Leah Hing’s fleet aircraft now on exhibit at Pearson Air Museum

Photo courtesy Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
Photo courtesy Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

The aircraft and engine have been donated by the Trust to the national park’s museum collection

The National Park Service and The Historic Trust (Trust) recently announced the new display of a historic aircraft flown by one of the first Chinese American female pilots and an OX-5 engine at Pearson Air Museum, a part of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. The aircraft and engine have been donated by the Trust to the national park’s museum collection.  

Temple Lentz, President/CEO of The Historic Trust, said: “Since I joined The Historic Trust this Spring, we have been working on building and growing our partner relationships in the community. We are happy to work with our partners at Fort Vancouver NHS to bring the story of Pearson Field to life, and ensure that important artifacts like these are displayed where visitors from across the community, the country, and the world can experience them.”  

The 1931 Fleet Model 7 biplane was formerly owned by Leah Hing, an early Chinese American pilot associated with Pearson Field, as well as the Portland Chinese American Flying Club.  

While playing with a band in Chicago, Leah Hing took her first airplane ride at a school for Chinese American aviators. Soon after, she returned to Portland to work as a cashier in her father’s restaurant, the Chinese Tea Garden, but was determined to become a pilot. Tex Rankin, a national figure in the world of aviation, dined at the Chinese Tea Garden and met Hing. John Gilbert “Tex” Rankin started a flying school in Portland in 1923 but moved his operations to Pearson Field for the years 1924 through 1926. Rankin’s school taught many early Northwest pilots. Rankin suggested that Hing should “take up flying,” and Hing agreed. In a 1980 interview, Hing stated that “there was no antagonism against women pilots, for Rankin taught many women.” According to Rankin, Hing was a natural pilot.  

The beginning of Hing’s training was a source of interest for newspapers nationwide. On March 6, 1932, The Oregonian quoted Hing as saying, “I believe that women can learn to fly as easily as men…eventually there will be just as many women flying as men.” 

Hing also trained with Pat Reynolds, a reserve officer with the 321st Observation Squadron at Pearson Field. In 1934, she received her pilot’s license. In 1939, she became a member of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for women aviators founded by Amelia Earhart. In 1941, Hing became the secretary-treasurer for the group’s Northwest chapter. 

During World War II, Hing was disappointed that her father would not allow her to return to China as a pilot fighting Imperial Japan. Instead, she worked with the West Coast Civil Air Patrol doing ground training and helping in the repair of navigational instrument equipment at the Portland Air Base. 

Learn more about Leah Hing in this article

Tracy Fortmann, superintendent, Fort Vancouver NHS, stated, “We’re honored to share Leah Hing’s trailblazing story through exhibits and programs at Pearson Air Museum, and to add her plane brings the story full circle. She broke ground for women and Chinese Americans in aviation, and she had many direct ties to this site. How often do we get a connection that long, which connects so many aspects of our community? She captures in many respects the American story, blazing her own trail and serving as a positive model for others.” 

The aircraft will be on display as part of the museum’s permanent exhibits and is complemented by a nearby exhibit panel telling Leah Hing’s story. The engine will be displayed near the type of aircraft in which it was used – the Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” and Pusher, already on exhibit. Learn more about visiting Pearson Air Museum here.

Information provided by Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

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