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This information comes from the biographical file for pilot LaRene, CL-109880-01, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington, DC.

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Your copy of the "Davis-Monthan Airfield Register" with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available at the link. Or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-0-1.

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Please direct your browser to this link to download (PDF 1.58MB) an article written by your Webmaster that documents THEN and NOW conditions of several of the aircraft flown to Tucson by female pilots. Jean's Ken-Royce is among them.

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JEAN LaRENE

She came to Tucson twice, did Jean LaRene. The striking photo of her to the right is colorized from the black and white by Joel Harris.

Jean probably liked the smell of dust and oil and leather as her engine ticked to a stop. She landed at Tucson August 24, 1931 and August 22, 1932, both Mondays. On each occasion, she was flying NC592H, her Rearwin Ken-Royce airplane (named for manufacturer Rae Rearwin's two young sons, Kenneth and Royce) to Cleveland to participate in the National Air Races.

In 1931, she did not place in the cross-country event, but flew the Rearwin to fourth place in the 30-mile pylon race in Cleveland. In the 1932 race, she was forced down in wilderness north of Abilene, TX. Neither she nor the airplane suffered damage, but repairs and other incidents forced her to fly to Dallas, get in her car and drive to Cleveland.

Her airplane is a cream, orange and black Rearwin Ken-Royce, manufactured in February 1930 in Salina, KS. It is a model 2000-C, with a 185 HP Curtiss Challenger engine. Only three were made, costing $6,500 new. Jean did not own the airplane during the time she raced it. Rather, Long & Harman, Inc. Airlines, an early air transport company at Love Field, purchased it in 1931 from the factory. She contracted to fly it.

Roger Freeman, who now owns Jean’s airplane, also holds with great care and dignity her files and memorabilia of a life in aviation. The photo at left (courtesy of Roger) shows Jean in the cockpit of Rearwin NC592H.

As I reviewed her effects and diaries at Roger's facility, a complex personality with attitudes, needs and conflicts emerged. Born Florence Lorene Donohue on December 31, 1901 in Missouri. She married early and had two sons and a daughter by 1925. She divorced, and the children were cared for in a foster home (named Vanscoye), causing her much discomfort. Her children, Jack and Robert, grew up in Manhattan, KS, along with their younger sister Betty Jean (see below). It is not clear when or why she changed her name to Jean LaRene, but it happened during the late 1920s.

Jean learned to fly at Chicago Municipal Airport in 1928 (news accounts cited her as the only “girl” to make her first solo from that field). She held the seventh transport pilot certificate issued to a woman. The following year she became a charter member of The Ninety-Nines. Between 1928 and 1936, she flew races, hopped passengers and flew endurance events. She worked at the Dallas Aviation School and Air College in Dallas, TX. Below is an advertisement for her scool, located in Dallas, from the May, 1933 issue of Popular Aviation. She is pictured in the riight hand column, second from bottom.

Advertisement, Dallas Aviation School and Air College, Dallas, TX, Popular Aviation, May, 1933 (Source: PA)

 

Jean LaRene mingled with many famous female pilots of her day, noting in her address book Amelia Earhart, Ruth Stewart (photo at left of Ruth with Jean on the right, courtesy of Roger Freeman), Gladys O’Donnell and Clema Granger. When in Chicago, she bunked and partied with Phoebe Omlie. From 1931 to 1934, she was governor of the South Central Section of The Ninety-Nines. She gave a number of radio speeches on the topic of women taking their rightful places in aviation. One speech was drafted on the back of an envelope from the Hotel Drake in Carthage, MO. The envelope, as well as the finished, typewritten script, is among her effects.

She had a number of relationships with men, which terminated by most of the common means; divorce, death and “Dear John” letters. One association, with Lou Foote, endured in her diaries and in her life. She married for the second and last time in 1936 to Mr. Foote, an aviation pioneer in his own right. They operated for many years Lou Foote Flying Service, a pilot training and Taylor (later Piper) Cub distributorship in Dallas, TX. Jean was a pilot for the organization, demonstrating Cubs and transporting passengers 3-4 days a week in a Stinson and a J-5 Travel Air owned by their company.

