In honor of the Centennial of Flight on December 17, 2003, Women in Aviation International selected a unique celebration. Instead of inducting the normal number of women or groups into our Pioneer Hall of Fame, we paid tribute to 100 Women Who Made a Difference in the first 100 years of aviation.
If we accept the premise that the first machine-powered flight by humans occurred on December 17, 1903, with the Wright Brothers, it is appropriate to begin with an almost forgotten contributor to that great event: their sister Katharine Wright. In remembering the financial and moral support she provided to them, her brother Wilbur said, "If ever the world thinks of us in connection with aviation, it must remember our sister."
Katherine Wright first flew with her brothers for their demonstration flights in France in 1909. Katherine could have been the inspiration for the Baroness Raymonde de Laroche of France, who was the first woman in the world to solo in 1909 and the first woman in the world to earn her pilot's license in 1910.
After watching some of the early flying exhibitions by the Baroness de Laroche, Bessica Raiche returned to America with her French husband and they began building aircraft in their living room. She is given credit for being the first American woman to solo on September 16, 1910, in one of the aircraft she and her husband built.
Blanche Stuart Scott was technically the first American woman to solo, when a block on her aircraft's throttle jolted out of place and she went airborne on September 2, 1910. She was not credited with being the first American woman to solo by the Aeronautical Society of America because the flight was ruled accidental.
Harriett Quimby was the first American woman to earn a pilot's license in 1911, and she was the second woman in the world to do so. She was killed in an aircraft accident in 1912.
Harriett Quimby's friend Matilde Moissant was the second American woman to earn a pilot's license. She also set several altitude records and was the first person of either gender to land a plane in Mexico City.
Tiny Broadwick began her career parachuting from balloons. She was the first woman to parachute from an airplane. In 1915, she became the first person to demonstrate parachutes to the US Army.
Katherine Stinson was the first woman to fly the mail and the first woman in the world to own a flying school. In 1913, Katherine and her mother created Stinson Aviation Company to rent and sell airplanes. In 1917, Katherine toured Asia, and was the first woman to fly in Japan or China.
Katherine's younger sister, Marjorie Stinson, was employed by her sister's flying school as their chief instructor.
Ruth Law was the first woman to fly at night in 1913 and the first woman to loop-the-loop. Three years later she broke the world's non-stop cross-country record, for men or women, by flying 590 miles from Chicago, Illinois, to Hornell, New York.
Bessie Coleman was the first African American (either gender) to earn a pilot's license, but she had to travel to France to do so, because none of the American schools would train blacks. She earned her pilot's license in France in 1921, returned to America and took up stunt flying to earn money. She died while test flying her newly delivered aircraft in 1926, the day prior to a flying event scheduled in Florida.
In 1931, Ruth Nichols attempted to be the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, a flight that was aborted by engine failure but netted her a women's altitude record. Later that year she broke Pancho Barnes' speed record. She founded Relief Wings in 1939 to coordinate private aircraft for emergency and disaster relief. Her contribution to winning World War II was in offering the services of Relief Wings to the Civil Air Patrol in 1942.
Lady Mary Bailey of Ireland earned her pilot's license in 1926 and immediately flew the Irish Sea. She became the first woman to qualify for a "blind-flying" certificate (instrument rating). Two years later she left London on a solo flight to Cape Town, South Africa. She returned solo via the west coast of Africa.
Phoebe Omlie was the first woman to earn a transport license in 1927. In 1930 she won the Dixie Derby Air Race, and then in 1931 she won the National Air Races in Cleveland, the first year women were admitted to the race. She went to Washington, DC, as the private flying specialist for the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) to help the country prepare for World War II, where she chose flying schools that could serve as training centers for military flyers. She tried to convince the CAA to use women as flight instructors, but they turned her down. She took her proposal to the Tennessee Bureau of Aeronautics and they accepted it, prompting other states to do so.
In 1928, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, as a passenger. She gained fame from this, but it was by no means her most significant contribution to aviation. She became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic solo in 1932. In 1935, she became the first person to fly solo across the Pacific from Honolulu to Oakland. Two years later Amelia and her navigator Fred Noonan began their around-the-world flight from Miami eastward. After completing 22,000 miles of their journey, they were last seen on takeoff from Lae, New Guinea, on July 2, 1937. She was truly an inspiration to women, her attitude toward success and failure summed up in the following quote, "Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others."
