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Aviatrix who sought new heights and broke records along the way
Born in 1909, Lt. Col. Betty Wood McNabbs aviation career began in 1951 when she stopped by a local airport in Albany, GA, to watch a plane take off on her way to work. When a friend asked her if she wanted a ride in his plane, she ended up landing it.
That same day she bought a 1946 Aircoupe for $1,100. Since her job as a medical records consultant for the state of Georgia required endless hours of travel, at 43, she began using her first aircraft. She acquired her pilots license in 1952 and started averaging 400 hours a year of flying time. In all, she flew more than 9,000 hours for the Civil Air Patrol and Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Colonel McNabb enrolled in the Coast Guard Auxiliary in June 1941. She remained a member of Flotilla 16 in the Eighth Coast Guard District since 1972. Flying until 82 years of age, she became the oldest female pilot in the auxiliary. In her 20 years of involvement with Flotilla 16, she flew more than 1,500 hours on search-and-rescue patrols, and assisted 55 boaters.
In October 1953, the female aviator joined Civil Air Patrol (CAP) and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. She began leading both cadets and senior members of Albany Squadron in Georgia, in September 1955 as their commander. For many years she volunteered her time to serve as the Southeast Regions safety officer and Georgia Wings director of emergency services, mission control officer, and educational director.
During much of her involvement in CAP, she received numerous honors like the Silver Medal of Valor, Distinguished Service Medal, and the Exceptional Service Award. In 1989, when the early stages of Alzheimers disease began to take effect, she made her last CAP public appearance at a national board meeting and received the Frank G. Brewer Award for exceptional contributions to the advancement of youth in aerospace activities.
The auxiliarist was rated to fly single- and multi-engined land aircraft, single-engined seaplanes, commercial gliders, and airline transports.
She served as president twice and as an executive committee member for more than a decade for the Ninety-Nines, an international women pilots organization founded by Amelia Earhart.
In April 1977, she was inducted into the National Aerospace Hall of Honor in Nashville, TN. She was considered an expert in search-and-rescue because of her 10-year career as deputy commander and operations officer in Georgias San Bernadino County Sheriffs Department Aero Squadron.
She moved to Panama City, FL, in 1971. She passed away on December 22, 1996, at the age of 87. On January 21, 1997, CAP members provided one final flight for Colonel McNabb by covering Floridas North Bay with her ashes.
CAP salutes Betty Wood McNabbs memory an aviatrix and auxiliarist who willingly gave so much of herself to others.
From Civil Air Patrol News: Vol. 29, No. 12, December 1997, pg. 17.
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Updated: 12 March, 2004