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   Vol. 14  No. 20
Friday March 6, 2015

Air Babies By Elvy Kalep
Air Babies Book     We write about women in air cargo, about female aviators, and because we acknowledge women as consummate multi-taskers, we must remember to ask: what else can you do? What else do you do?
     Invariably, women in every industry perform several and various functions in order not to go ‘hysterical,’ a term loved dearly by detractors of feminists like Betty Friedan as it improperly classified and deflected from that general feeling of malaise suffered by so many women who were not put to good use beyond the home.
     As lovers of all things historical and otherwise, FlyingTypers recently came across an intriguing vintage image of two baby-faced planes rendered in bright primary colors, soaring through the sky against a tilted horizon and setting orange sun. When we say baby-faced, we don’t mean that euphemistically, as if the planes are just a few days old. The planes, quite literally, have baby faces—round, cherubic, ruddy-cheeked, with milk saucer eyes and gold-plaited hair. Stylistically it’s very reminiscent of the Max Fleischer cartoons of the 30s and 40s.
Elvy Kalep     The children’s book Air Babies was written and illustrated by a young woman named Elvy Kalep, and at first glance that statement seems like nothing special. But upon further examination and exploration, we realized that Kalep was not just or only a children’s book author—she was also an aviator. And not just any aviator, but the first female in Estonia to receive a pilot’s license, in 1931. A year later, in May 1932, Kalep traveled to the United States with the intention of flying back to Europe—essentially to attempt a solo transatlantic flight. Unbeknownst to her, another woman had her eye on that particular feat—Amelia Earhart. The two became friends, and Earhart performed the first solo transatlantic flight later that month, which put Kalep off of the idea as she would no longer be the first.
     Despite being one-upped, the two women became good friends, and Kalep joined Earhart in her endeavors to encourage women into the field of aviation, becoming a member of the famous Ninety-Nines. A few years later, in 1936, Elvy Kalep published Air Babies, a story of two young planes named ‘Happy Wings’ and ‘Speedy’ who wished to learn how to fly. Two years later, a reprint of Air Babies included the following foreword from her friend, Amelia Earhart:
     When last I surveyed the field of children’s aviation literature, I found very, very little indeed for the very young. Yet everyone in the industry knows this extremely youthful group is the most important of all the citizenry as concerns airplanes and air travel. They take both so entirely for granted that while they sometimes non-plus their complex-ridden elders, they are the pride and joy of “Aeronauts.”
     Authors have usually been content to talk down to these important people by preparing for them simplified tales of their older brothers’ and sisters’ air heroes. However, Miss Kalep has invented some winged characters with whom they should be much more at home than with the George Washingtons and Abe Lincolns of flying. She is a pilot herself, so her AIR BABIES commit none of the technical errors so revolting to well-informed children.
     May these two—AIR BABIES and CHILDREN—prove warm friends.

     Sadly, just three days after writing the above foreword, Amelia Earhart disappeared. Later, Kalep lamented the loss of her dear friend: “I miss her very much. When I heard that Amelia had disappeared, well, I fell apart.”
     Elvy Kalep would go on to design some children’s toys as well—one particular toy was called “Patsie Parachute.” Children could toss Patsie up in the air and watch her drift down to the ground just like a real parachutist.
     Elvy Kalep died in 1989 at the age of 90 in Lakeworth, Florida. Of her accomplishments, it should be enough to say that she was the first female pilot of Estonia—that alone is saying a lot. But Elvy Kalep was a classic female multitasker—she did the work of flying, but she also inspired the next generation of fliers. Essentially, Elvy is still working even today, sparking the imaginations of young aviators from the ochre pages of the vintage book, Air Babies.
Flossie Arend

Amelia Earhart, Elvy Kalep, Frances Marsalis and Betty Huyler GilliesSkating for a roller-derby fundraiser at Roosevelt Field, NY, circa 1933. (L-R) Amelia Earhart, Elvy Kalep, Frances Marsalis and Betty Huyler Gillies.
Amelia and group at derby fundraiser

Thanks to Gail Chumbley for the photograph above. For more on Elvy and Amelia click here

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