In 1927, at the age of 16, Elinor Smith was the youngest pilot ever to receive a Federation Aeronautique International (FAI) license, signed by Orville Wright. The next year, at age 17, she became the first and only pilot to successfully maneuver a plane under all four New York City bridges, resulting in a 10-day grounding by the Mayor of New York and much publicity. In November 1929, she joined Bobbi Trout in trying for the first inflight refueling endurance record for women, which lasted over 42 hours. At age 19 in 1930, she was voted the Best Woman Pilot in the US, the same year that her hero Jimmy Doolittle was voted Best Male Pilot.
Bobbi Trout earned her pilot's license in 1928. In 1929, she regained the women's endurance record from Elinor Smith, and at the same time gained records for the first all-night flight by a woman, most miles covered by a 60-horsepower engine, and heaviest fuel takeoff to date. With Elinor Smith in November 1929, she established an endurance record of 42 hours and 3.5 minutes, which was also the first refueling endurance record attempted by a women's team. In 1996, she was the first woman to receive the Howard Hughes Memorial Award from the Aero Club of Southern California.
The day after she soloed, Fay Gillis Wells, during a test flight of an experimental airplane, was forced to parachute to safety, making her the first woman member of the Caterpillar Club. She earned her pilot's license in 1929 and was then hired by Curtis Wright to demonstrate and sell their aircraft across America. She combined her love of flying with her love of journalism throughout her long and inspirational career. In 1972, she was one of only three women to accompany President Nixon to China. She also helped create the International Forest of Friendship in Amelia Earhart's birthplace, Atchison, Kansas.
Amy Johnson of England flew her first solo in June 1929. She was the first woman to obtain her ground engineer certificate in January 1930. And, she was the first woman to fly solo from London, England, to Australia in 1930.
In early 1930, Pancho Barnes earned her first world speed record, besting Amelia Earhart's record. In 1931, she and Lavelle Sweeley organized women pilots and medical personnel into the Women's Air Reserve (WAR), to provide aid during national emergencies. The WAR was disbanded in 1941 when opportunities appeared for women to join such organizations as the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).
Anne Morrow Lindbergh was the first American woman to earn a glider pilot's license. She was determined to help her husband Charles on his pioneer routes for the airlines industry. In order to do so, she learned Morse code and earned a radio operator's license. In 1933 she accompanied her husband on a 5-month 30,000 mile survey for Transcontinental Air Transport, through Greenland, Iceland, Russia, England, Spain, Africa and Brazil. During the trip, she established a world record for radio communication between aircraft and ground stations when she made contact with Sayville, Long Island, while flying off the coast of West Africa. She was the first woman to be awarded the National Geographic Society's highest award, the Hubbard Gold Medal, for her achievements as copilot and navigator on that trip. Today, Lindbergh is best known as a writer. Her early books are eloquent travelogues of pioneering adventures in the air. Her natural tendency towards quiet introspection and observation came to fruition in literary works that remain among her greatest contributions to aviation.
Edna Gardner Whyte earned her pilot's license in 1931, and her transport license in 1932. She established her own flight school and in 1938 had flown so many hours that she was ranked first in flight hours flown in Look Magazine's list of American women pilots. She was the 10th American woman to obtain her helicopter rating.
Katherine Cheung was the first Asian-American woman to earn a pilot's license in 1932. Three years later she obtained an international airline license and flew as a commercial pilot. She flew aerobatics in an open cockpit Fleet and regularly entered competitive air races. She had planned to return to China in 1937 to open a flying school, but a male friend was killed while flying her airplane. Her father, who had been extraordinarily supportive of her flying but was then on his deathbed, secured a promise from Katherine to give up flying.
Nancy Bird Walton of Australia earned her pilot's license in 1933 and her commercial license in March 1935. She was one of the first two women in New South Wales to fly at night and the youngest woman in the British Empire to qualify for a commercial license. In 1949, she formed the Australian Women Pilots Association.
French pilot Helene Boucher was the holder of the women's world speed record when she crashed in rough weather and died. She summed up her desire to pursue aviation records in the following: "It is the only profession where courage pays off and concrete results count for success."
Jean Batten of New Zealand flew solo from England to Australia in 1934, beating Amy Johnson's record by four days. Soon after she flew from Australia to London, becoming the first woman to fly from England to Australia and back. She later became the first woman to fly from England to Argentina.
