Air travel has come a long way since the pioneering days of the Wright Brothers, and despite aviation being considered a male-dominated field; women have made significant contributions to that progress throughout the decades.
The first woman to hold a pilot’s license was a Frenchwoman in 1910, and a dozen other countries followed the French lead by allowing women to fly by the end of the First World War. But in many places the role of women in aviation remained restricted for a long time, for a host of sexist reasons. And until the early 1970s women were often restricted to serving in support fields, such as flight simulation training, air traffic control and as flight attendants.
There’s still a way to go before we reach gender parity, but, thankfully, things are improving all the time, with present-day pioneers breaking barriers and helping to press for progress.
The pioneers: Top 10
To celebrate the women who broke the mold and fought gender stereotypes, Netflights.com has collated the top 10 most inspiring women in aviation.
- Raymonde de Laroche, 1910
In the early days of aviation, Raymonde de Laroche became the first woman in the world to receive a pilot’s license in 1910, paving the way for other women to follow in her footsteps and take to the skies.
- Lilian Bland, 1911
Energetic, unconventional and adventurous, Lilian Bland became the first woman in the world to design, build and pilot her own plane. She playfully named it Mayfly (it may fly, it may not fly).
- Hilda Beatrice Hewlett, 1911
Not only was Hilda Hewlett the first British woman to receive a pilot’s license, she also established the first flying school in the UK and co-founded a successful aircraft manufacturing business that contributed significantly to the UK’s effort in the First World War.
- Harriet Quimby, 1911
The first woman to receive a pilot’s license from the Aero Club of America, she also became the first woman to successfully fly across the English Channel in 1912.
- Bessie Coleman, 1921
At a time of both gender and racial discrimination, Bessie Coleman was the first person (male or female) of African-American descent, and the first of Native American descent, to hold a pilot’s license in the USA.
- Amelia Earhart, 1928
Amelia Earhart was famously the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Other achievements include being the first woman to fly solo above 14,000 ft (1922); helping form The Ninety-Nines (1929) and becoming the first pilot to fly solo from Hawaii to California (1935).
- Amy Johnson, 1930
Only one year after obtaining her pilot’s license, Amy Johnson became the first female pilot to fly solo from Britain to Australia. Her longest solo flight before that had been from London to Hull, her hometown.
- Jacqueline Cochran, 1953
In 1953, Jacqueline Cochran became the first woman in the world to break the sound barrier in an F-86 Sabre. She also persuaded the US government to use women pilots in non-combat missions during the Second World War.
- Emily Howell Warner, 1973
It was not until the early 1970s that the world would see the first woman pilot a commercial airline, when, in 1973, Emily Howell Warner was hired by Frontier Airlines.
- Wang Zheng (Julie Wang), 2016:
After spending most of her life pursuing a career in advertising, Wang Zheng, also known as Julie Wang, decided to take up flying. She obtained her private pilot’s certificate in 2011 and became the first Asian woman to circumnavigate the planet by airplane in 2016.
Despite these amazing achievements, figures show that there is still a way to go for women in aviation. Today only 3% of pilots are women worldwide; in the UK the figure is 6%.