Date: August 5, 1988
Location: Oshkosh, WI
By: Suzanne Lehman
Newspaper: The Oshkosh Northwestern
“You don’t have to be young and male to have an exciting life and do all the things you want to do,” says Experimental Aircraft Association enthusiast Marjorie Van Vliet.
Ms. Van Vliet is a woman with a mission. At age 65, she is planning to fly a single-engine plane around the globe in a personal effort to promote world peace. Her flight will make her the oldest woman to fly around the world alone and the first general aviation pilot to fly across the Soviet Union.
Her trip is supported by elected officials in her home state of Rhode Island, the EAA, the Ninety-Nines and corporate sponsors.
Two years ago Ms. Van Vliet completed a flight across the United States on behalf of CASA, an advocacy group for abused and neglected children. Now, as an active Citizen at Work for World Peace, she plans to expand her activities with “80 Days Around the World” in 1989.
A private pilot with aerobatic experience in addition to her instrument and commercial ratings, she is a professor of English at the Community College of Rhode Island in Warwick and a professional photographer.
Ms. Van Vliet spoke at a recent workshop at the EAA convention. She was wearing a T-shirt of her own design depicting a dove encircling the globe. Since her husband died 25 years ago, she has “been learning to be myself, without a husband.”
She was 55 years old when she learned to fly.
“I have found (that at any time of life) you can change your self-image and the way you feel about yourself,” Ms. Van Vliet said. “It gave me a tremendous sense of power, and it changed my life.”
Her goal of promoting international understanding rests on the firm belief that one-to-one contacts between ordinary citizens are what make the difference.
It was the late President Dwight Eisenhower, she recalled, who said that when the people lead (in demanding peace), the governments will follow.
“We need to do a lot of ‘people-leading,'” she said. “I believe that if hundreds of thousands of people in America and hundreds of thousands in the Soviet Union become close friends, it would be more difficult for our governments to wage war.”
At air shows around the country, she has discovered that “Americans and Soviets pilots are
absolutely fascinated with each other … I have found there is a tremendous warmth between
Ms. Van Vliet will begin her four-month journey in late March 1989 when she leaves Providence, R.I., for the west coast of the U.S.
From San Diego, she will fly to Mexico, then along the north coast of South America, across the Atlantic to West Africa, then to several Mediterranean countries before arriving in the Soviet Union.
Among her challenges will be the long flight across the Soviet Union and the often hazardous flying conditions over the mountains of Alaska.
Along the way, Ms. Van Vliet will exchange ideas with individuals working for peace in a variety of ways.
In Moscow, she will visit women who joined the Russian Air Force in 1941 as the Nazis swept into the Soviet Union. Known as the “Night Witches,” these volunteers made up three all-woman regiments who served as pilots defending their homeland against the German invaders.
She will also highlight the efforts of general aviation pilots who work for humanitarian organizations. One of them, Wings of Hope, provides disaster relief and medical transportation to needy individuals in underdeveloped countries.
On a more personal note, she will carry hundreds of letters from American youngsters to Russian children looking for pen pals in the U.S.
When she returns, she plans to produce an illustrated book on her adventures and to lecture in the U.S. and Canada. The 1989 EAA convention is definitely on the agenda.
“Peace is a major issue of our time.” Ms. Van Vliet said. “I believe we can take one small step toward peace by encouraging friendships among the ‘ordinary’ citizens of the world … If we don’t keep the peace, we face the ultimate environmental disaster.”