English pilot Beryl Markham learned to fly in Kenya and planned to be the first pilot to fly nonstop from London to New York City, crossing the Atlantic from east to west in September 1936. She ran out of fuel just off the coast of Nova Scotia and made a safe water landing.
Louise McPhetridge Thaden was winner of the first Women's Air Derby in 1929 and was the only woman to hold three aviation records simultaneously (altitude, endurance, and speed). She and copilot Blanche Noyes became the first female team to win the Bendix Transcontinental Air Race against male competition in 1936.
Blanche Noyes received her pilot's license in April 1929, the first woman in Ohio to do so. In 1935 she joined the Air Marking Division of the Bureau of Air Commerce.
Jessie Woods helped her barnstormer husband create the Flying Aces, the longest-running of the air circuses. Jessie learned to fly in 1929, walked the wing, parachuted, flew as a stunt pilot, performed gymnastics from a rope ladder, and, at age 81, rode the wing again.
In World War I, Helene Dutrieu of France and Princess Eugenie Shakhovskaya of Russia both served as reconnaissance pilots.
The first military woman to fly combat missions did so in Turkey in 1937. Sabiha Gokcen participated in the Thrace and Aegean exercises, and in the same year joined the Dersim Operation. During the Seyh Riza Rebellion, she facilitated the land operation by bombing Dersim and its surroundings.
In the Soviet Union in World War II, women flew combat missions in three predominately female regiments. The 588th Air Regiment (later the 46th Taman Guards Bomber Regiment) flew night bomber missions in the PO2 biplane. The 587th Bomber Regiment (later the 125th M. M. Raskova Borisov Guards Bomber Regiment) flew bombing missions in the PE2 airplane. The 586th Fighter Regiment flew air defense missions in the YAK-1 aircraft.
Fighter pilot Lily Litvak of the 586th regiment shot down 12 German aircraft and shared the credit for two others. Regiment mate Katya Budanova shot down even more aircraft but the exact number is unknown. They were both killed in action in 1943.
Originally a navigator and a Gold Star Hero of the Soviet Union, Marina Raskova used her influence to propose and gain approval for the formation of the female regiments. She was the first commander of the 587th Bomber Regiment, and she was killed ferrying her aircraft to the front lines.
Rose Clement served as a Navigator in the US Navy during World War II. These women navigators were the first US military women to be aircrew, to wear wings, and to receive flight pay (half their base pay). They were generally assigned as navigator instructors, in pairs at various bases around the country, after satisfactory completion of celestial navigation training.
In Britain in November 1939, Pauline Gower proposed and was granted permission to form the Women's Section of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), which would ferry aircraft from the DeHaviland factory to RAF training bases. She was the first woman to be allowed into, let alone fly, a Royal Air Force plane.
Ann Wood-Kelly was recruited by Jacqueline Cochran to be one of the first 24 American women pilots to serve in the British ATA. She ferried more than 900 planes of 75 different types, mostly the renowned Spitfires, to destinations in England and France. In recognition of this service, she was awarded the King's Medal by King George IV, presented to her in Washington D.C. by the British Ambassador.
In the US, Nancy Harkness Love founded, and was named commander of, the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) in September 1942. The 28 women pilots who made up her squadron were the first women to ferry airplanes for the U.S. Army. She also was the first woman to fly the P-51, P-38, B-25 and the B-17. In 1946, she was awarded the Air Medal and a citation for her leadership of women flying advanced military aircraft.
Betty Huyler Gillies was one of the original Ninety-Nines. She flew as a test pilot for Grumman aircraft, was one of Nancy Love's first recruits into the WAFS, and later served in the WASP and the US Air Force Reserve. In 1981, she received the Elder Statesman of Aviation Award from the National Aeronautic Association of the U.S.
Cornelia Fort was airborne with a student over Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. She was also one of Nancy Love's first recruits into the WAFS. She was the first casualty of the group, on March 21, 1943, when she crashed following a mid-air collision on a ferrying mission.
The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) were formed in August of 1943 from two groups: the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and the Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD). While technically civilians at the time, the WASP were involved in all aspects of military flying operations, with the exception of combat and overseas ferrying. More than 1,000 WASP pilots flew over 70 million miles and delivered 12,650 airplanes across the country. The WASP program was suspended in December 1944. In the late 1970s, they were granted long overdue military veteran status.
