Thanks in part to the recovery of an unpublished manuscript more than 50 years old, Joan Merriam Smith’s historic, first person account of becoming the first person to fly around the world solo at the equator in 1964 is now a new book, “Fate on a Folded Wing: The True Story of Pioneering Solo Pilot Joan Merriam Smith.”
Tiffany Brown, the granddaughter of the book’s original author, is the Reno, Nevada-based author.
“While I never set out to write a book, the more I started digging into this story, the more I felt pulled to explore it, the more captivating it became,” Brown said. “Eventually, I could not ignore the fact that this story simply had to be told. Rather than waiting for someone else to do it, I decided that 60-plus years was enough time, and that now was as good of a time as ever to buckle down and commit to making this happen.”
In early 1964, Joan Merriam Smith was set to become the first woman in history to complete a flight around the world solo at the age of 27. Inspired by a book she read at the age of 15 about Amelia Earhart, Joan’s life-long ambition was to not only become a female pilot (in an era when females made up less than 2% of privately licensed pilots, and before females were even allowed to pilot planes commercially), but to become the first to complete Earhart’s planned route around the globe.
However, as luck would have it, just five weeks prior to her world flight departure, Joan would learn about Ohio housewife Jerrie Mock’s ambition to also become the first woman to complete an around-the-world solo flight.
Joan and Jerrie’s simultaneous flights around the globe sparked an international media sensation in 1964. But how did two such carefully planned flights, and of such magnitude, come together only two days apart?
Following Joan and Jerrie’s world flights, Trixie-Ann Schubert — a pilot and an Associated Press correspondent on four continents — was eager to tell the story of Joan’s great accomplishment. By late 1964, Schubert was wrapping up a book about Joan’s life story, originally titled World Flight: Joan Merriam Smith, which was on track to be published in early 1965.
However, in January 1965, after logging over 8,200 hours of flight time and being involved in zero accidents, Joan was involved in a near-fatal plane crash. Trixie added a chapter about this to her book. But then, just a few weeks later, both Joan and Trixie died together in a second plane crash on Feb. 17, 1965. Ultimately, the book was never published.
Relying on the old manuscript, as well as trove of letters, images, and personal writings left behind by Trixie, “Fate on a Folded Wing” captures the complex story about one of America’s most under-celebrated female aviation pioneers as told from a 21st century perspective.