By Jill Cole, President of American Flyers
The aviation industry is to this day still dominated by males. We often only seem to hear about the great accomplishments of men in the field. However, there are quite a few women who are responsible for turning aviation into what we know it to be today. Amelia Earhart, Judith Resnik, Raymonde de Laroche and Bessie Coleman are all trailblazers who have paved the way for other women in aviation. They deserve to be celebrated and as the President of American Flyers, I will do everything in my power to make sure that their accomplishments are never forgotten and honoured for a very long time.
The first woman I would like to discuss is Raymonde de Laroche. She is an example of a lady who defied all odds and truly laid the foundation for all females in aviation. The actress turned pilot was close friends with Charles Voisin, an airplane builder, who taught her how to fly and in 1909 she became the first woman to pilot a plane. Laroche found a real passion for flying and on March 8th 1910 she became the first woman to earn an official pilot’s license. After receiving her pilot’s license she went on to set altitude records, fly before the Russian Czar and participate in various air shows. Laroche suffered her fair share of injuries and experienced several aircraft crashes as a result of these air shows but she always managed to return to her passion, which was flying; showing her true resilience, which I personally feel is praiseworthy and worthy of commendation.
A test pilot offered Laroche a flight in a newly developed experimental plane and the end result was quite tragic as the plane crashed and Laroche did not survive. As horrendous as this was, it is important for us to remember that Laroche’s story is truly amazing because she managed to live for ten years after taking her first flight, which was unheard of during this time period. I believe she is the epitome of a woman with steadfast determination and the realm of aviation would not be the same without her contributions.
When thinking about flying, Amelia Earhart is a name that frequently comes to mind. She was born in 1897 in Kansas and although she came to be a very gifted pilot, flying was not her initial plan of action. She was a nurse’s aide during World War I, went back to school to become a mechanic and then attempted to pursue a career in medicine. However, after attending an airshow with her father and going on her first flight she quickly realized that this was her true passion and decided to pursue it. In 1923, Earhart became the 16th woman to earn her pilot’s license and just seven years later she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Her fervor for flying was evident all throughout her career as a pilot and she proved to be unstoppable by setting record after record. She became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, the first person to fly solo across the Pacific and the first to fly solo from Mexico City to Newark. Sadly Earhart’s story came to a close when she vanished on a flight attempting to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. She was well-aware of all of the dangers associated with flying but did not let that stop her and even went on to write “Please know I am quite aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.” Earhart’s perseverance and energy should serve as an inspiration to all and her story should act as encouragement for women to take on whatever they desire.
Judith Resnik is another woman who left her mark in aviation and paved the way for others. Resnik was a NASA engineer and astronaut and was part of the first group of female astronauts recruited by the agency. She was born in 1949 and from a young age she excelled in mathematics, so it only made sense for her to study engineering in college. In 1978 she became one of six women accepted into NASA and in 1984, took her first space flight on the Discovery. This flight made her the second American woman in space and during this trip Resnik unfurled a 102-foot-long solar sail that would be used to capture the sun’s energy on future missions. In 1986 she was aboard the Challenger for her second flight but the mission was unsuccessful and Resnik, along with the other six astronauts on the flight, perished in the tragic explosion of the space shuttle. During her time with NASA, she recorded 144 hours and 57 minutes on orbit, demonstrating just how passionate she was about what she did. Resnik’s life ended too early but she accomplished so much and showed NASA and the rest of the world just how much women were capable of.
Bessie Coleman is another true hero for women in aviation. Coleman was born in 1892 into a world full of both discrimination and poverty but she did not let that stop her from having goals and aspirations. When she decided she wanted to learn how to fly neither her gender nor her race worked in her favor and other signs pointed in the same direction: she needed to go to France to pursue this dream. Coleman quickly learned French and in 1920 set off for France. She learned how to fly in just seven months and in 1921 she received her international pilot’s license, making her the first African American female pilot. She became known for performing flying tricks and performed at numerous air shows. She gained massive popularity and used this platform as a means to both encourage African Americans to fly and to fight racial prejudice by refusing to fly at places that would not allow other African Americans. Coleman’s successful career was cut short by a tragic plane accident but she has surely not been forgotten. To this day she serves as an inspiration to those with a sense of adventure, the hunger to succeed and the desire to leave their mark.
All four of these women’s lives ended far too early but they all passed away doing exactly what they loved: flying. Each one of them fought through various obstacles to accomplish all that they did and without them who knows what aviation would be like today. These women did not let the inequality surrounding their gender stop them from pursuing what they wanted, but instead, used it as a means of motivation to keep trying. At the end of the day flying is flying and regardless of gender everyone should be given the opportunity to pursue their dreams in the air. Amy Johnson perfectly summarizes this when she says “I think it is a pity to lose the romantic side of flying and simply to accept it as a common means of transport.”