Jul 2

Women in Aviation: an Uplifting Tradition

Monday, July 2, 2018 3:22 PM

By

On the anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, we remember the women who made female aviation possible.

Amelia Earhart captivated the hearts and minds of the American people, even after her disappearance. (Photo: National Archives Catalog)

Amelia Earhart captivated the hearts and minds of the American people, even after her disappearance. (Photo: National Archives Catalog)

Eighty-one years ago today, Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe. In a society where women’s capacities to physically and mentally cope with the rigors of aviation faced heavy scrutiny, Earhart overcame barriers and established new standards to pave the way for women in the field. After first flying in an airplane in 1920, she worked odd jobs to purchase her own aircraft and received an international pilot’s license in 1923. Earhart set about breaking altitude and speed records for women’s aviation until 1932, when she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and only the second pilot to do so after Charles Lindbergh. She later became the first person, male or female, to fly from Hawaii to the mainland U.S. Her disappearance, discussed widely and contentiously in materials like the Naval Institute’s own Finding Amelia, shocked the American people. [1]

Earhart’s celebrity demonstrated women’s ability and skill in aviation to the world and paved the way for females in flight for decades afterward. Countless women before her, however, planted the seeds. The following women, helped establish the rich and fierce role of women in the world of aviation, one that continues to be explored today.

 

JEANNE LABROSSE

Several bystanders observe Labrosse make her famous ascent. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Several bystanders observe Labrosse make her famous ascent. (Photo: Library of Congress)

In 1798, Jeanne Labrosse, the wife of a French balloonist and scientist, became the first woman to fly solo in a hot air balloon. [2]

 

KATHARINE WRIGHT

Katharine Wright with her brother Orville in the Wright Model HS airplane. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Katharine Wright with her brother Orville in the Wright Model HS airplane. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Katharine Wright was the sole female remaining in the household after the death of her mother in 1889, leaving her to take care of her brothers. Out of her siblings, she was the only one to obtain a college degree, graduating from Oberlin College. After obtaining a job as a teacher at the local school, Wright donated portions of her salary to fund her brothers’ various iterations of airplanes. Her public support and promotion of her brothers’ inventions were invaluable to their success. [3][4]

RAYMONDE DE LAROCHE

Raymonde de Laroche proudly stands before one of the aircraft she operated. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Raymonde de Laroche proudly stands before one of the aircraft she operated. (Photo: Library of Congress)

A French Baronness, Laroche was the first woman in the world to earn a pilot’s license. During her time as an aviator, she won the Femina Cup by flying for four consecutive hours, the longest flight on record at the time. Laroche died in a plane crash while testing a new type of airplane in 1919. [5]

 

BLANCHE STUART SCOTT

Blanche Stuart Scott was taught to fly by Glenn Curtis himself. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Blanche Stuart Scott was taught to fly by world-famous aviator Glenn Curtis. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Blanche Stuart Scott was the first female aviator from the United States. After obtaining her pilot’s license, she developed a taste for exhibition flying and was famous for performing inverted maneuvers. [6]

 

MATILDE E. MOISANT

Matilde E. Moisant shattered previously established flight records. (Photo: National Air and Space Museum Archives)

Matilde E. Moisant shattered previously established flight records. (Photo: National Air and Space Museum Archives)

Matilde E. Moisant was inspired to earn her pilot’s license following the death of her brother in a plane crash. She shocked the aviation community by winning the Rodman-Wanamaker altitude trophy in 1911, not long after receiving her license. She flew to a record-breaking height of 1200 feet. [7]

 

WOMEN AIRFORCE SERVICE PILOTS (WASP)

Several WASPs obtained private pilot's licenses before joining the military, unlike their male counterparts. (Photo: USNI Archives)

Several WASPs obtained private pilot’s licenses before joining the military, unlike their male counterparts. (Photo: USNI Archives)

World War II created a pilot shortage overseas, necessitating a transfer of male personnel on U.S. soil to foreign posts. The WASP Program created in 1942 trained female pilots to assume the duties of their U.S.-based male counterparts. The controversial program faced criticism from men who were unsure women could handle such large aircraft. WASPs served as test pilots for new aircraft and transported planes across the country to wherever they were needed. Sadly, the program was canceled after two years. These women were forbidden from being designated a military status until the 1970s. [8]

 

VALENTINA TERESHKOVA

ponomaryova_valentina

Valentina ready for space.

At only twenty-six years old, Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to go into space. She ascended in the Volstok 6 as part of a mission for the Soviet Union and orbited the earth forty-eight times during her journey. A staunch supporter of female aviation, she defended Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut, against those who doubted Ride’s physical endurance. After her aeronautical career, she was heavily involved in politics and served in the State Duma. [9]

 

1991: WOMEN IN COMBAT AVIATION

In 1991, the Senate voted to allow women the opportunity to become combat pilots. (Photo: The New York Times Archives)

In 1991, the Senate voted to allow women the opportunity to become combat pilots. (Photo: The New York Times Archives)

In 1991, the Senate voted to remove legislation that prohibited women from flying in combat. The ban was only repealed after lengthy consideration by members of Congress. Although it would take over twenty years to open all combat roles to women, the introduction of women into combat aviation was a critical first step for equality in women’s service selection. [10][11]

 

MATICE WRIGHT

Matice Wright was first assigned to the Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 3 (VQ-3). (Photo: USNI Archives)

Matice Wright was first assigned to the Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 3 (VQ-3). (Photo: USNI Archives)

Matice Wright was born in Annapolis, MD, and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1988. Wright made history becoming the first female, African-American Naval Flight Officer in 1993. Following a successful naval career, Wright received an MPA from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and served as the Principal Director in the Office of Industrial Policy under President Barack Obama. [12][13]

 

JEANNIE LEAVITT

Brigadier General Jeannie Leavitt. (Photo: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1/C Tanenbaum)

Brigadier General Jeannie Leavitt. (Photo: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1/C Tanenbaum)

Jeannie Leavitt received degrees from University of Texas and Stanford University, earning her commission through the Air Force ROTC program. She became the very first female fighter pilot in the history of the United States. Leavitt continued to pave the way for women in the Air Force throughout her career and eventually became the highest ranking female officer to serve at Nellis Air Force Base, as the Commander of the 57thAir Wing. She is currently a Brigadier General and serves as the Commander in charge of the Air Force Recruiting Service. [14][15]

SHAWNA ROCHELLE KIMBRELL

Shawna Rochelle Kimberly currently serves in the 78th Attack Squadron. (Photo: National Archives Catalog)

Shawna Rochelle Kimbrell currently serves in the 78th Attack Squadron. (Photo: National Archives Catalog)

Shawna Rochelle Kimbrell graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1998 and holds the distinction of being the first female, African-American fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. She currently serves as an MQ-9 pilot in the 78th Attack Squadron. [16][17]

 

OLGA E. CUSTODIO

Olga E. Custodio with a T-38 Talon aircraft. (Photo: National Archives Catalog)

Olga E. Custodio with a T-38 Talon aircraft. (Photo: National Archives Catalog)

Olga E. Custodio earned her commission through the Air Force Officer Candidate School program, becoming the first Latina pilot in the U.S. Air Force. After retiring from the Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel, she accumulated over 11,000 hours as a pilot for American Airlines. She is currently the Vice President of the Hispanic Association of Aviation and Aerospace Professionals (HAAAP). Her motto is: “Querer es poder.”

 

References:

[1] https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/earhart-timeline/

[2] Bledcoe, Glen and Karen Bledcoe. Ballooning Adventures. Mankato, MN: Capstone Books, 2001.

[3] https://naa.aero/awards/awards-and-trophies/katharine-wright-award

[4] https://www.nps.gov/daav/learn/historyculture/katharinewrightslifestory.htm

[5] https://airandspace.si.edu/explore-and-learn/topics/women-in-aviation/roche.cfm

[6] https://airandspace.si.edu/explore-and-learn/topics/women-in-aviation/scott.cfm

[7] https://airandspace.si.edu/explore-and-learn/topics/women-in-aviation/Moisant.cfm

[8] https://www.npr.org/2010/03/09/123773525/female-wwii-pilots-the-original-fly-girls

[9] (https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2017/03/06/the-first-woman-in-space-turns-80-and-you-probably-never-heard-of-her/#4548adceae5e)

[10] https://www.nytimes.com/1991/08/01/us/senate-votes-to-remove-ban-on-women-as-combat-pilots.html

[11] https://news.usni.org/2015/12/03/secdef-carter-all-military-specialties-will-be-open-to-women-marine-objections-overruled

[12] https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2011/02/26/matice-wrights-story-taking-responsibility-american-soldiers-and-sailors

[13] Douglas, Deborah G. American Women and Flight Since 1940. The University Press of Kentucky, 2004.

[14] https://www.npr.org/2013/05/12/183315464/first-female-fighter-pilot-attention-wasnt-what-i-wanted

[15] http://www.af.mil/About-Us/Biographies/Display/Article/742033/brigadier-general-jeannie-m-leavitt

[16] https://www.cap.news/ambitious-cadet-became-air-forces-1st-black-female-fighter-pilot/

[17] http://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/111641/first-black-female-fighter-pilot-follows-childhood-dream

[18] http://latino.si.edu/Content/Images/Education/Aviation_Latino_Activity_English.pdf