Ethel Ives Tillotson - Nebraska's First Aviatrix

Ethel Ives Tillotson, 1928. Courtesy of Mrs. Jean Riege.

Ethel Ives was born in Tilden, Nebraska in 1894. Early in her childhood, she demonstrated an interest in high-speed transportation. Her father, Frank J. Ives, was an auto dealer who also did custom grain threshing. As a teenager, Ethel helped her father by driving a large steam engine during threshing. 

Ethel married C.E. Tillotson from Battle Creek. She demonstrated cars for her father and husband's car dealership. At one point, she drove a Ford Model A at 70 mph over hilly roads.

In 1918, Ethel started dreaming about becoming an airplane pilot. In early 1928, that dream became a reality when she attended the Norfolk Flying School. She graduated with the first class of students, becoming the first female pilot in Nebraska to fly solo. Ethel loved to give rides in a canary-colored biplane to Yellow Bank Park guests. 

On June 22, 1928, she was making a practice flight when she was killed after she lost control at an altitude of 400 feet, plunging to earth and landing in a ditch at the south edge of the Norfolk airport landing field. 

Her instructor Andrew Risser said Ethel was doing figure eights and banked too sharply, causing the plane to spiral. She pulled the wrong way out of the spiral, causing the plane to turn over and crash to the ground. 

Just six weeks after her first flight to Omaha, Nebraska's First Aviatrix, died doing what she loved.