MANUEL, Ariz. On a sunny spring day in April a small crowd
of people gathered at the San Manuel Airport outside of Tucson.
They traveled from as far as Colorado and California to attend the
two-day Gyrocopter Fly-in event.
attendance was a woman known as the Gyrocopter Queen,
81-year-old Marion Springer, a Choctaw pioneer in the rotorcraft
or rotary wing aircraft industry. The first female
certified flight instructor, she has been flying gyrocopters since
the late 1960s.
people are probably not familiar with a gyrocopter or gyroplane.
At first sight it looks like a cross between a go-cart and a mini-helicopter.
It is a home built rotorcraft with a propeller allowing it to take
flight. There is a growing interest in the specialized area of rotorcrafts
among aviation enthusiasts. The low cost, build-your-own sport craft,
first invented in the 1920s, has taken flight in the market today.
is not only a gyrocopter expert, but in 2009 she was recognized
as one of the top women who hold the most hours in a pilots
seat, and since women account for only about seven percent of licensed
pilots in America (according to Federal Aviation Administration
statistics) she certainly holds a place in history.
the fly-in, she flew with fellow gyro pilot Britta Penca. Springer
and Penca are among only 20 women in the world to have earned this
specialized aviation license and at this event, they took flight
together in a tandem aircraft. It was the first time two female
gyro pilots flew together in the same aircraft, and the crowd watched
in awe. The two took a 20-minute flight and returned safely.
has become a role model for many women. She has inspired me
in many ways, as a strong woman she can really hold her own
in what is traditionally a mans world of aviation, Penca
Juan, a 16-year-old Tohono Oodham who is just starting pilots
training, came to the event to meet Springer. Finding other Native
women pilots has been a challenge for her.
is amazing to see her, especially still flying at 81.
incredibly inspired by her. In her 40-year career, Springer
has not come into contact with any other Native women pilots. I
know they are out there, but very few, she speculated that
it might be more due to economic reasons, rather than traditional
moved to California from Oklahoma when she was young. It was there
that she met her late husband Alden Springer, or Docko
(as she calls to him) who was from the Shoshone tribe. They married
and raised a family.
began flying in the mid-60s, after she told her husband that she
had always wanted to. He decided to help make her dream a reality
and arranged flying lessons for her. She started out flying fixed-wing
aircrafts and eventually bought her own plane. She said she fell
in love with the gyroplane after her husband first built one and
soon had to have one of her own.
is such a sense of freedom, being up in the air in one. It is very
different from a fixed wing, closed in aircraft. She and her
husband started a flight school for the specialized aircrafts, but
she retired from flying after she lost her husband in 1995. She
returned to flying just a few years ago. She said, without her Docko,
it was just too painful.
return to the gyro community was met with a large crowd of supporters
and gyrocopter enthusiasts, as she flew again for the first time
in 2008 at the Annual Ken Brock Freedom Fly-in in El Mirage. It
was so amazing to see her return to flight, Penca said as
she choked back a tear.
is one of a kind. Her adventuresome spirit and positive attitude
comes across in her autobiography, published in 2004 Born
Free My Life in Gyrocopters, where she shares her life
experiences in an uplifting and entertaining writing style. Springer
is also an artist; she constructs handmade Indian dolls, which she
sells online. Links to her book and dolls are on her Web site at