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Aviation History Made by Louise Thaden and Katharine Wright and
Louise Thaden, Beech Pilot

Bonnie Johnson in the cockpit as Louise ThadenLouise Thaden's record-setting flights, often besting those of her friend Amelia Earhart, introduced the Travel Air 4000 and Beechcraft Staggerwing to the awestruck public. And who could better portray record-setting pilot Louise Thaden than Bonnie Johnson, cross country race pilot (she has a 1946 Luscombe8A), aerospace test engineer, math teacher, and Merkel Airplane Co. Operations Manager?

Performer Bonnie Johnson takes the audience back to 1958, when Louise has just received her first jet ride with son Bill. The winner of the 1929 "Powder Puff" Derby and 1936 Bendix cross country race talks about how in 30 years she has gone from Jennies to jets.

It all began in 1926. To fund her college education, Thaden was selling coal for Jack Turner of the J.H. Turner Coal Company in Wichita. When he found her at an aviation demonstration on company time, she knew she was in trouble. Instead, he put her in contact with his friend Walter H. Beech, who offered to pay her to learn to fly and demonstrate aircraft for his fledgling distributorship in San Francisco.

Video for Louise Thaden

Historic photo of the real Louise ThadenKatharine Wright – Pilot Bonnie Johnson also portrays the sister of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Wright made her brothers’ famous flights possible by keeping the family business going in Dayton while they were across the country and across the Atlantic experimenting and demonstrating.  Then she took over much of the marketing and public relations work.  None of that surprised her brothers or their father.  What did surprise and distress Orville was that in her early 50s she left her family home to create one with Kansas City Star owner/editor Henry J. Haskell.  Her story has not only aviation history, but family, romance, and relationship issues.

Bonnie Johnson developed her first-person interpretation of Thaden to show that Amelia Earhart had peers-after all, 99 women joined the women pilots organization in 1929, its first year. In addition, Johnson, living and working near aviation manufacturing capital Wichita Kansas, was interested in Louise's friendship with Beech Aircraft Corporation founder and officer Olive Ann Beech. The friendship between Beech and Thaden kept bringing Louise back to Kansas until her death.

Bonnie Johnson holds three master's degrees-Business, Engineering and Education. After 20 years as an aerospace test engineer, Johnson retired to teach high school mathematics. Beginning in 1993 she has competed in the Air Race Classic every year since as an instrument rated pilot, placing in the top ten three times. She is Operations Manager for husband Eddie Merkel's Merkel Airplane Company, which designs and builds the all-metal Merkel Mark II. They live on a private air strip near Wichita.

Video for Katharine Wright

Contact information

Bonnie Johnson
14727 W. 93rd North
Sedgwick, KS 67135
(316) 207-3919

This site was created in 2003 by the Kansas Alliance of Professional Historic Performers and Ride into History Cultural and Educational Project, Inc. with an Attraction Development Grant from the Kansas Department of Commerce and Housing Travel & Tourism Development Division

Original site concept and development by Danny C. Boyce Computer and Network Support and Consulting, Emporia Kansas

Ongoing website maintenance performed by Megan Matile

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