When one thinks of women in aviation, the image of Amelia Earhart normally comes to mind. However, were you aware that women have been flying since the late 1700’s, when in 1784 Elisabeth Thible became the first woman to fly in a hot air balloon, and in 1798 Jeanne Labrosse was the first woman to fly solo, also in a balloon?
Women aviators displayed their skills in aeronautical engineering when E. Lillian Todd in 1906, became the first woman to design and build an airplane, though it never flew. Two years later in 1908, Madame Therese Peltier became the first woman to fly an airplane solo.
Women aviators of color refused to allow discrimination based on both race and gender hinder their dreams of flying planes, as evidence by Bessie Colman who in 1921 became the first African American, male or female, to earn a pilot’s license. Ten years later in 1931 Katherine Cheung became the first woman of Chinese ancestry to earn a pilot’s license.
Let us not forget the women who have assisted in pioneering space travel; Sally Ride the first American woman to travel to space in1983. Ride remains the youngest American astronaut to have traveled to space, having done so at the age of 32. Dr. Mae C. Jemison, the first African American woman to travel in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor on September 12, 1992. Liu Yang served as a crew member on the space mission Shenzhou 9. On June 16, 2012 Yang became the first Chinese woman in space.
Unfortunately, pioneer women aviators were not immune to tragedy in the sky. In 1809, Marie Madeleine Sopie Blanchard become the first woman to lose her life while both flying in and watching fireworks in her hydrogen balloon. Sadly on July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart, the first woman the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the American mainland as having the distinction of being the first president of the Ninety-Nines, an organization made up of women pilots, was lost over the Pacific Ocean. The most well-known tragedy involving a female aviator.
Indian-born astronaut Kalpana Chawla, who has the distinction of being the first Indian woman in space, perished with six other crew members when space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere on February 1, 2003. Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space was one of seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986.
From hot air and hydrogen balloons to aircraft to space shuttles, women aviators continue to make strides as well as history.