Margaret Ringenberg, who died Monday at 87, was a pilot who ferried planes as a WASP during World War II and then blanketed her hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind., with air-dropped leaflets bearing news that war had ended.
Later she became known as a leading endurance racer in the Powder Puff Derby and flew around the world. She raced as recently as a month ago, finishing third in the women-only annual Air Race Classic (the successor to the Powder Puff Derby). She died while attending the Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture fly-in and convention in Oshkosh, Wis., where she was slated to give a presentation on the Women's Airforce Service Pilots.
A lover of speed who spent over 40,000 hours airborne, Ringenberg was an auto-racing fan too, and in 2004 became the oldest woman to ride around the track at high speed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. She reached 180 mph riding in an Indy car behind racer Sarah Fisher.
Born Margaret Ray on June 17, 1921, and raised on a farm, she was interested in flying from age 7, when she took a ride with a barnstorming pilot who landed in a local cornfield. Yearning to fly, she imagined herself a stewardess and was preparing to study nursing in college, a requirement for the job.
As the supply of male pilots grew scarce during World War II, she was among about 1,000 women recruited as WASPs to ferry planes from factories to airbases all around the country. Once, when flying a derelict plane to the junkyard, she blew an engine and was ordered to bail out. Instead she brought the plane down, much to her commander's consternation.
She was relieved of duty in 1944.When the war ended in 1945, Fort Wayne's two newspapers both happened to be on strike, so a local radio station hired her to drop leaflets announcing "Japan Surrenders!"
After the war, Ringenberg did some commercial flying and flight instructing, married a prosperous local banker, and settled down to raise a son and a daughter. She began flying competitively in the 1950s, and her daughter got her pilot's license at age 17 so they could fly together. She won the Air Race Classic in 1988, and in 1994 entered the Round the World Air Race with two other co-pilots.
In 1998, Tom Brokaw devoted a chapter of his book "The Greatest Generation" to her story, and interviewed her as she gave him a flying lesson.