The aviation sector still has a long way to go to achieve gender equality. Even so, throughout history we have found pioneering women who achieved unimaginable goals in aviation, considering the framework of their time. Many women have marked the history of aviation. On this occasion we focus on some of those who inspire us the most, and who have left the greatest mark throughout these 120 years of aviation history.
Amelia Earhart (1897 – 1937) was an American aviator, known for being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, the first person to do it twice and the first to fly solo. Her achievements include several important milestones, such as the longest distance flown by a woman non-stop and the record for linking the European and American coasts in the shortest time.
Amelia was decorated by President Hoover with the National Geographic Society’s Special Gold Medal and was the first woman to be awarded the Distiguished Flying Cross.
She disappeared in the Pacific with her navigator Fred Noonan on 2 July 1937, while attempting to circumnavigate the globe in their Lockheed Electra 10E aircraft. Their bodies were never found. He was 39 years old.
Raymonde de Laroche
Raymonde de Laroche (1882 – 1919) was a French aviator, known for being the first woman to receive a pilot’s licence. In October 1909, Laroche is said to have flown 270 metres and is cited as the first flight by a woman in command of a heavier-than-air powered aircraft.
In 1910 the Aero-Club de France issued her with licence No. 36 of the Féderation Aéronautique Internationale, making her the first woman in the world to receive a pilot’s licence.
Helen Richey (1909 – 1947) was a pioneer in the aeronautical world, as she was the first woman to be hired as a pilot by a commercial airline in the United States. Richey learned to fly planes at the age of 20.
In 1933 she teamed up with another woman pilot to set an endurance record by staying in the air for almost 10 days, obviously with in-flight refuelling, which at the time has undoubted added merit.
In 1934 she won the air race at the first National Air Meet for women and it was in the same year that Central Airlines hired her as a pilot.
Jerrie Mock (1925 – 2014) was the first woman to sail solo around the world. She also broke several records, including the speed record on a recognised course, speed around the world and the speed record over a closed course of 500 km.
Jerry Mock was the first in many things besides circumnavigating the world. She was the first woman to fly between the United States and Africa over the North Atlantic, the first woman to fly across the Pacific in a single engine, the first woman to fly over the Atlantic and Pacific and the first woman to fly the Pacific from East to West and vice versa.
Emma Lilian Todd
Emma Lilian Todd (1865 – 1937) was the world’s first woman aircraft designer. She presented her first design in 1906 at the Aero Show at Madison Square Garden and in 1908 began construction.
Todd was also famous for creating the first Junior Aero Club to encourage the education of future aviators.
So far we have referred to the pioneers of aviation, but we cannot close this article without talking about the most recent feat performed in this case by Zara Rutherford (2002 – …) Rutherford is a Belgian pilot who, at just 19 years of age, completed a round-the-world flight on 20 January 2022. This feat is particularly significant because it has made her the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a microlight and has also enabled her to break the record for the youngest person to achieve this milestone.
The journey has taken her 52,000 km across five continents in her two-seater Shark aircraft.
Currently, there is still a long way to go on the road to equality for women in the world of aviation, but it is very important to know and vindicate the references, both current and those who have preceded us, in order to highlight the role of women in sectors that are still very masculinized, such as ours. Knowing their stories of overcoming and success inspires the new generations and sets goals in their path that, otherwise, perhaps, would have never been set.