March 8 is International Women's Day. Since our Demand Intelligence product at Yieldr is tailored exclusively for the aviation industry, we thought we'd mark the day by honoring women who have broken the "cloud ceiling" over the years. Here are some inspiring women in aviation.
Bessie Coleman, 1892-1926
Bessie Coleman is the first woman of African American descent and also Native American descent to earn a pilot license, in 1921.
At a time when people were turned down from aviation schools across America if they weren't men - or Caucasian - Coleman persevered. She worked two jobs to save money, taught herself French and was accepted into France's most well-renowned pilot school - Ecole d’Aviation des Freres Cadron et Le Crotoy. She sailed to Europe to undertake months of intense training.
"The air is the only place free from prejudices." — Bessie Coleman, 1921.
Upon her return, Coleman realized that she needed to become a stunt pilot to continue her aviation career in the United States, so she went back to Europe for more advanced training. Once she was back again she launched her career performing in airshows. Her daring stunts earned her the nicknames "Brave Bessie" and "Queen Bessie".
Coleman was a key figure against racism and refused to attend shows that banned African Americans. She urged people to fight against racial and gender barriers, and her story lives on in history.
Amelia Earhart, 1897-1937
Amelia Earhart is probably the most famous female pilot in aviation history. A true trailblazer for women in aviation, the American got her international pilot's licence in 1923 and smashed records during her flying career, including the following:
- 1922: First woman to fly solo at the altitude of 14,000 feet.
- 1928: First woman to fly across the Atlantic.
- 1932: First woman (and second person ever) to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean.
"Women must try to do things as men have tried." — Amelia Earhart, 1937.
Earhart was a champion for women in aviation. She was the first president of The Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots that was established in 1929. The Ninety-Nines is still active, almost 90 years later.
Earhart also pushed for equality for women. In 1935, she joined the faculty at Purdue University and was a career counselor to women students. She was also part of the National Woman's Party, where she was an active and passionate supporter of the equal rights movement.
Katherine Sui Fun Cheung, 1904-2003
Katherine Sui Fun Cheung was the first Chinese woman to get an international flying license. She moved to the United States when she was just 17 years old. After studying music, getting married and having two daughters, Cheung decided that her next challenge would be to take to the skies.
Her ambition to fly began when her father taught her to drive a car in a parking lot next to an airfield. Watching the planes take off and land made Cheung realize she wanted to do the same thing. She enrolled in flying lessons in 1931, received her private pilot's licence in 1932 and went on to get her international licence in 1935.
"I wanted to fly, so that's what I did." — Katherine Sui Fun Cheung, 1998.
Cheung was fearless. She trained with military pilots and learned aerobatics, loops, barrel rolls, and even how to fly upside-down, performing these stunts at airshows across the United States. She also toured the country and became a hero to the Chinese-American community, who raised money to help buy her aircraft.
When China was invaded during World War II, her new goal was to move back to her homeland and open a flight school to help in the war effort. Although she wasn't permitted to get an instructor's permit in the United States (some say due to her race), she still inspired many people to push gender and cultural boundaries.
Lotfia El Nadi, 1907-2002
Hailing from Egypt, Lotfia El Nadi became the first Arab and African woman to earn a pilot's license in 1933.
El Nadi had a very strict upbringing but she wanted to break away from the role that society expected from her. She read about a new flying school and signed up without telling her parents, removing her veil for the first time to take her lessons.
"I learned to fly because I love to be free." — Lotfia El Nadi, 1996.
It only took El Nadi 67 days of training before she got her licence. As the first Egyptian woman who dared to fly, she made headlines around the world. She went on to win medals for Egypt in several aviation races.
El Nadi's breakthrough as a pilot made her an important figure in Egyptian feminism. She was praised by the founder of the Egyptian Feminist Union, Huda Sha'arawi, who raised funds to buy the pilot her own plane. El Nadi gave a voice to a generation of Egyptian women and showed the world what women can achieve.
More Notable Women in Aviation
- Sophie Blanchard: This French native was the first woman to pilot her own hot air balloon. Her first solo flight was in 1805. She became famous throughout Europe for her displays at major events, and even experimented with parachutes and pyrotechnics while ballooning.
- Raymonde de Laroche: Another French woman; another first. Born Elise Raymonde Deroche, in 1910 she became the first woman in the world to receive a pilot's licence. The date she got her licence is 8 March, which coincidentally marks International Women's Day!
- Valentina Tereshkova (Валенти́на Влади́мировна Терешко́ва): Pushing the boundaries beyond Earth, in 1963 the Russian-born Tereshkova became the first woman to go to space. She remains the only woman ever to have completed a solo space mission.
On This Day
On International Women's Day 2016, Nevin Darwish became the first Arab female to fly the Airbus 380 - the world's largest passenger plane. She was joined by Alia Al Muhairi, the youngest Emirati woman to operate the aircraft.
Thank you to all women in aviation!