Victoria Louise Van Meter, a record-setting young pilot, committed suicide on March 15. She was 26.
Born in Meadville, Pa., Van Meter discovered a passion for flying following a visit to the local airport in 1992. After taking several flying lessons, she made national headlines a year later for piloting a plane across the United States with only her flight instructor on board. The sixth grader, who encountered strong headwinds and turbulence on the five-day flight from Augusta, Maine to San Diego, Calif., set a record as the youngest girl to cross the nation.
She was just 11 years old.
In 1994, Van Meter took the controls of a single-engine Cessna 172 and flew from Augusta, Maine to Glasgow, Scotland. The trans-Altantic flight allowed the pre-teen to set yet another aviation record. Congress banned record-setting attempts by unlicensed pilots, however, after 7-year-old Jessica Dubroff, her father Lloyd Dubroff, 57, and her flight instructor Joe Reid, 52, were killed in a Wyoming crash.
Van Meter’s high-flying achievements took her to Washington D.C., where she received a guided tour of the White House by Vice President Al Gore. In 2003, she was featured in “Women and Flight – Portraits of Contemporary Women Pilots,” a book by Carolyn Russo and a traveling exhibit highlighting 47 female pilots that’s now at the Smithsonian Institution. Van Meter also co-authored “Taking Flight,” a children’s book about her flying exploits.
Although she planned to become an astronaut when she grew up, Van Meter stopped flying after her trip to Europe. As an adult, she earned a criminal justice degree from Edinboro University in Pennsylvania, and spent two years in the Peace Corps, serving in Moldova. Van Meter later worked as a surveillance investigator. In her spare time, she cared for her two dogs and cat and enjoyed sky diving.