Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ladies First

A Timeline of Women in Aviation

1784 ~ Elisabeth Thible of Lyons France, was the first woman to travel aloft ... she floated one mile above the ground in a Montgolfier balloon with Monsieur Fleurant.

1798 ~ Jeanne Labrosse made the first woman's solo balloon flight.

1805 ~ Madeleine Sophie Blanchard, a famous French balloonist, was appointed Aeronaut of the Official Festivals by Napoleon. She toured Europe and attracted huge crowds, but tragically plunged to her death in 1819 during a dangerous aerial fireworks display.

1886 ~ Mary H. Myers of Frankford, NY, was one of the first women balloonists in America to make a solo flight. Known as "Carlotta, the Lady Aeronaut", she became famous for performing aerial exhibitions. She also set an astonishing world altitude record by soaring four miles above Franklin, PA without oxygen equipment.

1890 ~ Blanche Stuart Scott of Rochester, NY stuffed three petticoats into her bloomers and convinced Glen Curtiss of the Curtiss aircraft company to give her flying lessons. Billed as the Tomboy of the air, she performed many stunts including a "death dive" from 4,000-200 feet before pulling out.

1903 ~ Aida de Acosta made one of the world's first powered flights in a dirigible over France and became known as the "Girl Hawk".

1910 ~ Baronness Raymonde de Laroche of France obtained from the Aero Club of France the first license issued to a woman anywhere in the world. Harriet Quimby became the first licensed woman in the U.S. and her friend, Matilde Moisant, became the second.

1911 ~ Hilde Hewlett was the first English woman to earn her flying license. "I shan't be happy till I can fly." That same year, when Melli Beese took the test for her flying license, male pilots tampered with her airplane and partially emptied the gas tank. One stated that for a woman to fly would take the glory away from the men.

1912 ~ Harriet Quimby successfully crossed the English Channel by flying from Dover to Hardolot, France. An American sweetheart with a large following, she helped launch much interest in flying and sparked the but in many women to pursue careers in aviation. Ruth Law became a pilot in 1912. Her career was aimed at becoming a stunt pilot or breaking altitude or long-distance records. She later abandoned flying because she was tired of the risks and because it was apparent there was little space in commercial aviation for women.

1913 ~ Katherine Stinson became the first woman to fly the mail.

1916 ~ Ruth Law of the U.S. set two new records: the American nonstop cross-country record for both men and women and the world nonstop cross-country record for women when she flew from Chicago to New York.

1921 ~ Frenchwoman Adrienne Bolland, successfully completed a harrowing flight from Argentina to Chile and became the first woman to fly over the Andes in a Caudron biplane. Bess Coleman returned to America after earning her pilot's license. The first licensed black woman pilot in the world, she had been rejected by American flight schools because of her race and forced to go to France to obtain her license.

1922 ~ Anesia Pinkeiro Machado, Brazil's first woman pilot, soloed at the age of 17. The first woman flier in Japan, Tadashi Hyodo, worked two years to get her license in the male-dominated Japanese society.

1923 ~ Amelia Earhart earned her pilot's license.

1926 ~ Millicent Bryant, Australia's first licensed woman pilot, coped with extremely rough air om her first flight.

1927 ~ Marga von Etzdorf was the first German woman to pass licensing examinations for commercial, glider, sports and stunt flying. She became a copilot with Luft Hansa and made several attempts at long-distance record-breaking flying.

1928 ~ Lady Mary Bailey was the first woman to fly solo from England to South Africa in a deHavilland Moth. At the same time, Sophie Eliot-Lynn made the first solo flight from Cape of Good Hope to Cairo in an Avro Avian monoplane. Lady Heath ... equipped with a bible, shotgun, tennis rackets, six tea gowns and a fur coat ... made the first solo flight from the Cape of Good Hope to Cairo. Amelia Earhart became the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air. Although she had her license, Lou Gordon and Wilmer Stultz were mostly in charge of the cockpit of the Friendship.

1929 ~ The grueling Women's Air Derby competition was first held in Santa Monica, CA: Louise Thaden came in first; Gladys O'Donnell came in second; and Amelia Earhart came in third.

1930 ~ Amy Johnson became the first woman to make a solo flight from England to Australia, leading the way for British women aviators. Marie-Louise Hilsz, a French woman, was the first female ever to make a round trip from Paris to Saigon and back. In November 1930, 26 women formed an association of female fliers called the "Ninety Nines" with Amelia Earhart as president. That month, Bobbi Trout and Elinor Smith worked together as a team to become the first women aviators to refuel a plan in mid-air as they set a new women's endurance record of 42 hours.

1931 ~ Ruth Nichols' attempt to cross the Atlantic on a solo flight was unsuccessfull. She did, however, break the world distance record by flying 1,977 miles from California to Kentucky. Marie-Louise "Maryse" Bastie became famous when she flew from France to Gorki, Russia. She flew 1, 849 miles ... further in a nonstop straight run than any other woman and further nonstop in a light plane than anyone else in the world.

