10 Women in Aviation You Should Know
Honoring the women who paved their own path in aviation.
The achievements and progress made by women throughout history shouldn’t just be relegated to Women’s History Month. While there is still so much room for female inclusion in the aviation industry (roughly, only 8% of pilots in the United States are women), there have been some incredible women who have stood out across decades with their accomplishments in the field.
In 1921, Bessie Coleman became the first Black and Indigenous (Cherokee) woman to be licensed as a pilot. Finding an instructor who would teach a Black woman how to fly proved nearly impossible. Instead of giving up, she learned French and sailed across the ocean to France, where she received her international pilot’s license at a prestigious aviation school, the Caudron Brothers’ School of Aviation.
See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Not only was Jacqueline Cochran the first woman to break the sound barrier, but she was also one of the top racing pilots during her time. In 1935, she was the first woman to enter the Bendix Transcontinental Air Race, and a few years later she took home the Bendix trophy. She broke multiple speed records throughout her life, and also became the first female president of Féderátion Aéronautique Internationale.
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Hazel Ying Lee
As the first Chinese American woman to fly for the United States military, Lee secured her aviation license in 1932 and became a commercial pilot. In 1943, she joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) upon the request of Jacqueline Cochran. She was one of two Chinese American WASPs pilots. In the service, they were paid less than their male counterparts and were also denied military benefits. It wasn’t until 1977 that Lee and her fellow female pilots were granted retroactive military status.
U.S. Air Force photo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
While Bessie Coleman was the first internationally licensed Black female pilot, Willa Brown was the first Black female pilot to be licensed in the United States in 1937. She earned her license at the Curtiss-Wright Aeronautical University in Chicago, the only accredited flight school in the Midwest where Black students were accepted. She then went on to become the first Black officer for the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) and was honored for her contributions to the industry in 1972 when she was appointed to the Federal Aviation Administration Women’s Advisory Board.
National Archives at College Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
One of the most well-known names of aviation history, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932. She began breaking gender norms as a child and continued as she became the first woman to achieve many of her accomplishments. She was also the first person to fly from Hawaii to the U.S. mainlands. She later disappeared while on an around-the-world flight.
Harris & Ewing, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons