People have always wanted to fly just like the birds if only we humans had wings. In Ancient Greek mythology, Icarus flew too close to the sun and the heat melted the beeswax holding the feathers of his wings together. He fell to the sea and drowned. 

The Renaissance polymath, Leonardo da Vinci certainly drew some early ideas of flying machines based on bat wings.  However, without a power source other than human power, he was way too early as the combustion engine would not be invented for several hundred years.  That moment eventually came with the Wright brothers' first powered flight of the Kitty Hawk in 1903. 

In just 120 years, we have seen enormous aviation developments and our lives have changed forever. Shown here are some lovely airplane inspired jewelry and DIY craft patterns which celebrate our love, need and continued fascination with powered flight. 

The above heart and plane earrings sure evokes the love of flying!  The designer is BokStudio

This pair of pretty airplane stud earrings below would be a perfect gift for a flight attendant!  The designer and maker is SimplyNorthWoodsLLC

This clever and personalizable airplane over a city sterling silver bracelet means you can pick the city skyline of your choice - New York, Detroit, London etc.  The talented metalsmith designer is Eugene of yhtanaff.

Children are also fascinated with planes.  Make one for your favorite toddler with this adorable mouse in a bi-plane crochet pattern by Laura at  LauLovesCrochet. Do check out her store if you love fun crochet patterns!

There are also many airplane laser cutting files available online. This gorgeous DIY bi-plane model kit can be cut from the file developed by EskiWood. A wonderful gift for a model hobbyist. 

This amazing leather pattern for making prop planes is from hillsworks

The Night Witches of World War II

There were early female aviation pioneers in the 1930's like the famous American pilot, Amelia Earhart. Amy Johnson, the British pioneer, was another.  She was the first to fly solo from London to Australia. Marina Raskova, known as the Soviet Amelia Earhart, was that country's first female professional navigator in the Russian Air Force. She became famous for setting many world long distance aviation records. When World War II broke out, aviation was still relatively new. But women were about to play their part.

Marina Raskova in 1938

Women (for the first time in history) were barred from active combat from the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. Britain did form the Air Transport Auxiliary in 1940 where women pilots like Amy Johnson flew new or damaged planes, or other non-combative flights to wherever they were needed. The ATA was nicknamed the Foreign Legion of the Air because the pilots came from 28 different countries. 25 American female pilots joined in 1942.

In June, 1941, Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa and sent 3+ million soldiers to invade the Soviet Union. It was the largest land offensive in history with an estimated 10 million combatants.

Desperate times called for desperate measures. Marina Raskova used her connections to persuade Stalin to let her form 3 combat air regiments. They were the fighter pilot regiment and two bomber regiments. The all female regiments included commanders, pilots, navigators, ground and maintenance crews. 

The best pilots were assigned to the fighter regiment while those with many hours of flying experience were part of the heavy bomber regiment including Marina Raskova. The least skilled pilots were placed in the night bomber regiment. 

It was this last group of women of the 588th Night Bomber regiment who were to gain fame for their courage and daring. Unlike their British counterparts, these female pilots - aged 17-26 - flew 23,000+ actual combat missions to bomb and harrass Nazi troops and targets. They were absolutely crucial to the Soviet Union's war efforts.

Resources were meager.  Dressed in oversized men's uniforms and boots, they had to make do.  They were jeered at and ridiculed by the men in the beginning. 

There weren't enough planes so the 588th were issued with flimsy, outdated bi-planes made from wood and canvas, nicknamed "crop dusters". The training dual cockpit planes had no defensive weapons. The crews flew with only rudimentary tools like maps, compasses and flashlights.They were also not issued any parachutes.

Conditions were tough especially during the frigid winters as there were no cockpit covers.  The planes could only carry 2 bombs each which meant the two women crews had to fly several missions every night, night after night. Worse, their planes were so slow they were incredibly vulnerable. Enemy fire - tracer bullets carried explosive charges - could easily set those planes on fire. 

So these pilots learned to turn their little planes' shortcomings into advantages, developing ingenious stealth tactics. They flew at night when it was harder to see them. On the plus side, the radio-less planes were small and were not detected by radar and radio locators.  

When they were nearly at their targets, the pilots would then stop their engines, glide in low, drop their bombs, restart their engines to fly away. The only warning the Nazis ever had of their approaches was the "whoosh" sound of their glides which they likened to that of a broomstick. When the Nazis learned they were female pilots, they called them de Nachthexen or the Night Witches..

Picture Credit : (Credit: Sergey G/CC-BY-2.0/Wikimedia Commons)

The Night Witches continued to relentlessly and effectively harass their enemies, giving them no respite, right to the end of the war. They were so hated and feared, any German pilot who shot down one was automatically awarded the prestigious Iron Cross. The  maximum speed of those tiny but highly maneuverable planes was much less than the stall speed of the Luftwaffe's more modern planes, making it very difficult for enemy pilots to shoot them down, let alone in the dark.

The 588th regiment was only grounded once, on the night of the 31 July, 1943, when an ambush was laid out for them. With ground searchlights flooding the sky, German ace pilot, Josef Kociok, managed to shoot down 3 of their planes - they went down in flames. He received the Iron Cross and the nickname, Hexenyaegar or Witch Hunter.

Of the 261 in the regiment, 32 never came home.  This was one of the most highly decorated regiments with 23 being given the Heroes of the Soviet Union medals, the highest military honor.

The regiment was disbanded after the war. Ironically, they were excluded from taking part in the flyby Victory Day parade celebrations because their planes were too slow!

Watch this marvellous animated storytelling by Sabaton, a Swedish heavy metal band, using music from their stirring song about the Night Witches. 

In the animated clip above, you can see one of the navigators, who were also aviators, struggling to bring her plane back to base after the pilot was killed. That really happened - the navigator was actually forced to fly the plane with one hand while holding back the body of the pilot with her other hand to stop it from slumping over and hampering the front controls. 

I also recommend watching this video from a British Youtuber, The Russian Night Witches of World War II which gives well researched information about this remarkable group of women, shining a light on the lives of some of the individuals. One of them recounts the ambush - she was able to dodge the search lights illuminating the skies for the Luftwaffe fighter pilots. Not so lucky were the less experienced pilots following her.


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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM