Long considered to be a male-dominated field, recent decades have seen women in aviation push the industry into new and exciting directions as they continue the legacy of female pilots, engineers and pioneers who have fought back at gender inequality in aviation.
Today, July 24th, marks ‘Amelia Earhart Day’, designated in celebration of aviation pioneer and all-around inspiration Amelia Earhart, who chartered a new course for women in aviation and inspired a new generation to enter the cockpit.
WHO IS AMELIA EARHART?
Earhart first saw a plane (one of the Wright Brothers’ early models) at the age of 11 while visiting the State fair and started pursuing her life’s passion as soon as she could. Today she’s famous for setting new altitude records for women, navigating a historic solo flight across the Atlantic, and becoming the first woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross. Sadly her journey as a pilot ended in 1937 when she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, vanished while crossing the Pacific Ocean while attempting a flight around the world, in what would have been be another first for women in aviation.
Today we rightfully mark Amelia Earhart’s legacy, and we also take a moment to celebrate other women role models and aviators who paved the way for those in the industry today.
RAYMONDE DE LA ROCHE
Known as the ‘Baroness of Flight’, French pilot Raymonde de Laroche decided to pursue a career in aviation after seeing the Wright brothers at the 1908 Paris expo. In 1910, de Laroche became the first woman in the world to receive a pilot’s license and she soon became a successful aviation engineer and test pilot before sadly passing away during a test flight in 1919.
Famed pilot Bessie Coleman became the first African-American to earn an international pilot’s license after being inspired by World War I fighter pilots. Coleman quit her job as a laundry maid and pursued a career in aviation after her brothers returned from the war, breaking the colour barrier and becoming an inspiration for pilots everywhere. Turned away from aviation schools in the United States, Coleman had to travel to Europe before she would be accepted as a student and could enter a cockpit.
When she returned to America Coleman made it her life’s work to advocate for African American women in aviation, giving speeches and demonstrations and refusing to speak anywhere that practiced segregation. Her legacy inspired the Bessie Coleman Aero group, established in the early 1930s, and today it continues her legacy with thousands of members.
GERALDINE ‘JERRY’ MOCK
In 1964 Geraldine Mock finished what Amelia Earhart started and became the first woman to fly around the world – a feat she achieved in a single-engine Cessna 180 named the ‘Spirit of Columbus’. Her trip took 29 days to complete and covered almost 37, 000 kilometres.
ASLI HASSAN ABADE
Known as the first African woman air force pilot on the whole continent (and the Middle East), Hassan Abade is a famed air force pilot, military figure, and civil activist, having solo-piloted her first flight in 1976.
As the industry continues to grow with the inclusion of more talented women engineers, pilots, innovators and trailblazers, we salute the role models who came before and chartered a new course for the industry as a whole.
Images courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute.