Iris Critchell Recognized for Aviation Accomplishments

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Instructor of Aeronautics Emerita Iris Critchell was honored for her achievements in aviation with a row of airplane hangars dedicated in her name on Sept. 16 at the Torrance Airport-Zamperini Field in Torrance, Calif.

Critchell was one of several honorees at the dedication ceremony, where city and airport officials named each of the airport’s 24 hangar rows in honor of the top people, airplane models and aviation companies related to the Torrance airport’s history.

“Iris exemplifies the pioneering spirit of women who have forged careers in non-traditional fields,” said Western Museum of Flight Director Cynthia Macha, who participated in the nomination process. “Her achievements in a wide variety of aviation and other professional fields have been both impressive and inspirational to generations of young women and girls.”

“Iris is definitely an aviation legend,” said Torrance Airport manager Raphael Herrara. “She broke a lot of barriers. She grew up and became a pilot in this area and flew planes out of this airport. She has really been an inspiring personality around here.”

Iris Critchell in front of the hangar row that has been named for her

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As part of the festivities, Critchell received Certificates of Recognition from both houses of the California State legislature. She also gave a morning “Celebrity Lecture” on her experiences as a pilot and aeronautics instructor and an evening talk on women in aviation, organized by the Long Beach chapter of the Ninety Nines, an international organization of women pilots. In addition to city and airport officials, the day’s events were attended by fellow pilots, aspiring pilots, aerospace officials, Critchell’s daughter and Harvey Mudd professors, students and Bates Aeronautics Program alumni.

“l loved the opportunity to bring stories of sharing the privilege of flight with each generation of students and to follow their aero, space and life accomplishments,” Critchell said. “In addition, I was very proud to be able to highlight some of the remarkable contributions by women pilots to the aviation community over this first century of powered flight.”

Critchell began her flying career near Torrance airport. As a child in the 1920s, she watched gliders being flown from the empty hillside above Redondo Beach and Torrance. She pursued her education and interests in physical sciences, aeronautics and flight in college at University of Southern California after which she became a pilot and instructor.

Iris Critchell

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During World War II, Iris ferried planes for two years for the Air Transport Command as a civilian pilot in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron/Women Airforce Service Pilots (WAFS/WASPs). She participated in 16 years of Transcontinental Air Races, two from the Torrance Airport, and spent 38 years teaching aeronautics and flight at three major colleges, including 35 years at Harvey Mudd as director and chief flight instructor of the Bates Foundation’s Aeronautics Program.