About seven years before they were married, Lou Foote was involved in a horrific crash at Newark, NJ, Teterboro Airport on March 17, 1929. Foote was the pilot of the Ford trimotor sightseeing flight and the only survivor, sent to the hospital in critical condition. The accident was described as the worst in U.S. air transport history up to that time. An account of the accident appeared in the Ada Evening News (OK) on March 18, 1929, below.

FOURTEEN DEATHS IN AIRPLANE FALL OVER JERSEY CITY.
GROUP OF SIGHTSEERS IN PLANE ARE VICTIMS OF GRUESOME CRASH SATURDAY.
CRASHED INTO FREIGHT CAR.
PILOT AND FRIEND IN COCKPIT HURLED FIFTY FEET FROM WRECKAGE.

Newark, N. J., Mar. 18. -- (AP) -- Thirteen sightseers were killed instantly yesterday in the worst airplane wreck the United States ever has known. The pilot, the only person aboard to escape death, was injured severely.
A huge Ford all-metal tri-motored monoplane operated by the Colonial Airways crashed into a freight car loaded with sand while attempting a forced landing a mile from the Newark airport after its motors had stopped.

LOU FOOTE, the pilot, and DELMONT PARSONS, a friend riding in the cockpit beside him, were hurled 50 feet from the plane by the impact. Those in the cabin were flung into a heap in the forward end of the fuselage. Many were impaled on pieces or torn metal.

Witnesses said the plane appeared to be in trouble from the time it took off from the airport with its load of passengers for a trip over New York City.

It rose sluggishly. Persons who saw the ship just before the crash said the propellers were truning over slowly as though the motors were dead. The plane was not more than 200 feet above the ground.

FOOTE apparently was attempting to bring the ship down on a clear space between two railroad lines, but the plane, buffeted by a high, gusty wind, lost altitude too rapidly to clear a string of cars on a siding of the Central Railroad of New Jersey.

The victims included an engaged couple, MISS GERTRUDE STEEVER of Bloomfield, N. J., and REGINALD WOODWARD, a law student who lived in Brooklyn. The girl's brother also was killed, as were two brothers, ANDREW and STEPHEN HAGMASI of Stamford, Conn.

The dead:
JOSEPH BAUER, Stamford, Conn.
ANTON BOOLE, West New York, N. J.
ANDREW HAGMASI, Stamford, Conn.
STEPHEN HAGMASI, brother of ANDREW.
RAYMOND HEIMSTETTOR, Irvington, N. J.
THOMAS HENDERSON, Weehawken, N. J.
WALTER HENTSCHEL, JR., Jersey City.
WILLIAM MARGARRENTENS, Perth Amboy, N. J.
GERTRUDE STEEVER, Bloomfield, N. J.
W. CLIFTON STEEVER, brother of MISS STEEVER.
REGINALD WOODWARD, of Brooklyn, fiance of MISS STEEVER.
WILLIAM ZISER, Irvington, N. J.
DELMONT PARSONS, 25 years old of Brooklyn, N. Y.

The crash has only been equaled in the number of victims by one other accident in the history of heavier-than-air operation. That was the wreck of the Dornier-Wahl plane at Rio Janeiro last December in which 14 persons were killed while on their way to welcome Santos Dumont, the famous aviator.

FOOTE and PARSONS were found where they had been catapulted through the roof of the cockpit. FOOTE had suffered several fractures of the skull and internal injuries. He asked his rescuers for a cigarette and wished to know if he was in New York. Soon he became unconscious. PARSONS suffered a broken leg and was severely cut and bruised but also was conscious when picked up. The bodies of the dead were found massed and tangled in the wreckage of the cabin.

The accident happened at 5:08 p.m., at a desolate spot on the Jersey meadows between Newark and Elizabethport, about a mile from the airport. Only a few minutes after the ship had started on what was to have been the last flight for the day.

FOOTE came to Newark four days ago to join the Colonial Airway fliers. He had been employed at the Ford airplane factory in Detroit building and flying ships of the type of the wrecked plane. He learned to fly during the war and had 2,500 hours flying time.

