March is not only women’s history month and thus a reason to celebrate all the amazing adventurers who came before us. But March 22 also marks International Female Pilot Day! Today, let’s celebrate famous female aviators and the marks they made on the world of airplane travel. Meet the groundbreakers, pioneers, and all around amazing women who made their names in the cockpit.
Meet History’s Most Famous Female Aviators
Raymonde de Laroche
Raymonde de Laroche, born in Paris, France, became first female licensed pilot on March 8, 1910. One of her main challenges was the fact that the airplane she learned to fly in only had one seat. This meant that she had to learn the controls while on the ground. Her first flight was only 270 meters. That same year she entered the Reims meet as the only female participant, which led to her being seriously injured in a crash. After a lengthy recovery she went on to win the Femina Cup for a nonstop flight of four hours, and in 1919 set a women’s altitude record of 4,785 meters (15,700 feet). Her life ended prematurely in a plane crash on July 18, 1919.
Hélène Dutrieu, the Belgian known as the “girl hawk” of aviation, because she was the most daring and accomplished woman pilot of her time, became the first woman in the world to fly with a passenger in 1910. Hélène Dutrieu, the Belgian known as the “girl hawk” of aviation, because she was the most daring and accomplished woman pilot of her time, became the first woman in the world to fly with a passenger in 1910. Flying airplanes wasn’t her only passion. She was a cycling world champion, stunt cyclist, stunt motorcyclist, automobile racer, stunt driver, wartime ambulance driver, and director of a military hospital. She was only the fourth woman to become a licensed pilot. Flying airplanes wasn’t her only passion. She was a stunt cyclist, cycling world champion, stunt driver, stunt motorcyclist, automobile racer, wartime ambulance driver, and the director of a military hospital.
In 1912, during the first Balkan War, Bulgarian native Rayna Kasabova became the first woman to participate in a military flight. She was only 15 years old when she joined the Bulgarian air force and flew a leaflet dropper.
Ruth law was a true pioneer, and certainly deserves this place in our list of famous female aviators in history. In 1913, Ruth Law became the first woman to fly at night. But this was not her only achievement in the aviation world. In November 1916, she set a new cross-country distance record by flying from Chicago, Illinois, to Hornell, New York. That was a feat not achieved thus far by either men or women.
Marga von Etzdorf
Marga von Etzdorf received her pilot’s license at age 19, only the second woman to do so after World War I. Back then, the German pilot school refused to accept women. She mostly taught herself how to fly. That feat, and the fact that in 1927 Marga von Etzdorf became the first woman to fly for an airline, earned her a spot in our list of famous female aviators in history.
Amelia Earhart is without a doubt one of the most famous female aviators in history. In 1932, she was the first woman (and only the second person) to fly solo across the Atlantic ocean, but she set other records as well. That same year she flew solo and nonstop across the United States, from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey, the first woman to do so. In January 1935, Amelia Earhart became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the United States mainland. Unfortunately she disappeared on a world flight and was declared lost at sea on July 19, 1937.
Ada Rogato from Brazil was another on of our famous female aviators with several records to her name. In 1935 she became the first South America female licensed glider pilot. But that’s not all. She was the first to fly across all three Americas, broke the record for the world’s longest solo flight in 1951, became Brazil’s first female agricultural pilot and held the Brazilian record for number of parachute jumps.
Jacqueline Cochran was certainly one of the most prominent racing pilots of her generation, and can’t miss on our list of famous female aviators. In 1941 Jacqueline Cochran becomes the first woman to fly a bomber across the North Atlantic. She became the first woman to fly faster than the speed of sound on May 18, 1953, and in 1962 she was the first woman to fly a jet across the Atlantic Ocean. When she passed away in 1980, Jacqueline Cochran held more records of distance, speed, and altitude than any other pilot, male or female, in history to that point.
In 1945 First Officer Rosamund Steenkamp became the first woman in the world to fly a jet, when that type of plane was still in the experimental stage. She passed away on March 19, 1946, when her plane’s engine failed for no apparent reason, and was thus the last air transport auxiliary spitfire pilot who passed in the line of duty after the second World War.
After graduating from high school, Betty Miller joined what was then the Civil Aeronautics Administration (today’s FAA), started flying in 1952, at age 26, and after she married she and her husband ran a flight school. In 1963 Betty Miller became the first woman to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean.
Geraldine (Jerrie) Mock
In 1964 Geraldine Mock is the first woman to fly around the world solo. She did so in a single engine Cessna 180, nicknamed ‘Charlie’. The planning towards this adventure turned into a race with Joan Merriam Smith, both attempting to be the first woman to accomplish this feat. If you want to read the whole fascinating story, you can do so in Taylor Phillips’ book ‘Racing to Greet the Sun, Jerrie Mock and Joan Merriam Smith Duel to Become the First Woman to Solo Around the World’.
Jill Brown-Hiltz always wanted to fly, but her dream did not come true until she joined the U.S. Navy and was admitted to their flight program in 1974. However, Jill Brown-Hiltz decided the Navy wasn’t for her. Instead she started working for Wheeler Airlines, where she managed to make her way from ticket agent to pilot. In 1978: Jill Brown-Hiltz was hired by Texas International Airlines, which made her the first African American woman to fly for a commercial airline in the United States.
We all know or have even flown on the iconic Being 747. Until 1980, this model plane was only flown by men. Lynn Rippelmeyer started her flying career in 1973, in 1977 she was hired by Air Illinois as a Twin Otter DHC-6 First Officer, and in 1980 became the first woman to fly a Boeing 747.
In 1976, Beverley Bass was hired as the third female pilot for American Airlines, and she became their first female captain of a commercial plane. In 1986, Beverley Bass captained the first all-female crew in the history of commercial jet aviation.
Barbara Harmer had a very interesting career. At age 15, she left school to become a hairdresser. When she was 20, she left that profession to become an air traffic controller. At the same time she started to study for a law degree and started flying lessons. After obtaining her pilot’s license she had to write over 100 applications before securing her first job with an airline. In 1992, Barbara Harmer was chosen to begin the intense six month training to become a Concorde pilot, and in 1993 she became the first woman to fly the supersonic airliner as a pilot.
Sibongile Sambo’s goal was to become a flight attendant, but she did not meet the height requirements. Instead, in 2004, she started the first all-female aviation company in Africa, SRS Aviation, empowering women in the industry.
Due to a rare birth defect, Jessica Cox was born without arms. That did not stop her from pursuing her dreams though. She became the first armless black belt in the American Taekwondo Association, and in 2008, Jessica Cox became the first armless pilot to fly solo.
First all African American female flight crew
In 2009, Captain Rachelle Jones Kerr, First Officer Stephanie Grant and flight attendants Robin Rogers and Diana Galloway made history and the first all-African American, female flight crew flies from Nashville to Atlanta round-trip.
At only 23 years old, Moroccan Myriam Adnani had already completed her training to become a commercial pilot. In 2015, she became the first Muslim woman pilot in Europe.
Aarohi Pandit started her extraordinary career when she enrolled at Bombay Flying Club College of Aviation at age 17. Whehn she was 21, she was chosen for the Women Empowerment Expedition round-the-world portion on a light-sport aircraft. In 2019, Aarohi Pandit became not just the first woman pilot in the world to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean and Greenland ice sheets in a light sport aircraft, but also the youngest one, at age 23.
Jenny grew up in Germany. All she ever wanted out of life was to leave and have adventures. Jenny always traveled as much as the budget would allow, and when she met her husband traveling became a full-time thing. You can follow Jenny on her blog and Facebook.