WASP Gloria Heath flew the B-26 aircraft towing aerial gunnery targets. She was a founding member of the International Flight Safety Foundation. She is recognized internationally for her initiatives resulting in use of cockpit recorders for accident investigation, safety improvements, and a global satellite-aided system of response to disaster/distress.
At the beginning of World War II, Doris Lockness was employed at Douglas Aircraft as a Liaison Engineer on the C-47 airplane. She joined the WASP in 1943, and her husband divorced her for doing so. In 1984 she was the first female pilot to receive the Legion of Merit Award from the OX5 Aviation Pioneers.
Two Chinese Americans, Hazel Ah Ying Lee and Margaret "Maggie" Gee, served as WASP. Hazel had traveled to China in 1932 with the intention of joining the Chinese Air Force to fight against the Japanese, but was not allowed to do so. She came back to the US, joined the WASP, and was stationed at Romulus Army Air Base, Michigan. On November 25, 1944, she died as the result of a midair collision with another P-63 on landing approach.
Another group whose members were technically civilians, but whose military role cannot be denied, was Claire Chennault's American Volunteer Group (AVG) in China, nicknamed the Flying Tigers. Besides pilots and other ground crew, the group included women flight nurses, such as Jane Foster Hanks.
Mary Utterback Barr worked nights in a factory to pay for flying lessons, then moved to New York to attend aircraft mechanic's school and worked on airplanes during World War II. Barr also served as an FAA Pilot Examiner and Accident Prevention Counselor, and in a variety of positions within the United States Forest Service, including being the first woman pilot and smokejumper.
African-American Willa Brown Chappell taught other blacks to fly. In 1942 she became the first African-American woman member of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). With husband Cornelius Coffee, she created the Coffee School of Aeronautics, the first US government approved school of aviation for blacks. The school ran the studies that led the Army to admit blacks into the U.S. Army Air Corps, and was the beginning of the Tuskegee Institute.
Mary Feik taught aviation mechanics for the US Army Air Corps. During World War II, she became an expert on several fighter planes, and is credited with becoming the first woman engineer in research and development for the Air Technical Service Command. She flew more than 5,000 hours as a B-29 flight engineer, engineering observer and pilot in fighter, attack, bomber, cargo and training aircraft.
Elsie Pickles worked during World War II as one of Boeing's Rosie the Riveters. She bucked rivets under many of the B-29 aircraft being built at the factory. Like thousands of other women at such factories, her efforts helped create the aircraft that helped win the war.
On December 31, 1934, Helen Richey won a contest against eight male pilots to become a copilot for Central Airlines, making her the first US woman to pilot an airmail transport aircraft on a regular schedule. The male pilots refused to admit her to their union, and they pressured her employers to prohibit her from flying in inclement weather. She resigned rather than be treated unfairly, and joined Louise Thaden at the Air Marking Department of the Bureau of Air Commerce.
Emily Howell Warner became the first permanent woman pilot for a scheduled US passenger airline, when Frontier Airlines agreed in January 1973 to take the bold step of hiring a woman. In 1974, she became the first woman member of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). She became the first female U.S. airline captain, of a Twin Otter, in 1976.
Fiorenza de Bernardi became Italy's first woman airline pilot in 1967, when she was hired by Aeralpi. In 1969 she became Italy's first woman airline captain. She also founded the Italian Women Pilots Association. She has flown Twin Otters, Islanders, Queen Airs, Yak-40s, and DC-8s all over the world for various airlines and charter companies.
Canadian Lorna DeBlicquy wrote a guest editorial in 1974 in Canadian Flight protesting the discrimination against women pilots by Crown Corporation Air Transit. The article attracted national comment in the media and contributed to the improved climate which now ensures women a place in the cockpits of Canada's major airlines. In 1995, she was awarded the Order of Canada, which honors Canadian citizens for outstanding achievement and service to the country or to humanity at large.
Evelyn Bryan Johnson received her private pilot's license in 1945, her commercial rating in 1946, and her flight instructor's certificate in 1947. She was been a flight instructor for 45 years, and has given flight examinations for various licenses and certificates for the FAA to more than 9,000 applicants. In 1991, she passed her 50,000th hour of logged flight time, believed to be the most ever accumulated by a woman pilot.
Loretta Jones has been a licensed pilot since 1957. She has all ratings through Air Transport Pilot and is a certificated flight examiner. Loretta has logged more than 25,000 hours, and has instructed nearly 1,000 student pilots during the past forty years. She was instrumental in changing hiring policies at airlines, and counts among her students the first woman pilot for United Airlines.
Ada Brown was hired as a stewardess by United Airlines in 1940. Recognizing the widespread discrimination that stewardesses faced on the job, Brown and a group of her flying partners signed up almost 300 women, forming the world's first stewardess union at United, the Air Line Stewardess Association (ALSA) in 1945. Today, thanks to Ada Brown, flight attendants at United Airlines and 25 other carriers are represented by the union that grew from ALSA: The Association of Flight Attendants.
Audrey Poberezny has played an active role in the formation, administration and operation of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) since its founding in 1953. She has been instrumental in helping the organization grow from a local club for amateur aircraft builders into an international organization that embraces virtually the entire spectrum of sport aviation
In 1954, Jean Ross Howard-Phelan became the 13th woman in the world to receive a helicopter rating. She has participated in three international helicopter championships and both U.S. and international fixed-wing air races. She is noted for her efforts in establishing heliports in emergency medical services. Founder of the Whirly-Girls, Inc. in 1955, she has also written extensively on aviation.
Jacqueline Smith Burdette joined the Navy after high school to become an Air Controllman. In 1968, she co-founded Professional Women Controllers, Inc. Her firsts included the first woman manager of an ARTCC to the first woman Division Manager responsible for ATC operation in four states and 3400 controllers. She retired as FAA Administrator for the Alaska Region.
Nancy Hopkins Tier started flying in November 1927, and has entered and won many air races. She joined the Civil Air Patrol in 1942, where she served for 18 years and was the first woman to achieve the rank of Colonel as Wing Commander of Connecticut. In 1969 she joined the official board organized by the Ninety-Nines to create the International Women's Air and Space Museum (IWASM), and was IWASMs first President when it opened in 1986.
Amy Carmien founded the publication Women in Aviation in 1988. She was a founding board member of Women in Aviation International (WAI) and a trustee of the International Women's Air and Space Museum (IWASM). Amy has been inducted into the International Forest of Friendship and was honored by the Northwest Michigan Women's History Project.
Seeing the need for an all-inclusive organization to encourage women to pursue careers in aviation, aerospace educator Dr. Peggy Chabrian held her first conference in Prescott, Arizona, in 1990. She then founded Women in Aviation International (WAI) in 1994. Annual conferences draw thousands of attendees, who come to network and witness the awarding of hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships, type ratings, and educational benefits.
Betty Skelton Frankman became internationally famous after winning the 1948, 1949, and 1950 Women's International Aerobatic Championships. Her Pitts Special experimental bi-plane, Little Stinker, is now displayed in the National Air and Space Museum.
In 1964, Geraldine Mock became the first woman to fly around the world, completing Amelia Earhart's 1937 goal, in a single engine Cessna 180 named the Spirit of Columbus. Her around the world flight made her the first woman to fly both the Atlantic and Pacific, the Pacific in both directions, and the Pacific in a single-engine airplane.
Marion Jayne is known on six continents as the world record holder for the most cross-country speed race victories, as the FAI Gold Medalist for the longest race, and as the only US pilot to race twice around the world. Jayne and her daughter, Pat Keefer, received the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) Gold Medals for winning the longest race in history--24 days around the world.
Elizabeth (Betty) Pfister learned to fly in 1941 and ferried United States Army aircraft for nearly two years during World War II as a WASP. Betty served on President Nixon's Women's Advisory Committee on Aviation from 1969 to 1972. She was also a member of the United States Helicopter Team, competing in the World Championships in 1973 and 1978.
Captain Julie Clark was one of the first women airline pilots to fly for a major airline back in the 1970s. In addition, Julie has been an internationally-recognized air show performer, flying her personally-restored military trainer, the Mopar Parts T-34.
Boeing 767 pilot Cheryl Stearns was the first woman on the U.S. Army Parachute Team, the Golden Knights, in 1977. She has 30 world parachuting records, is 21-time national woman's champion, and twice world champion. She has over 15,000 skydives, the most of any woman in the world.
Patty Wagstaff is a three-time U.S. National Acrobatic Champion and six-time member of the US National Aerobatic Team. The airplane used in her 1991 victory in the US National Aerobatic Championship, the prototype BFGoodrich Aerospace Extra 260, is on display at National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC.
Wingwalker Patty Wagner and her pilot husband Bob are the longest-performing wingwalking team. They fly a restored BFGoodrich WACO Model CTO Taperwing.
