Blanche D. Hutchinson, 93, aviator, part of 'America's First Flying Family'

November 04, 1995|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Blanche D. Carrie Hutchinson, whose aviation adventures as a member of "The Flying Hutchinsons -- America's First Flying Family" during the 1920s and 1930s brought them worldwide fame, died Oct. 24 of complications of heart disease at Flagler Hospital in St. Augustine, Fla.

The former Ruxton resident was 93 and had lived in Ponte Vedra, Fla., since 1990. Mrs. Hutchinson and her husband, George R. Hutchinson, and two daughters, Kathryn and Janet, made headlines in 1931 when they flew to every state capital in the union proving that flying was safe, reliable transportation .

The next year the family crashed in eastern Greenland while attempting to cross the Atlantic in a two-engine Sikorsky amphibian plane. The four spent several days at an Eskimo fishing village while awaiting rescue by a Scottish ship, which took them to England.

They were received by Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and knew such aviation pioneers as Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and Eddie Rickenbacker.

On the eve of World War II, the family flew to Europe on a goodwill mission with a peace scroll bearing the signatures of world leaders. The mission ended in England with the outbreak of hostilities in 1939.

They wrote "Flying the States" and "The Flying Family in Greenland." Their adventures earned them an appearance on the front of a Wheaties box, vaudeville appearances at Loew's State Theater on Broadway and a year's engagement on the NBC Radio Red Network where they dramatized their travels.

So great was their popularity, more than 4 million copies of a jigsaw puzzle featuring the Hutchinsons in front of a map showing their route from New York to Europe were distributed by Cocomalt, their sponsor.

Mrs. Hutchinson "was a cohesive force in the family and had a great personality, but she wasn't a great talker and wasn't too comfortable doing the theater and radio shows," said daughter Kathryn James of Ponte Vedra.

Mrs. Hutchinson was born Blanche Delcher on North Calvert Street and raised there. She graduated from Eastern High School in 1920 and married Mr. Hutchinson, a Baltimore bank teller, in 1922.

"Daddy was crazy about airplanes and loved going to the track," Mrs. James said. "One day he won $5,000 at Pimlico and came home dropping money from his hands saying he was going to buy an airport," she said.

Mr. Hutchinson purchased William Penn Airport near Willow Grove, Pa., where he gave flying lessons and took curious yet anxious passengers for aerial tours of the countryside and Philadelphia.

"Her real contribution to the operation was making sure people ++ saw her putting her two little girls in the airplane, which made them think that flying must be safe," said Mrs. James with a laugh.

After selling the airport, the family toured the nation promoting aviation and exploring routes for Pan-American Airlines with their mascot, Governor, a lion cub given to them by Frank "Bring 'Em Back Alive" Buck, who gained fame capturing wild animals.

"When we visited President Roosevelt in the oval office, we took Governor right along with us on a leash," Mrs. James said.

"Mother even did a little navigating on some of our trips," said daughter Janet Simpson also of Ponte Vedra. During World War II at 18, she was the youngest pilot in the Women's Air Service Pilots command.

"She never flinched when Daddy swooped out of the sky to take a look at the name on a railroad station to see where we were," Mrs. Simpson said of her mother.

When newspapers editorialized about the dangers of the Hutchinsons flying with their daughters, the couple told The Sun in 1930, "Our daughters are safer in the air than on city streets."

At the end of World War II, the couple settled on Boyce Avenue in Ruxton. They led a quiet life and helped Mrs. Simpson operate Kiddie Kollege, a nursery school that closed in 1991. Mr. Hutchinson died in 1989.

"She certainly had a very different kind of life. They were lovely experiences, and she really enjoyed them. If our life had been 9 to 5, we wouldn't have been able to have had such a grand time," Mrs. James said.

Mrs. Hutchinson had been a member of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, the Country Club of Maryland and the Hillendale Country Club.

Services will be at 10 a.m. today at Babcock Presbyterian Church, 8240 Loch Raven Blvd.

In addition to her daughters, she is survived by four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Alzheimer's Association, Central Maryland Chapter, 1850 York Road, Timonium 21093.

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