While we all adore and admire Amelia Earhart and her contributions to aviation, there are many more female pilots that have come and gone who should be paid the respect due they deserve. In fact, countless women have played a major role in aviation from the start. Here are 10 female aviators that will inspire you to aim higher in your life and career.
1) Bessie Coleman
Claim to Fame: First African-American and Native-American woman to earn a pilot’s license
In June 1921, Bessie Coleman became the first African-American and Native-American woman to earn a pilot’s license. Although she fell in love with aviation and wanted to pursue a career as a pilot, she wasn’t allowed to learn to fly in the U.S. because of her race and gender. So she traveled to France and enrolled in an aviation academy. Against all odds, she obtained her license and returned to the U.S. where she began performing daredevil stunts for large crowds. At age 34, her biplane went down only 10 minutes into a practice run. She wasn’t wearing her seatbelt and was thrown from the plane.
2) Harriet Quimby
Claim to Fame: First female licensed pilot in the U.S.
Harriet Quimby started her career as a journalist, becoming fascinated with flight only after she reported on the Belmont Park International Aviation Tournament in Elmont, New York in 1910. There, she met John Moisant, a well-known aviator and operator of a flight school, and his sister Matilde. Soon after, Quimby became the first female licensed pilot in the United States in 1911. Almost immediately, she made headlines with her aviation accomplishments. A year later, she was the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel. Although she met an untimely death during an aviation meet in Boston Harbor, her spirit lives on. In 2012 Quimby was inducted into the Long Island Air and Space Hall of Fame.
3) Sally Ride
Claim to Fame: First American woman to travel in space
Sally Ride was the first American woman to travel beyond the pale blue dot and into space, joining the crew of space shuttle Challenger in June 1983. During the NASA mission, she operated a robotic arm on the ship and assisted in deploying two satellites into space. As a result, Ride was added to the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2003 and she still remains the youngest American astronaut to travel into space.
4) Raymonde de Laroche
Claim To Fame: First woman to obtain a pilot’s license (1910)
Before she became a famous pilot, Raymonde de Laroche was initially an actress. But, her tenacity and ambition would ultimately make her one of the most daring aviatrixes to ever fly the skies. Uninhibited by fear, she also became the first professional female test pilot. Unfortunately, Laroche met with death in 1919 when her plane crashed at the young age of just 36.
5) Jacqueline Cochran
Claim to Fame: Head of WASP and the first female pilot to break the sound barrier
If you’re knowledgeable about aviation history, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the WASP (The Women Airforce Service Pilots) program. This group of impressive women deserve credit for helping the U.S. win World War II, as they took to the skies, while freeing male pilots for military combat or other duties. Not only was she instrumental in helping the Allies win WWII, she would later go on to be the first woman to break the sound barrier.
6) Helene Dutrieu
Claim to Fame: First woman to fly more than an hour
From an early age, Helene Dutrieu was made for flying. Initially, she raced and performed bicycles, motorcycles and car stunts. Although her first attempt at flying was less than successful, as she crashed her plane on take off, she was able to fly solo some time later, and earned her pilot’s license in 1910. Only the fourth woman in the world to do so, she quickly began setting records for altitude and distance. She was the first woman to fly more than an hour, and the first woman to fly with a passenger. That same year, with a flight time of 2 hours 35 minutes, she won the Coupe Femina, a competition that awarded 2,000 francs to the woman with the longest flight-time. For her aviation achievements, she was awarded the French Legion of Honor.
7) Tammie Jo Shults
Claim to Fame: First female to fly an F/A-18 Hornet
Tammie Jo Shults became a household name in 2018 for saving the lives of 149 passengers aboard a commercial flight, when a broken window caused the plane to quickly decompress. She kept her cool and landed the damaged plane in Philadelphia saving all lives but one. Regardless, Tammie Jo Shults had already made history well before then. A retired fighter pilot, Shults was among the first females to fly the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18 Hornet. During Operation Desert Storm, Shults served as an instructor aggressor pilot for male naval aviators who were to be deployed – the combat exclusion policy at the time precluded her from seeing combat.
8) Emily Howell Warner
Claim to Fame: First Female Air Transport Pilot
While only about five percent of air transport pilots are women, that number would be far lower if it weren’t for Emily Howell Warner. In 1976, at 36 years old, the Denver-based pilot and single mom became the first female to command a major American passenger flight when Frontier Airlines made the bold move of placing her in the captain’s seat of a de Havilland Twin Otter. After becoming a captain at Frontier, Warner went on to fly a Boeing 737 for the United Postal Service and later became an examiner for the FAA. In 1974, she became the first female member of the Air Line Pilots Association and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2001.
9) Willa Brown
Claim to Fame: First African-American woman to earn a commercial license
Following in the footsteps of Bessie Coleman, Willa Brown was the first African-American woman to earn both a pilot’s license and a commercial license in 1939. Brown went on to establish the Coffey School of Aeronautics at Chicago’s Harlem Airport with her flight instructor turned husband, Cornelius Coffey. This institution would later become the first government-approved aviation training school, specifically serving African Americans. Brown’s ambitious fight for racial equality eventually proved successful when the Civil Aeronautics Administration selected Coffey School as one of the first black aviation programs allowed to administer the Civilian Pilot Training Program to its students. In 1942, Brown became the first black female member of the Civil Air Patrol.
10) Sheila Scott
Claim to Fame: First British pilot to fly solo across the world
Sheila Scott obtained her pilot’s license in 1960 and quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a demonstrator for Cessna and Piper aircraft. From 1965 to 1972, Scott broke over 100 aviation records. From being the first British person to fly over the North Pole in a small aircraft to being the first British pilot to fly solo across the world. Scott passed away in 1988 but she has left a lasting legacy for women interested in aviation.
Calling All Women: Learn to Fly Today!
The women pilots of today’s industry fly for commercials airlines, the military and NASA, as well as participate in air races, emergency operations, flight instruction and more. We’d love to see the participation rate among female aviators grow in the next decade, so it’s up to you to keep the tradition alive!
If you want to write your name in the stars and join the ranks of famous women pilots, contact Inflight Pilot Training today to find out how we can help you soar through the skies and contribute to a storied history. Get in touch with our team of certified flight instructors today.