Janet Harmon Bragg was the first African-American woman to earn a commercial pilot's rating. She and other black students formed the Challenger Air Pilot's Association and built their own airport near Chicago. Her efforts convinced President Roosevelt to establish Civilian Pilot Training Programs (CPTP) at black colleges and black-owned airports. In 1985, she was awarded the Bishop Wright Air Industry Award.
Olive Ann Beech, along with her husband Walter, co-founded Beech Aircraft Company in 1932. She served as secretary-treasurer and director until 1950, when her husband died. She then took over as President and CEO of the company, and transformed the Beech Aircraft into a multimillion-dollar, international corporation.
Moya Olsen Lear, as a child, loved roller coasters. Being married to Bill Lear, mothering the team that made the Learjet and, later the Learfan, was one heck of a ride. She is considered the mother of the business jet industry.
Arlene Elliott was a steady promoter of general aviation for more than 60 years. She and her husband Herbert began Elliott Aviation, a fixed base operation, in 1936. She was instrumental in the turnaround of the bankers' attitude toward the financing of aircraft purchases.
June Maule was the CEO and exclusive owner of Maule Air, Inc., the world-renowned manufacturer of Maule STOL airplanes. She was the wife and business partner of the late B. D. Maule, aircraft designer and manufacturer. For 55 years she operated the administrative aspect of Maule aircraft, and aircraft parts manufacturing facilities.
Nadine Jeppesen was hired by United Airlines as a stewardess. In 1936, she married Capt. Jeppesen and together they established a flight chart business, producing the Jeppesen Airway Manual. She hired cartographers, helped design and write the copy for promotional procedures, and handled a myriad of other details. She continued to work as secretary/treasurer until the company was sold in 1961.
Quiet, unassuming Martha King is the renaissance woman of aviation. From being the only woman to hold every class of pilot and instructor rating, to explaining aviation to the public on TV, to teaching one-half of the new pilots in the country, Martha has made a profound mark on aviation.
Nancy Fitzroy is an internationally recognized and honored expert in heat transfer and fluid flow. She was with the General Electric Company until her retirement in 1987, serving in a number of engineering and engineering manager capacities. In 1986 she became the first woman to head a major national engineering society, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Southwest Airlines President and COO Colleen Barrett is the U.S. airline industry's highest ranking female and is credited with nurturing the 32-year-old company's unique corporate culture. She began her journey as a legal secretary to Herb Kelleher, the airline's co-founder.
Ann Baumgartner Carl became a WASP during World War II. She was transferred to Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, where she became their first and only female test pilot. On October 14, 1944, Ann became the first woman to fly a jet aircraft, the Bell YP-59A.
Cecil "Teddy" Kenyon, Barbara Kibbee Jayne, and Elizabeth Hooker all flew as test pilots for Grumman Aircraft during World War II. Right off the assembly line, they flew the F6F Hellcat, the fighter plane that was the backbone of the naval air war against Japan. They served as test pilots at Grumman throughout the war, drawing the admiring attention of newspapers and national magazines.
German Hanna Reitsch was a test pilot for the Luftwaffe and a protégée of Hitler. As one of the few women who broke from traditional roles in Nazi Germany, she flew the first helicopter, the piloted version of the V-1 buzz bomb, and the rocket-powered Messerschmitt 163. She was the first person to demonstrate a helicopter to the public.
Jacqueline Cochran won the Bendix Transcontinental Air Race in 1938 and set many records. She recruited women for the British ATA, and led the Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD). She became the first director of the WASP when the WFTD and Nancy Love's WAFS merged. In May 1953, she became the first woman to break the sound barrier, in an F-86 Saberjet.
French pilot Jacqueline Auriol was the first woman admitted to the Bretigny Flight Test Center, and after 16 months of training she became a test pilot in 1952. She was the second woman to break the sound barrier. She and Jacqueline Cochran traded speed records publicly and regularly. Each held the same women's world speed record five times.
Marta Bohn-Meyer is the first woman to fly as a crewmember aboard the SR-71, a Mach-3 research aircraft at NASA Dryden (Edwards AFB). As an aeronautical engineer, her first job at NASA Dryden was conducting research involving the thermal protection tiles on the Space Shuttle. In 1990 she won the California Championship title in the intermediate category of aerobatic competition.
