Female Aviation Pioneers
Since the early 19th century, women have been making strides in the field of aviation. From flying the first airplanes to walking in space, women have been accomplishing aviation and aerospace milestones for more than 100 years. Let’s take a look at the lives of three female aviation pioneers: Madame Therese Peltier, Amelia Earhart and Valentina Tereshkova.
Madame Therese Peltier
Born in France in 1873, Madame Peltier was a well-known sculptor in Paris. She became interested in aviation when her friend and fellow sculptor, Leon Delagrange, took an interest in flying. She was Delagrange’s constant passenger, observing how his airplane works and studying the mechanics of aviation. She began to take lessons from Delagrange, and in 1908, she completed her first solo flight. With this flight, Peltier became the first woman to pilot a heavier-than-air craft.
Despite her successful flight, Peltier never applied for her pilot’s license. In 1910, Delagrange died in an airplane crash in Bordeaux, and Peltier lost interest in aviation. In a time when most women were thought unable to drive a car – much less pilot an airplane – Peltier’s accomplishments as an aviator are truly remarkable.
Amelia Earhart was born in 1897 in Kansas and fell in love with airplanes while attending an air show in Toronto as a teenager. As a college student, Earhart convinced her father to pay for flying lessons. After just one ten-minute lesson, Earhart was hooked and worked a variety of jobs, including photographer, truck driver and stenographer, to raise the money needed for her remaining lessons. In 1923, Earhart became the 16th woman to earn a pilot’s license.
In 1932, after years of flying with male pilots, Earhart wanted to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in a solo flight. She set off from Newfoundland and landed in a pasture at Culmore in Northern Ireland. She had hoped to make it to Paris, but strong winds shortened her journey. Nevertheless, with this flight, Earhart became the first female pilot to complete a solo transatlantic flight.
Valentina Tereshkova is a former Soviet cosmonaut who became the first woman in space. Her career, though, started out on a different path. As a young girl, Tereshkova was interested in parachuting and later took skydiving lessons. She completed her first jump at the age of 22. At the time, she was an assembly line worker with barely a high school education.
In 1961, the Soviet Union wanted to put a woman in space and began a search for the country’s first female cosmonaut. Tereshkova applied and was selected out of more than 400 candidates, based largely on her expertise as a parachutist and skydiver.
In 1963, at the age of 26, Tereshkova boarded the Vostok 6 and began her three-day space journey, orbiting the earth 48 times. After her flight, Tereshkova studied at the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy and earned a doctorate in engineering.
Female Aviation Timeline
How much do you know about female aviation pioneers? Here’s a timeline of female aviation and aerospace accomplishments to inspire your future aviator:
1906 – E. Lillian Todd became the first woman to help design and build an aircraft
1908 – Madame Therese Peltier became the first woman to fly an airplane by herself
1910 – Baroness Raymonde de Laroche got the first women’s pilot license
1910 – Bessica Raiche became the first American woman to earn a pilot’s license
1911 – Harriet Quimby was the first American woman fly across the English Channel
1913 – Katherine Stinson was the first American woman to operate a flight school
1921 – Bessie Coleman was the first African American to earn an International Pilot’s License
1928 – Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean
1930 – Amy Johnson was the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia
1934 – Jeanette Picard was America’s first female licensed balloon pilot and America’s first woman to enter the stratosphere
1934 – Helen Richey was the first woman to be hired to pilot a U.S. commercial airline
1936 – Jean Batten was the first pilot to fly solo from England to New Zealand
1937 – Sabiha Gokcen of Turkey was the first female pilot to fly combat missions
1938 – Hanna Reitsch was the first woman to fly a helicopter
1938 – Willa Brown was the first African-American woman to earn her pilot’s license and commercial license
1953 – Jakie Cochran became the first woman to break the sound barrier
1963 – Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to fly in space
1964 – Geraldine Mock was the first woman to fly solo around the world
1974 – Barbara Allen Rainey was the first female pilot in the U.S. military
1976 – Emily Howell Warner was the first female to command a major American passenger flight
1980 – Lynn Rippelmeyer was the first woman pilot to fly a Boeing 747
1983 – Sally Ride became the first American woman to go to space
1984 – Svetlana Savitskaya was the first woman to ever perform a space walk
1992 – Dr. Mae Jemison was the first African American woman to go to space
1995 – Martha McSally was the first woman to fly combat missions for the United States
1996 – Shannon Lucid is the American astronaut who has been in space for the longest period of time and the American woman with the most missions to space
1997 – Eileen Collins was the first woman to command a U.S. space shuttle mission
2001 – Polly Vacher became the first woman to fly around the world in a small plane
2001 – Vernice Armour became the first African-American combat pilot
2012 – Liu Yang was the first Chinese woman to launch into space
2012 – Col. Jeannie Flynn Leavitt became the U.S. Air Force’s first female wing commander
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