dorothy also competed three times in the All-Woman Transcontinental Air Race (AWTAR), sometimes referred to as the “Powder Puff Derby”, usually about a 4300 – 4400 kilometer course across the USA. Dorothy’s copilots included other well known Canadian pilots, Lorna deBlicquy and Felicity McKendry. Teams often dressed alike. Dorothy’s favourite outfit was the year she and her co-pilot wore matching dresses and aprons with the caption “To hell with housework”.
In Canada Dorothy competed for the Governor General’s Cup, a short course at the Canadian National Exhibition based on precision flying. She won the cup in 1953 and 1955, competing against mostly male pilots. Dorothy was involved in the first Canadian Section of the Ninety-Nines and served as Governor in the mid 1950s.
Through Dorothy’s weekly aviation column in the Welland Tribune and articles in Canadian aviation publications, she stimulated public interest in aviation. Twice she won the Air Industry and Transportation Association of Canada Award for her aviation articles. Her writing also led a helicopter distributer to offer her free lessons if she wrote about the experience from a fixed wing pilot’s point of view. Of course Dorothy welcomed this opportunity and had lessons on the Bell 47G-2 helicopter until she soloed. However, with no prospect of a job, she didn’t continue lessons.
Dorothy was honoured by the 99s during International Women’s Year when she received the Amelia Earhart Medallion. In 1999 her greatest supporter, Dorothy’s husband Charlie, sponsored her induction into the International Forest of Friendship, a beautiful park in Atchison, Kansas which celebrates contributions to aviation by people from many countries. In 2003 Dorothy was appointed Member of the Order of Canada. She was astonished at the 2008 Welland air show to hear the announcer say that the Snowbirds’ heart formation was dedicated to Dorothy Rungeling.
Though she gave up flying years ago, she continues to write. We wonder if she’s hoping to be offered lessons flying the space shuttle. Since turning 90, Dorothy has written and published 4 books, The Road to Home, It’s Fun to Grow Old, The Flying Housewifeand The Life and Works of Ethelwyn Wetherald, Dorothy’s mother. During the past few years Dorothy has also continued to instruct, as she shares her computer skills and knowledge with other seniors.
Dorothy “slipped the surly bonds” on February 17, 2018 at the age of 106 years.
By Marilyn Dickson