Lady Grace Drummond-Hay was the first woman to fly on board an airship, the LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin, in 1928. Born Grace Marguerite Lethbridge in Liverpool in 1895, her curiosity led her to become a journalist. She wrote for various publications and in 1923 she married Robert Drummond-Hay, a renowned former British consul, 50 years older than her.
Grace was left a widow, inherited a great wealth and continued working as a journalist for different media, among which was the Chicago Herald Examiner, owned by the publisher William Randolph Hearst.
As a journalist for the Hearst group, Drummond-Hay made her first zeppelin flight in October 1928, when she was chosen to accompany five other reporters, including her partner and Hearst colleague, Karl von Wiegand, on the first transatlantic flight of the Graf Zeppelin between Germany and America. As the only woman on the flight, Drummond-Hay received a lot of attention from the world press. The huge airship was over 236 meters in length, exceeding 30 meters in diameter.
In 1929, Hearst decided to sponsor the first world tour aboard the LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin airship. He only asked one condition: that his best journalist would travel onboard the airship to inform the world of such epic feat and the trip, which was to last 21 days, had to start at Lakehurst’s naval base, in New Jersey and not in Friedrichshafen, in Germany.
The voyage began on August 8, 1929. Lady Grace was the only woman among the 60 passengers and crew members. The airship flew from the United States to Germany, where she stopped to refuel. It left Berlin on August 15 to Poland and the Soviet Union until she reached Tokyo on August 18.
As a journalist for the Hearst group, Drummond-Hay made her first zeppelin flight in October 1928, on the first transatlantic flight of the Graf Zeppelin between Germany and America
On August 23, flying over the Pacific Ocean, the aircraft was trapped in a major storm, the radio signal was lost and problems with the engines almost caused the trip to be aborted. For two days, the world lived in suspense thinking that the aircraft had disappeared when it stopped emitting a signal.
But after many repairs, the crew made it to San Francisco and from there to Los Angeles and finally to the starting point, Lakehurst. The LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin had covered nearly 50,000 kilometers in just over 12 days of flight and 21 of travel in total.
ON BOARD THE HINDENBURG
Grace's passion for reporting on airship travel didn't end here. Lady Drummond-Hay was also aboard the Hindenburg's maiden flight from Germany to the United States in May 1936. Just one year later, the glorious era of passenger airships would end with the Hindenburg crash on May 6th, 1937.
Lady Grace continued her passion for travel and was in the Philippines with Karl von Wiegand when the Japanese invaded the islands in 1942. They were both placed in a Japanese camp in Manila. Although they survived and returned to New York, Grace died of coronary thrombosis in early 1946 as a result of the extremely harsh conditions she had endured in the concentration camp.
During her career as a journalist, Lady Grace Drummond-Hay contributed significantly to spreading the knowledge about travel and airship technology that ruled the skies during the 20s and 30s of the last century.