In 1947, 22 year old Betty Skelton first glimpsed the tiny aerobatic plane she would love for the next 5 decades. Little Stinker was the hand-builtcreation from Curtis Pitts, the father of modern aerobatics. At the time, Betty was flying airshows and instructing students at her father’s flight school, and when she saw the plane flown by another airshow pilot, she just knew she had to fly it. At 5 feet tall and nearly 100 pounds, Betty was a tough competitor, fearless pilot and a bundle of energy. In 1948, ‘49 and ‘50, at a time when men and women competed separately, she won the Feminine International Aerobatics Championships, but the truth is that she was as good, perhaps even better than the men that flew the same routines. There had never been anyone who could fly Little Stinker as gracefully, precisely & aggressively as Betty could.
From her earliest years, Betty was involved in aviation. Her mom learned to fly first and her father owned a flight school. When Betty was 12 years old, a flight instructor became her first love. She dedicated herself to practice, carefully rehearsing each maneuver over and over until it was perfect. At a time when airshow pilots were routinely killed or injured in accidents, Betty’s perfectionism kept her from ever having a serious accident. She also flew airplanes for speed records, and one flight in a P-51 ended in a dead-stick landing after the engine exploded. With calm, focused determination, she brought the airplane down without a scratch.
In 1951, Betty retired from the airshow business, first test-driving cars for Chrysler, and ultimately working with Chevrolet in development, testing and marketing of the Corvette. Over a 15 year association, she set numerous speed records in the Corvette as well as other Chevrolet models. In 1959 she began astronaut training with the original Mercury Seven. She also took up boat-jumping and skydiving.
In 1985, Betty and her husband donated Little Stinker to the National Air & Space Musuem, where it can be seen hanging prominently in the main entry hall of the new Udvar-Hazy facility at Dulles Airport in Virginia.
In recognition of her achievements, Betty Skelton was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2005.