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As is with most industries, aviation too has had very few women from the start. However, here are ten female aviation pioneers you need to know about!
Most industries that have evolved from the defence industry have always been dominated by men. One such industry is aviation. However, times are changing and women in the aviation industry are flying toward their goal with dedication.
With India as the leader of the number of women in aviation, it is important to look back at some of the women who made it possible. There are a number of women who paved way for us to take up that job.
Personally, I think it is impossible to never have heard of Amelia Earhart. Born on July 24, 1897, she was an American aviation pioneer and author. She was also the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
Earhart was instrumental in the formation of The Ninety Nines, an organisation for female pilots. Other than that, she set several records, and wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences.
In 1937, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island. They were attempting to make a circumnavigational flight of the globe. This was in a Purdue-funded Lockheed Model 10-E Electra.
Everything about Sarla Thakral is inspiring and interesting. At 21, she became the first Indian woman to fly an aircraft.
Though her circumstances forced her to leave her dreams of joining the air force, she went on to become a successful businesswoman. A mother of a four-year-old at the time of her first flight, it only took her a few hours to be deemed ready for solo flying. She was a pioneer in the field of aviation, leading the path for Indian women to take up flying as a job.
Also known as Julie Wang, she is the first Asian woman to circumnavigate Earth in an aeroplane. She is a Captain at Silver Airways and an FAA Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) in the USA, where she resides.
In September 2016, after moving to the US and getting her license, Wang completed a solo circumnavigation of the globe in a single piston-engine aeroplane. She became the first Chinese person and the first Asian woman to fly an aeroplane solo around the world.
At a time that was discriminatory, she was a black woman who dared to dream. Bessie Coleman was an early American civil aviator. First woman of the African-American descent and that of the Native-American descent to hold a pilot’s license, she was the first black person to earn an international pilot’s license.
She earned her pilot license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale on June 15, 1921. Popularly known as ‘Queen Bess’ and ‘Brave Bessie,’ she hoped to start a school for African-American fliers. Coleman died in a plane crash in 1926 while testing a new aircraft.
Amy Johnson began to learn flying at the London Aeroplane Club in the winter of 1928-29. Her hobby soon became an all-consuming determination. She was set on not only making a career in aviation but to succeed in a project that would demonstrate that women could be as competent as men. Especially in a male-dominated field.
Her first important achievement, after flying solo, was to qualify as the first British-trained woman ground engineer (GE) For a while, she was the only woman G.E. in the world. She also became the first woman to fly solo to Australia. During World War II, she became a member of the ATA.
It was during one of her flights on January 5, 1941, that Amy crashed into the Thames estuary. She drowned in the accident- tragically ending the life of Britain’s most famous female pilot.
When it comes to flying high, the sky is certainly not the limit for Indian women. Captain Aarohi Pandit is one such high flier we have. The first ever woman, in the world, she created history by crossing the Atlantic Ocean solo in a Light Sports Aircraft (LSA) She didn’t just stop at that, Aarohi also set the record for flying across the second largest ice-sheet on the planet.
Aarohi is holds an Indian commercial pilot license and a LSA license. She launched the world’s first all-women team to circumnavigate the earth in her LSA, Mahi. The team was launched on July 30, 2018 with the help of her friend and pilot, Keithair Misquitta.
Jerrie Mock managed to accomplish something even Amelia Earhart failed to do. She became the first woman to fly around the world. Mock had competition when she made her flight.
On March 17, on the 27th anniversary of Earhart’s departure and two days before Mock took off, Joan Merriam Smith embarked from California on her own expedition. Smith was a more experienced pilot with a more powerful plane. Both woman emphasised that they were absolutely not competing.
She was an extremely talented woman who wore many hats over her lifetime. A Belgian cycling world champion, a stunt cyclist, stunt motorcyclist, automobile racer, stunt driver, pioneer aviator, war-time ambulance driver and the director of a military hospital, she was!
She learnt to fly using a Santos-Dumont Demoiselle monoplane in early 1910. On 19 April 1910, she reputedly became the first woman pilot to fly with a passenger.
She got her Aéro-Club de Belgique (Aero Club of Belgium) licence #27 on 25 November 1910. This made her the fourth woman in the world and the first Belgian woman to be a licensed aeroplane pilot. Her appearances at air shows earned her the nickname the “Girl Hawk.”
An absolute legend in aviation is Willa Brown Chapell. A pioneering aviator, she earned her pilot’s license in 1937, making her the first African American woman to be licensed in the United States. In 1941, she became the first African American officer in the Civil Air Patrol (CAP).
She was also the first woman in the US to possess both a mechanic’s license and commercial license in aviation. Not only that, she was an activist in the true sense of the word.
During her training, there were several other women in the field. Nevertheless, she beat the competition and became the first black woman to obtain an aviator’s license in the US.
While these women have literally touched the sky, here is a pioneer who has been working her magic down on earth. With a number of medals to her name, she is India’s first woman Air Marshall. She is the second woman in the Indian Armed Forces to be promoted to the three-star rank.
In her career, she is the first woman to become a Fellow of the Aerospace Medical Society of India. She is also the first Indian woman to have conducted scientific research at the North Pole. Padmavathy is also the first woman Armed Forces officer to have completed the Defence Service Staff College course in 1978. In 2002, she became the first woman to be promoted to Air Vice Marshal (two-star rank)
These women are just a few names, there are more women who have led a life that has been an inspiration to women everywhere. Here’s wishing that the list keeps growing. Cheers to the ladies who have shown the mettle to prove who they are.
Picture credits: Pexels
Header image source: U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Alexis Siekert [Public domain]
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