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International Women’s Day, which falls on March 8 every year, commemorates women’s rights around the world. The date is especially significant for women in aviation: the first woman in the world to earn a pilot’s license, Raymonde de Laroche, received hers on March 8, 1910, from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
“Flying is the best thing women can do!” de Laroche once said. Often credited as the first woman to fly a powered, heavier-than-air craft, de Laroche set a distance record of 201 miles, and broke the women’s altitude record by flying to 15,700 feet in 1919.
In recognition of de Laroche’s contribution to aviation, Paris-Le Bourget Airport (LBG) erected a statue in her honor.
Other “First Females of Flight” include:
- 1921 – Bessie Coleman became the first black woman pilot, earning her license in France
- 1927 – Marga von Etzdorf became the first female professional pilot
- 1928 – Amelia Earhart became the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic
- 1929 – Florence Lowe Barnes became the first female stunt pilot
- 1930 – Anne Morrow Lindbergh became the first US female glider pilot
- 1931 – Katherine Cheung became the first female Chinese pilot
- 1937 – Sabiha Gökçen became the first woman to fly a fighter aircraft in combat
- 1937 – Hanna Reitsch became the first woman to pilot a helicopter
- 1938 – Willa Brown became the first black female US-licensed pilot (She was also the first African-American officer in the US Civil Air Patrol; the first woman in the United States to hold both a pilot’s license and a mechanic’s license; and the first black woman to run for Congress.)
- 1953 – Jacqueline Cochran became the first woman to break the sound barrier
- 1963 – Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to fly in space
- 1964 – Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock became the first woman to fly solo around the world
- 1993 –Barbara Harmer became the first woman to fly a supersonic airline jet
Amelia Earhart once said, “The woman who can create her own job is the woman who will win fame and fortune.” Yet the gender parity for female pilots in the US has remained stagnant since the 1980s, with women comprising around 5% of all certified commercial or airline pilots in the US as of 2014. The numbers worldwide aren’t much better.
But a number of groups are actively working to improve those statistics. Women of Aviation Worldwide Week raises awareness of opportunities in aviation among girls of all ages, while celebrating the accomplishments of past and present women of aviation.
This week, 108 years after de Laroche’s milestone achievement, a number of airlines employed all-female crews in honor of International Women’s Day.
On Monday, British Airways operated the UK’s biggest all-female flight, with 61 female employees on the ground and in the air working together to bring 201 passengers from London (LHR) to Glasgow (GLA) on Flight BA1484.
“I’m incredibly proud to have been a part of the team on our all-female flight,” said British Airways Captain Julie Levy. “As a mum of two teenage daughters, I think it’s crucial that we grab every opportunity we can to inspire the next generation. There wasn’t any visibility of female pilots when I was growing up, so I think events like this are important to help show the range of different careers that are available to women.”
Emirates also operated an all-female flight on March 6, which brought together 75 women for the operation.
Low-cost British carrier EasyJet will operate 16 flights with six all-female crews Thursday, and more than 300 of the airline’s flights will be piloted by women.
“Having our female pilots out in force will provide visibility of female pilots, and hopefully inspire some girls and women to take up this rewarding career,” said David Morgan, easyJet’s director of flight operations.
EasyJet has been particularly vocal in support of women in aviation, aiming to double its current proportion of female pilots to 12% over the next two years. The airline plans to partner with organizations promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects among female students, and will offer a number of scholarships for qualified pilot training each year.
Featured photo by Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images
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