Frankie Renner, Akron’s first woman licensed pilot, tried to set the women’s world altitude record. She failed because of equipment problems, she argued. But flying was only one part of her life. She went into radio and produced one of the first programs for women on WADC, Akron.
Renner was born in Sugar Creek, Ohio, in 1897; but she lived most of her life in Akron.
Renner was 30 years old when she earned her pilot’s license (#7410). She had paid for her lessons at the Hugh Robbins Flying Service at the Stow Air Field (now the Kent State University Airport) with the small inheritance from her father, a real estate dealer. Renner said she was absolutely “fascinated” by flying and nothing was going to keep her from it — not even the antics of her flying instructor who did everything he could to frighten her.
In 1927, she finally won her license. In 1930, she earned another license (#314), this one signed by aviation pioneer Orville Wright. That same year Renner was a member of the 99s, the International Organization of Women Pilots organized by aviatrix Amelia Earhart and attended its first convention in Chicago.
In 1931, she was ready to set a record – the women’s world altitude record. Renner was positioned for the move. She had connections with the Waco Plane Company, a manufacturer of biplanes. At the time she was the manager of the air field in Stow and salesperson for the Robbins agency, the local distributor of Waco planes.
Waco outfitted a special biplane for her. (Planes at the time had no cockpit; goggles were the only windshield.) Renner gave up her parachute to lighten the load. On March 13, 1931, Renner, dressed in electrically heated flying clothes, boarded her plane and took off. Her plane climbed for 3-1/2 hours. She soared about 6 miles above the earth. Her altimeter froze and stopped registering at 28,000 feet, she remembered. Then her plane “shuddered and behaved queerly,” when the temperature dropped to 30, 40 even 50 degrees below zero, she told the Plain Dealer. Her goggles were frosted over and she couldn’t get them clear. Her lips started bleeding from the extreme cold and low pressure. “I really was frightened, it was so cold, so deathlike, so unreal,” she said. Renner started down, sure that she had broken the record. She landed “breathless and blue.” But the government said she was 3,700 feet short of the record. Renner always argued that she had broken the record but the government-certified equipment had frozen during the flight. Although she promised to try again, Renner never did.
Instead in 1932 she earned her commercial license, becoming Akron’s first female transport pilot, and started taking passengers and cargo across the Midwest. In 1933, her flying career ended when a fire at the Stow airfield destroyed a hangar and the uninsured planes inside.
After that, she looked for another career and she found it in radio. She took a job as an administrative assistant to aviation enthusiast Allen T. Simmons, owner of radio station WADC (now WSLR). Early on, she produced one of the first programs for women in Akron, a 15-minute segment on fashion and homemaking. She stayed with WADC until her retirement.
Renner died in a nursing home in Millersburg, Ohio, in 1985. She was 87.
Photo courtesy of the Beacon Journal.
–Kathleen L. Endres