As a 19-year-old college student in 1928, Jessie Schultz had no idea she would contribute to the Golden Age of Aviation during the years between the two World Wars. A Kansan, she grew up in Washington State and enjoyed music and gymnastics. On summer break in Ulysses, Kansas, she met Jimmie Woods and he introduced her to aviation. She soon eloped with him and literally flew off into the clouds–she never looked back! Jimmie Woods was a barnstormer, a daredevil who earned his keep entertaining a nation in love with aviation. He, like most other flying gypsies, taught himself how to fly and worked on his own well-worn airplane.
It mattered little that he had no place to call home, or that there was often not enough money for food–flying was his life! Jessie Woods was soon swept up by aviation. Her husband taught her to fly–she took to the task with great joy and enthusiasm. When the Woods started the Flying Aces Air Circus, Jimmie coaxed his young wife onto the wing of his Swallow biplane; hit by the wind blast, she almost fell off the wing on her first try and Jimmie failed to compensate for the extra drag and almost lost control. The circus survived most of the Great Depression, finally closing in 1938. Jessie Woods had been an integral part of every airshow. Aviation was changing; the era of Lindbergh, Earhart, intrepid airmail pilots, barnstormers and wing-walkers gave way to Civil Aeronautics Authority bureaucrats and trans-continental airliners.
As World War II loomed on the horizon, the Woods got a chance to operate a pilot training program in Rock Hill, South Carolina, but Jimmie came down with a mysterious illness; Jessie Woods became the family mainstay. She taught the ground school, instructed in the air, and ran the business. She still found time to be a key organizer in the Ninety Nines, an international organization of women pilots, and also joined the Civil Air Patrol. After World War II she left aviation, ran a small business in South Carolina, and cared for Jimmie until he died in 1959. Soon, she packed two bags and returned to Washington. Working for the state, she began flying for pleasure in 1961.
In 1967 Jessie Woods was named Washington’s Pilot of the Year. Flying actively until 1974, she received many honors including induction into the OX-5 Aviation Pioneers Hall of Fame. She was featured in Barnstormer and Speed King, a book in the Epic of Flight series, and has appeared on the Johnny Carson Show, That’s Incredible, and Late Night with David Letterman. In 1991 Jessie Woods went wing-walking again at the annual Sun ‘N Fun airshow in Lakeland, Florida. At the age of 82, she proved once again that the woman who had dared to become America’s first topless wing-walker still had spunk!