The Queen of the Heights

Smaranda Brăescu (May 21, 1897 – February 2, 1948), Romanian flight and parachutist pioneer, WWII hero, anti-communist fighter.

Smaranda Brăescu was born in the village of Hânţeşti, Buciumeni commune, Covurlui County (now Galaţi County), in a poor farmer's family. In spite of the family’s limited resources, Smaranda is sent to school and later to college in the nearby city of Bârlad. Here, at the age of 15, she witnesses the first landing of an airplane, an event which was going to change her life. Six years later, at the Aviation Training School of Tecuci, Smaranda flies for the first time. Next comes her being acquainted with the parachute jumping in Bucharest, whilst a student at the Fine Arts School in 1928. That same year she jumps from 600m altitude, which makes her the first Romanian female parachutist and only the fourth one in the whole world. This debut prompts her in beating first the European record, which was held by Germany, at 4,000, a feat which she achieves in 1931 by jumping from 6,000 m altitude, for which she receives the Romanian Golden Cross of “Virtutea Aeronautica”. The following year, in the United States, in Sacramento, Brùescu establishes an absolute world record, previously held by an American at 21,733 ft, by jumping successfully from 24,000ft (7,200m). From then on she becomes a heroine, being escorted by 30 other planes to an air show in Canada where she is invited. In America, she declines commercial stunt shows which would have made her a rich woman only to return to Romania. En route she is feted in Italy by the Minister of Aviation in Genoa and is invited to meet the Pope.

In 1932, receiving her pilot license, she establishes another record by crossing the Mediterranean in a Milles Hawk plane which she bought - the trip of 1,100 Km during 6hrs and 10 minutes. A Romanian senator proposes Br&3259;escu for honors which she never gets, in a country where women were more appreciated for their decorative qualities than for their achievements. With the advent of the Second World War Smaranda enrols with other women pilots in the “White Squadron”, active on the Eastern front where Romania was trying to retrieve from the Soviets the provinces taken by Russia as a result of the Hitler-Stalin Pact. After 1944, she joins the 13th squadron which fights the Germans on the Western front, first in Transylvania, then in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Although a war hero, Smaranda soon fall foul of the Communist puppet regime, installed in Romania by Stalin’s armies. She protested to the United Nations about the legality of the 1946 elections and her letter of protest to the Allied Command in Romania falled in the hands of a Russian general. From now on, Smaranda becomed a pariah and joined the underground resistance in order to escape emprisonment and sure death. She operates under an assumed name first from a convent and then from the maquis. She died of cancer at the age of 51, being buried at Cluj, under her alias name of Maria Popescu, a grave on which her merits and real identity cannot be spelled out. The people who helped her were hounded out and given long prison sentences.

"My life means nothing if I'm keeping it for myself. I dedicate my life to my country, and I want to live it in glory. I will only come back as a winner"...