The 1940 U.S. Census placed her, now with her married name Jean Foote, living with husband Lou (age 45) and her daughter, Betty Vanscoye (17) in Ellis County, TX. Lou's occupation was cited as "Aviator." Jean's was "Bookkeeper" for an aviation concern.

Jean's sons Jack and Robert both became pilots and worked as flight instructors at the family's flying school, then both went off to World War II. Jack "flew the Hump." After the war, Jack got a pilot position with Slick Airways and moved to Chicago. He had married Alice Ivelle Tacker before the war and they had a daughter, Donna.

Jack Foote, Obituary, 1947 (Source: LaRene Family)
Jack Foote, Obituary (Source: LaRene Family)

Early in Jack's career with Slick, his plane crashed (1947, right), and he and the other pilot on board were both killed.  His niece states, "How sad that here was a man who flew all during the War, and then came home and was killed in a plane crash."

Jean's diaries reveal a number of preferences. She noted fondness for Mexican food and “sizzling steak” dinners. She owned dogs and liked horse races and “craps” (some of her gambling pots reached $100, a good sum back then). Besides flying, she drove automobiles around the United States. In November 1935, she purchased a new 1936 Pontiac Cabriolet for $1,310.35. The original bill of sale is among her documents, and well-worn photos show her posed at typical tourist destinations. Click here to see what the 1936 Cabriolet model looks like. The year she bought her Cabriolet she had her photograph taken by Kenneth Boedecker, who published it in his unusual book at the link. The photo, from May 23rd, is below. Note the misspelling of her last name.

Jean LaRene, May 23, 1936 (Source: Boedy's Album)

 

As well, her diaries recorded, in terse statements, record flights by sister pilots and Ninety-Nines (for example, Saturday January 12, 1935, “Amelia Earhart flew from Honolulu to San Francisco today.”), and their deaths (Thursday January 5, 1933, “Ruth [Stewart] and Debie [Stanford] killed one year ago today.”) Even so, it is clear she was sentimental. Among her effects are many handmade Easter and Valentine cards from her children, and letters from them on faded foolscap. She died too young of a heart attack May 28, 1960 in Lockhart, TX.

What became of her beloved Rearwin? Her diary of May 27, 1934 states, “Flew Ken Royce for last time today. Going to sell it.” And on June 15, “Mr. H.[Harman] sold my Ken Royce to Bob Albright the other day.” Through the rest of the 1930s, the Rearwin passed through seven owners. Finally, in 1940, Jean and Lou purchased and owned it until 1997. Then, as part of Lou Foote’s estate, it transferred to Roger Freeman.

These days, NC592H makes its home at the Old Kingsbury Aerodrome in Kingsbury, TX owned by Mr. Freeman (see their link, above). The shops at the Aerodrome are impressive. They are well equipped and supplied with the gear and materials of restoration, including machinery and tooling for making wood and metal parts from scratch, a number of vintage engines, and many board feet of aged Sitka spruce, which is milled to specification on-site.

The fuselage and tail feathers of NC592H are restored. The metal tube fuselage and cockpit aprons are original; the wooden stringers are new. It is almost ready for fabric. The wings are “rough”, still showing a major spar splice performed and documented in 1937. Although there is no timeline for completion, we can be sure this airplane, and Jean's spirit, will fly again.

Mr. Freeman also owns a Piper Cub owned by Jean and her husband and used in their flight training business. Below is a fragment of the fabric from that airplane shared with me by Mr. Freeman.

Fabric from Piper Cub Owned by LaRene & Foote (Source: Freeman)

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Dossier 2.4.2

THIS PAGE UPLOADED: May, 2005 REVISED: 04/15/09, 02/24/14, 06/25/14, 06/20/16

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Jean LaRene's airplane, Rearwin Ken-Royce NC592H, is still registered with the FAA today. It is being rebuilt to flying condition in Texas.
Some of the information on this page is shared with us by Jean LaRene's granddaughter and grandson.
 
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