In March 1981, Jeana Yeager, with partner Dick Rutan, founded Voyager Aircraft, Inc. where she devoted herself exclusively to the building, testing, and flying of the Voyager for its around the world, non-stop, non-refueled flight. On December 14, 1986, Yeager and Jeana began their history-making flight in the Voyager, flying the maximum circumference of the globe in just over nine days.
Jerrie Cobb worked as an international ferry pilot delivering USAF military fighters and bombers to countries around the world in her early twenties. Cobb was selected in 1959 as the first woman to undergo astronaut selection tests. She passed all three phases of the grueling tests, but was not allowed to fly into space because of her gender.
Wally Funk was also one of 25 women chosen to undergo preliminary astronaut testing. In 1971, she became the first female FAA inspector. Wally moved on to the NTSB in 1974, where she became one of the Board's first female air safety investigators.
Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova of the Soviet Union was the first woman to fly in space. She launched on 16 June 1963 in Vostok 6, for 48 orbits and a total of 70 hours 50 minutes in space (more than all the US Mercury astronauts combined).
The U.S. did not send a woman into space until July 18, 1983, when Sally Ride, an astronaut and physicist, flew aboard space shuttle Challenger.
Challenger flew again in October 1984 with Sally Ride and Kathryn Sullivan. Sullivan was the third American woman in space and the first to walk in space.
Shannon Lucid has logged more continuous time in space than any other U.S. astronaut, male or female, having spent seven months on board the MIR space station in 1996.
Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman in space on September 12, 1992, when she launched on space shuttle Endeavor.
Judy Resnik was the first Jewish astronaut, and the second American woman in space, when she launched aboard space shuttle Endeavor in August 1984. She and teacher astronaut Christa McAuliffe died in the space shuttle Challenger mishap on January 28, 1986.
Eileen Collins was the first woman to pilot a space shuttle, Discovery, in February 1995. She was also the first woman to command a space shuttle, Columbia, in July 1999.
Barbara Barrett, an instrument rated pilot, former Vice Chairman of U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board and former Deputy Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration has advanced aviation issues in local, state, national and global arenas for more than 30 years. Opening military opportunities for women -- especially women pilots -- has been a productive passion of hers.
Jane Garvey became the first woman Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in August 1997. She was the first administrator to be confirmed by the Senate for a five-year term.
Sheila Widnall served as the first woman Secretary of Air Force from 1993 to 1997. She was responsible for and had the authority to conduct all Department of the Air Force matters that include recruiting, organizing, training, administration, logistical support, maintenance and welfare of personnel.
Rhonda Cornum is a U.S. Army flight surgeon, who became a prisoner of war of the Iraqis during Operation Desert Storm, when her helicopter was shot down on 27 February 1991.
Marie Rossi was a U.S. Army helicopter pilot killed when her aircraft crashed supporting Operation Desert Storm, on March 1, 1991. In an interview with the media regarding women's participation in the war, she said, "…this is the moment that everybody trains for, that I've trained for, so I feel ready to meet the challenge."
In 1917, the U.S. Navy was the first military service to enlist women in fields other than as nurses. One of these WWI enlisted women was Joy Bright. In WWII she became an officer in the Navy, and it was she who recommended that women be employed in aviation fields in the Navy. In 1973, the Navy became the first military service to officially accept women as pilots. Until that time, there was no one more important to women in Naval Aviation than Joy Bright Hancock.
Jeanne Holm was the first woman in the U.S. Air Force to earn one star (in 1971) and then two stars (in 1973). She used her authority to ensure that Air Force women were admitted to flight training in 1976. Her book, Women in the Military, an Unfinished Revolution, is considered the classic work on the history and roles of women in the Armed Services.
When Eleanor Roosevelt became First Lady in 1932, she immediately went to bat for women in aviation. She can be credited with enabling both genders, and all races, to contribute their talents to the survival of the United States during World War II. In 1942, she convinced her husband to create the Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD), which combined with the WAFS to become the WASP. In commenting on the WASP's contribution to the war effort, she said, "This is not a time when women should be patient. We are in a war and we need to fight it with all our ability and every weapon possible. Women pilots, in this particular case, are a weapon waiting to be used."
WAI members seek to inspire and stand for encouragement, continued education, and a whole lot of fun! If you’re a lover of all things aviation and aerospace, and enjoy sharing your passion with others, we’d love to have you! Membership includes job search opportunities, scholarship opportunities, access to mentors in your industry, and much more.