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10 outstanding women from aviation history

PUBLISHED: 17:10 22 July 2016

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The world of aviation has long been known as a male dominated occupation and hobby. Thankfully it is becoming an increasingly popular vocation for women to discover and enjoy. We have decided to reflect and celebrate the women who made some of the most groundbreaking achievements with regards to aviation history.

'Amelia Earhart, Los Angeles' © Los Angeles Daily News, Wikipedia'Amelia Earhart, Los Angeles' © Los Angeles Daily News, Wikipedia

Amelia Earhart

In 1932, Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean solo. She began her journey in Newfoundland and headed for Paris in a Lockheed Vega 5B. Many ambitious achievements followed, from setting altitude records to being the first woman to fly solo across the Pacific.

In 1937 Earhart attempted to make a record journey flying around the world but the Lockheed Electra she was flying in disappeared and Earhart’s body was never found. Earhart is fondly remembered for her groundbreaking achievements in aviation for women.

Cochran in the cockpit of a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk.Cochran in the cockpit of a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk.

Jacqueline Cochran

Jacqueline Cochran was an acclaimed advocate of women participating in the air force and she wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt during the Second World War, proposing the idea of a women’s flying division.

By July 1943, Cochran was director of the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) and received a US distinguished service medal for her role after the war.

Bessie Coleman, First African American PilotBessie Coleman, First African American Pilot

Bessie Coleman

Coleman was inspired to fly by the heroic pilots of the First World War, but she was unfairly disqualified from attending pilot school in the US as she was an African American woman. Undeterred, she moved to France in 1920 to complete an advanced course in aviation and made a career from aerobatic shows.

Bessie Coleman’s career was cut short as she was killed in 1926 when she was thrown from her aircraft. She will be remembered as the first African American woman to gain an international pilot’s licence.

Sally RideSally Ride

Sally Ride

When Sally Ride passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2012, it was a sad day for the world of aviation. Sally was the first American woman to travel into space, joining the crew of space shuttle Challenger in June 1983.

During the NASA mission, she operated the robotic arm and assisted in deploying two satellites into space. As a result, Ride was added to the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2003 and she still remains the youngest American astronaut to travel into space.

Amy Johnson Memorial Airshow at Herne Bay, Kent on August 15Amy Johnson Memorial Airshow at Herne Bay, Kent on August 15

Amy Johnson

Johnson won fame when in 1930 she became the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia, doing so in a de Havilland Gipsy Moth. She was also the first woman in the world to qualify as an aircraft engineer. During the Second World War, Johnson joined the Air Transport Auxiliary and died in 1941 when the plane she was ferrying crashed in the sea in bad weather conditions. Johnson remains a prominent female figure in the male dominated world of aviation.

'Valentina Tereshkova' © RIA Novosti archive, Wikipedia'Valentina Tereshkova' © RIA Novosti archive, Wikipedia

Valentina Tereshkova

At the young age of 26, Tereshkova beat 400 other female candidates to become the first woman to travel into space and did so as part of the Soviet space program. She travelled in the Vostok 6 on the 16th June 1963 and returned three days later on the 19th of June, after completing 48 orbits. Tereshkova has received many honours and awards recognising her achievements and has since claimed that if a one-way ticket to Mars became available she would happily take it.

Harriet Quimby © Richard Author Norton, WikipediaHarriet Quimby © Richard Author Norton, Wikipedia

Harriet Quimby

In 1911 Quimby became the first female pilot to be granted a pilot licence by the Aero Club of America. By 1912 she had become the first woman to fly across the English Channel when she flew from Dover to Calais in 59 minutes in a Bleriot monoplane. At the age of 37 Quimby died when she was thrown from her aircraft in the air but despite dying at such a young age, she has left a lasting legacy with regards to women in aviation due to the many milestones she reached.

Sheila ScottSheila Scott

Sheila Scott

British aviator, Scott, was born in Worcestershire in 1922. She gained her pilot’s licence in 1960 and became a demonstrator for Cessna and Piper aircraft to pay for her passion for flying. Scott broke over 100 aviation records between 1965 and 1972; from being the first British person to fly over the North Pole in a small aircraft to being the first British pilot to fly solo across the world. Scott passed away in 1988 but she has left a lasting legacy for British women interested in aviation.

A Polikarpov Po-2, similar to the aircraft operated by the Night Witches © Douzeff, WikipediaA Polikarpov Po-2, similar to the aircraft operated by the Night Witches © Douzeff, Wikipedia

The Night Witches

In the summer of 1941, a regiment of Soviet women were organised to carry out a night-time bombing offensive against German invaders. Their 588th regiment became known as ‘the Night Witches’ by the Germans due to their tactic of conducting raids under the cover of darkness. These women fought nonstop for months and partook in thousands of tactical bombing missions using outdated Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes.Although they were slow (94mph), Po-2’s carried armament and were designed for ground attacks and aerial reconnaissance. The Soviet Union was the only combatant of WWII to deploy women in aerial combat.

Bird in a Biplane LTDBird in a Biplane LTD

Tracey Curtis Taylor

Perhaps the most recently prominent woman in aviation, Curtis- Taylor had her first flying lesson at only 16 years old and gained her pilots licence when she emigrated to New Zealand. Her main passion is flying vintage aircraft and in 2013 she made the journey from Cape Town to Goodwood in her open cockpit Boeing Stearman, inspired by the adventures of Lady Mary Heath- the first person to fly from South Africa to the UK in 1928.

Patty Wagstaff

After gaining her pilot licence in 1980, Wagstaff trained with the Russian aerobatic team and became an expert at low level aerobatic displays. She was the first woman to win the US National Aerobatic Championship and became a six time member of the US aerobatic team in 1985.

Wagstaff is recognised for her groundbreaking achievements in aerobatics for women and her Goodrich-sponsored Extra 260 airplane is displayed next to Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

1 comment

  • The contributions of one of the industries pioneers has potentially been overlooked. Perhaps because she stood up to conformity and earned a bit of a reputation. She formed a Movie Stunt Pilots Association to stand up to Howard Hugh during his making of his Aerial Combat movie Hell's Angels to get better pay for the pilots given the safety issues, and flew in the movie. She may not have been the first, but, she was the most flamboyant and her connection to the Edwards Test Pilot program should also be noted.

    Report this comment

    Brian Copher

    Wednesday, March 25, 2015

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