Cromwell Dixon, the First Pilot to Cross the Continental Divide

It was September 30, 1911, when the cool autumn winds swept Cromwell Dixon to the top of the Continental Divide. At a mere 19 years old, Dixon was pushing the limits of flight. At stake was a purse worth $10,000, put in place by a consortium that included John Ringling and the president of the Great Northern Railway. Located at 4,000 feet above sea level, the fairgrounds served as Dixon's ramp into history. It took Dixon 15 minutes to reach 7,000 feet-only 800 feet higher than the mountains he was to cross. Guided by a smoke signal set by the people of Blossberg, Dixon cleared the crest of the Divide near Mullan Pass, where wind currents reportedly flipped his airplane upside down. Recovering, he landed in a field one mile from the railroad depot and 18 miles from Helena. The entire flight took 34 minutes and preserved Dixon's place in history. Dixon died just two days later in Spokane, WA, while attempting to fly out of a difficult and dangerous field. He had to make a steep climbing turn over some railroad track embankments when an unexpected gust of wind struck his machine, upsetting him, as he was too close to the ground to recover. He crashed and was so seriously injured that he died two hours later. Hearing of Dixon's death, Helena raised money for a memorial in Dixon's name. The marker was dedicated in 1912 and placed at the point where Dixon made his celebrated landing. First U.S. Flight Instructor Refresher Course In August of 1961, the Montana Aeronautics Commission sent their Safety and Education Officer, Dick Munroe, and the Federal Aviation Agency cooperated by sending their Safety Agent, Bill Cantwell, to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to attend the 10th Civil Flight Instructors Course.

Cromwell Dixon
Cromwell Dixon and his airship after landing in Blossberg, Montana. On September 20, 1911, Cromwell and his plane crossed the Continental Divide for the first time. Dixon died just two days later when his plane crashed in Spokane, Washington.
First Flight Refresher Course
The first Flight Instructor Refresher Course in the United States was held in Helena, Montana, on March 5, 1962. The course was sponsored jointly by the Montana Aviation Trades Association and the Montana Aeronautics Commission.


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Montana's representatives returned home after ten days convinced that the Canadians had the answer to an upgrading program for flight instructors. The Montana Aviation Trades Association and the Montana Aeronautics Commission entered into an agreement to jointly sponsor a Flight Instructors Refresher Course in Montana. By the latter part of February, twenty students had been selected and the morning of March 5, 1962 found them hard at work at the first Montana Flight Instructors Refresher Course.

Three years after serving as second officer for the first time, Howell Warner earned her captain's wings and was the first woman to do so. Today, with more than 21,000 flight hours (more than any other woman pilot in the world), Howell Warner is a Federal Aviation Administration Aircrew Program Manager, assigned to United Airlines' Boeing 737 Fleet. She is also the FAA representative for United's Flight Safety Action Program.

Emily Howell Warner opened the door for thousands of women pilots and has been a personal mentor and role model to many. Along the way she won almost every aviation award given, including the Amelia Earhart Award as the Outstanding Woman in U. S. Aviation. She was also the featured speaker for the United Nations Kickoff Dinner for International Women's Year.

In 1983 she was inducted into the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame and was a 2001 inductee into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. Her pilot's uniform now hangs in the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.