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10 Trailblazing Female Pilots To Know For Women Of Aviation Week

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Women Of Aviation Week is from March 6th through the 12th of this year. 

The event is put on by iWOAW (Institute for Women Of Aviation Worldwide), an organization dedicated to changing the face of aviation. During the week, the group sponsors Fly It Forward events and scholarship opportunities to expose young girls to aviation and the possibilities within. 

In honor of Women Of Aviation Week and past, present, and future aviatrixes everywhere, here are ten inspirational, trailblazing female pilots from every corner of the industry. 

Raymonde de Laroche (1882 – 1919)

De Laroche became the world’s first female pilot when she received the 36th license issued by Aeroclub de France on March 8th, 1910. In celebration of her accomplishment, Women Of Aviation Week is held every March. 

A plumber’s daughter who grew up in Paris, De Laroche was fond of sports, automobiles, and motorcycles. She became an actress but was most inspired by Wilbur Wright’s 1908 flying demonstrations in Paris. She began taking flying lessons from a friend, aircraft builder Charles Voisin, in 1909. 

In 1910, she earned her license, and in 1913, she won the Fermina Cup for making a record-breaking non-stop flight–four hours long! Before her death in a 1919 crash, she also won awards for altitude and distance. 

Harriet Quimby (1875 – 1912)

Quimby was the first woman to receive a US pilot’s license, issued by the Aero Club of America in 1911. The following year, she was the first woman to fly across the English Channel. But unfortunately, she got little media attention for her accomplishment since it occurred the day after the Titanic sank. 

Quimby competed in races and flying meets, always drawing a crowd. Like many early aviatrixes, Quimby capitalized on her popularity with the press, who nicknamed her the “China Doll.” Quimby was also a well-known Hollywood screenwriter. 

Unfortunately, she died less than a year after getting her pilot’s license in an incident at a Boston aviation meet. 

Bessie Coleman (1892 – 1926)

Born to a family of Texas sharecroppers in 1892, Coleman earned several firsts in aviation. She was the first African American woman to get a pilot’s license and the first Native American to get one (her great-grandparents were Cherokee). 

Coleman had an early interest in aviation, but there were no opportunities to learn how to fly in the US at the time for a Black female. So, she saved money from her job as a restaurant manager and obtained a newspaper scholarship to travel to France. There, she went to flight school and became the first Black person to earn an international pilot’s license in 1921. 

Upon returning to the US, Coleman became a star barnstormer stunt pilot known as “Queen Bess.” Coleman used her fame to promote aviation and combat racism until her death in 1926 from an aviation accident during practice. 

Amelia Earhart (1897 – 1937)

Earhart needs no introduction, even if it has been nearly a century since her mysterious disappearance over the Pacific Ocean. At the time, Earhart was attempting to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe by plane in her Lockheed Electra. 

But Earhart was a famous aviator long before she began her around-the-world attempt. Among her many firsts and records, she was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932, for which she was awarded the US Distinguished Flying Cross. 

Earhart was also famous for her work on women’s causes at the time, often compared to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Along with her long-time friend Louise Thaden, she was instrumental in forming The Ninety-Nines, an international organization for women pilots. 

Beryl Markham (1902 – 1986)

Markham was a British-born Kenyan who became an adventurer, aviator, racehorse trainer, and author. A social non-conformist, she learned to fly in Nairobi and occasionally worked as a bush pilot. 

In 1936, she became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from England to North America. She flew her Vega Gull westbound for 20 hours from Abingdon, England, before the engine sputtered. She crash-landed on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada, but survived to document her adventure. You can read the story of Markham’s flight in her memoir, West with the Night

Louise Thaden (1905 – 1979)

Thaden, at the time Louise McPhetridge, was lucky enough to be hired by Walter Beech of Beech Aircraft as a sales representative. Flight lessons were included in her salary, so she trained and got her license in 1928. She was the first woman licensed by the state of Ohio, and in 1929 she became the fourth woman to hold a transport pilot rating. 

Thaden held many records from her days as an early aviation pioneer, competing against the likes of Amelia Earhart and Pancho Barnes. In 1929, she defeated them all in the first Women’s Air Derby, a transcontinental race from California to Ohio. 

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, she won various women’s altitude, speed, and endurance records. In 1936, she won the Bendix Trophy for the best time from New York to LA–14 hours and 55 minutes in her Beech Staggerwing. 

Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1906 – 2001)

Before Anne Spencer Morrow met Charles Lindbergh in 1927, she had no interest in flying. However, she fell in love with this exciting new sport and the fascinating pilot. Anne married Charles Lindbergh and was the first woman in the US to earn a glider’s license in 1929. While the Lindberghs are most known for Charles’s record-breaking flights and the couple’s unbearable kidnapping tragedy, Anne was also a ground-breaking pilot. 

In 1931, Anne earned her private pilot’s license and served as navigator and radio operator while Charles piloted them from Canada, over the Pacific Ocean, to Japan. In 1933, Anne and Charles flew over 30,000 miles together as they surveyed the Atlantic. Anne wrote extensively about her adventures in several published books. 

Patty Wagstaff (born 1951)

The daughter of an airline pilot, Wagstaff has been enamored with aviation from a young age. While living in Alaska, she learned to fly in a Cessna 185 and eventually became a flight instructor. 

Wagstaff is best known as a world-champion aerobatics pilot. She qualified for the US National Aerobatic Team and competed from 1985 to 1996. She won three US championships–the first woman to do so. In addition, she won the Betty Skelton First Lady of Aerobatics award six times in a row. 

Among the many honors Wagstaff has received over the course of her career, she was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2004. In addition, her Extra 260 sits on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, right next to Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega.

Wagstaff currently flies as an instructor, training aerobatics pilots and conducting upset training from her base in St. Augustine, Florida. She also flies in many airshows across the country.

Eileen Collins (born 1956)

Collins was a former Air Force flight instructor, AF Academy professor, and AF Test Pilot School grad when they joined NASA in 1990. She became the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle in 1997 (STS-63, Discovery). In 1999, she was the first woman commander on a Space Shuttle mission aboard Columbia for STS-93. In total, she served on four shuttle missions, including commanding the 2005 return to flight mission after the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia

Collins retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 2005 and from NASA in 2006. Upon retiring, she had accumulated 6,751 flight hours in 30 aircraft types, and 872 hours in space. She was inducted into the US Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2013.

Capt. Tammie Jo Shults (born 1961)

One of the very first female fighter pilots in the US Navy, Shults flew the F/A-18 Hornet and several other planes. She served in the Navy Reserve in 1995, retiring as a lieutenant commander in 2001. Upon leaving the reserves, Shults was hired by Southwest Airlines. 

Despite her trailblazing Navy career, Shults is most known for her heroic flying of Southwest Flight 1380. The 737 left New York for Dallas in 2018. A malfunction in the engine sent debris through the cabin, causing decompression. One passenger died when they were pulled out of the crippled plane. Shults landed the flight in Philadelphia without further incident, winning praise for her calm demeanor and competence. 

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