Britain's female aviators staged their first All Women's Flying Meeting in 1931 and their daring aerobatics were reported as so intimidating to the male pilots watching the event that they retreated to the aerodrome's bar to restore their courage.

1932 ~ Ruthy Tu became the first woman pilot in China's army. Amelia Earhart made her famous solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 15 hours 18 minutes ... the fastest crossing on record.

1934 ~ British aviator, Jean Batten, beat Amy Johnson's time by more than 4 days on her solo flight from England to Australia. Batten went on to complete the first England-Australia round trip by a woman. Hanna Reitsch, the only woman on a German research expedition to study thermal conditions in South America, was the first female to be awarded the Silver Soaring Medal when she made a long distance flight over Argentina. Reitsch's expertise earned her the honorary title of Flugkapitaen (flight captain) from Hitler in 1937.

1935 ~ Amelia Earhart made the first solo flight ever from Hawaii to the continental U.S. despite hazardous weather conditions.

In 1936, at Eleanor Roosevelt's suggestion, the United States Bureau of Air Commerce hired women fliers to scout sites to paint air markers ... directional indicators on the roof of buildings throughout the country.

1936 ~ Beryl Markham became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in an east to west direction ... a difficult feat against prevailing headwinds.

1937 ~ Amelia Earhart disappeared somewhere over the Pacific Ocean in the last leg of her journey to circumnavigate the globe at the Equator. Petite Turkish orphan, Sabiha Goekcen, known at the "Amazon of the Air" when she became her nations first woman flier, its first female Army pilot and the worst woman anywhere to fly combat missions.

1938 ~ Germany's Hanna Reitsch flew the first vertical machine ... a Focke-Achgelis helicopter.

1939 ~ Jackie Cochran set a new women's altitude record, became the first woman to make a blind landing and set a new international women's speed record.


General H.H. "Hap" Arnold twice turned down proposals to use women for ferrying aircraft claiming he didn't know if "a slip of a young girl could fight the controls of a B-17." Canada denied flight responsibilities to the Women's Auxiliary Air Force and restricted them to ground jobs. Italy, Australia and Japan refused to use women as pilots. But across the 'pond' Germany and Russia used women as pilots from the beginning even qualifying them for combat missions. Britain eventually came around because the daughter of a Member of Parliament used her influence to change the mind of the Air Ministry.

1940 ~ Pauline Gower was authorized by the Air Ministry of Great Britain to form a women's section of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) to ferry planes to the battlelines. They fought the rigors of winter flying in Tiger Moth trainers, made 20% less than the male pilots, had to pay for their own lodging and were unpopular with their male counterparts who often told the press that they were doubtful of the women's competence.

1941 ~ The pilot shortage for ferry pilots in the U.S. became an opportunity for Jackie Cochran who, through much effort and persistence convinced General Arnold that an aviatrix contingent could provide a much needed service to their country. Arnold, who had resisted using women finally consented and sent a telegram to many women pilots. His telegram produced more than 25,000 applications from women around the country:


1942 ~ The Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), the aircraft-ferrying unit of the Army Air Forces' Air Transport Command under director Nancy Harkness Love. The program required women to have 500 hours, limiting the numbers that could enter the WAFS. Since Congress had no provision for flight pay for women, they considered the WAFS Civil Service emloyees. Trainees had to report for duty at their own expense, were issued no uniforms and were expected to make their own arrangements for housing. 

Jackie Cochran organized a Women's Flying Training Detachment to train women pilots for eventual service in the WAFS. Cochran and the women of WAFS soon moved to an Army base for military training.

1943 ~ Cochran's trainees and Love's WAFS merged into one organization known as the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), with Jackie Cochran as the Director of Women Pilots. These women were preferred as ferry pilots to their male counterparts because they delivered the airplanes quicker. But they were restricted from ferrying overseas and going into combat. They flew aircraft to simulate target practice, simulated gas attacks, day and night missions training radar and searchlight trackers and engineering test flights.

Although still volunteers, not official members of the military, the women took on more assignments than just ferrying aircraft. The WASPs delivered 12,650 planes of 77 different types. They flew a total of 60 million miles. Of the 1,830 women admitted to the volunteer WASP program, 1,074 graduated and only 38 lost their lives.
The WASP program ended December 1944 as male Army Air Force pilots returned from overseas.

1945 ~ Melitta Schiller of Germany received the Iron Cross and the diamond-studded Military Flight Badge for conducting an unprecedented 1,500 test dives of German dive bombers.

1947 ~ Ann Shaw Carter, former WASP, became the first woman in the U.S. to earn a helicopter rating and began working for New York's Metropolitan Aviation Corporation flying sightseeing trips around Manhattan.

1954 ~ Jean Ross Howard got her helicopter rating and wondered how many other women helicopter pilots there were. She discovered 12 and, through their common enthusiasm, they formed a club that became the Whirly Girls, The International Women Helicopter Pilots.

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