Women Pioneers in Early American Aviation

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Most of us have heard of the Wright Brothers. In 1903 they were the first to design a machine that could actually fly.  But do you know about their sister Katherine? Without this amazing woman, the brothers might never have achieved their first flight or the fame that followed.

Early airplanes were flimsy and crashed easily. Many men thought it a too dangerous and too mentally difficult activity for women. Women were determined to learn to fly anyway.

In 1910 Bessica Raiche was the first women fly solo. Blanche Stuart Scott actually flew solo before Bessica, but many felt it was more an accident than a true solo flight.

Harriet Quimby became the first licensed American woman pilot in August 1911. Less than a month later she became the first woman to fly at night. Harriet was the first woman to pilot her own aircraft across the English Chanel. She didn’t get the news headlines she expected as she completed the flight at the same time the Titanic sank. Harriet died during a stunt show when she turned her plane upside down and she and her passenger fell to their deaths.

In 1916 Ruth Law declared, “To become an aviator one has to dismiss all fear.” She needed courage as she attempted to fly from Chicago to New York City on one tank of gas in her little biplane. She added three extra gas tanks so that the plane held 53 gallons and installed a metal guard to protect her legs and feet from the cold. Early in the morning on November 19, she took off on her adventure. While engine trouble forced her to land short of New York City, she still let a new American nonstop record of 215 miles.

Katherine Stinson  was the fourth woman to get a pilot’s license, the first woman to do the loop de loop, and fourth pilot to ever do so, and the first woman pilot to carry the US Mail.

In 1921 Bessie Coleman was the first African American, male or female, to earn a pilot’s license. She had to travel to France and learn to speak French in order to earn her pilot’s license. No flight instructors in the United States would teach her because she was black and a woman. Bessie performed in air shows for the next five years. Thousands turned out to watch. She refused to perform at locations that refused admittance to African Americans. Throughout her short career, Bessie encouraged African Americans to learn to fly. She was killed in 1926 while performing.

There are many more female pilots to discover. For more information ask your librarian.

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