From Ames High to Flying High

1915: the one millionth Model T was produced, the first transcontinental telephone line opened for service, Girl Scouts was founded and Neta Snook graduated from Ames High School. Neta Snook is thought to be the first licensed woman pilot in Iowa. As a young girl, Snook shared her father’s interest in automobiles, which led to her fascination with flying. At Ames High, Snook took the required hours for home economics, then she happily took mechanical drawing, combustion engines, and a farm tractors repair, maintenance and overhaul class. Coincidentally, Albert Caldwell, the Titanic survivor, was principal of Ames High at the time. After graduating from Ames High school, Snook went on to Iowa State. “When not in class, I spent much of my time at the college library… I also read about heavier-than-air craft — planes that used mechanical power. Now I really wanted to learn to fly,” Snook said in her autobiography. Later, Snook applied to a flying school in Davenport, Iowa where she was the only girl in her class after her application to an aviation school in Virginia was rejected because she was a woman. The students built their own aeroplane, in which Snook had her first flight on July 21, 1917. "We raced down the field, the engine roaring and all eight cylinders firing in perfect time. I felt the tail lift but scarcely knew when we left the ground….I had no feeling of height, only of complete security with those long, sleek wings on either side which seemed almost a part of me,” Snook wrote. She was hooked after that first flight and knew this was what she wanted to do. After the plane was ruined by a crash, Snook was forced to look elsewhere to complete the minutes of flying time for her license. She ended up at Glenn Curtiss Flying School, where she had also been turned away before because she was a woman. However her lessons ended when the school closed due to WWI complications. After going through two schools, Snook was still determined to get her pilot’s license, so she traveled to Miami, Florida where her instructor relocated the school. Snook stayed there until she completed her minutes of flying time. Finally in 1918, Snook finally received her well deserved pilot’s license. “Now I was a recognized pilot before all the world,” Snook wrote. Her license was restricted to pleasure and training flights only, no passengers allowed. “I ignored it (the part of her license that said no passengers), as did my pilot friends, and erased the first "n" in "none" and carried passengers until I sold my plane.” Snook went on to become a licensed flight instructor in California. One day, a young woman and her father walked up to Snook. The young woman asked Snook to teach her to fly and she agreed. Little did she know that her student would become one of the most famous pilots in history. With Snook’s dog, Camber, occasionally watching from the sidelines, she began to teach her new student, Amelia Earhart, to fly. Earhart and Snook became fast friends. Snook was there during Earhart’s first flight as well as her first crash. “The propeller was broken and the landing gear damaged. This was Amelia’s first crash, and when I turned to see if she was hurt, she was powdering her nose.” Snook and Earhart’s paths parted and Snook went on to marry Bill Southern and have a son, William Curtiss Southern, while Earhart moved on to her famous aviation career. Snook made a promise that if her baby was healthy she would give up flying forever. William Curtiss Southern was born healthy and Snook stayed true to her promise. In 1937 Amelia Earhart disappeared in her flight across the Pacific Ocean. Snook named her autobiography, “I Taught Amelia to Fly” and kept in contact with Earhart’s family. Both women were pioneers in aviation, never afraid to do what society said they couldn’t. In 1991 Neta Snook had the last flight of her life, she died shortly after on March 23 at the age of 95. Snook didn’t live to see herself added to the Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame in 1992. Her whole life, Snook always believed in herself. “I knew I could fly.”