Celebrating Female Aviators Who Made History

Amelia Earhart in front of plane
March 20, 2023
Celebrating Female Aviators Who Made History
Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology is a prominent voice in the aviation space. These blogs are for informational purposes only and are meant to spark discussions within the aviation industry on a variety of topics.

As aviation technology took off in the 20th century, women made their mark in a traditionally male-dominated field. Despite facing gender discrimination and societal barriers, these pioneers blazed a trail for future generations of women in aviation. This article celebrates the achievements of four remarkable women who shattered glass ceilings and made history in the skies. From flying solo across the Atlantic to breaking speed records, these women have left an indelible mark on the aviation industry and inspired countless others to follow in their footsteps. Join us as we dive into their extraordinary stories and celebrate their trailblazing accomplishments.

Amelia Earhart: First Female Solo Transatlantic Flight 

Though Amelia Earhart's life came to a short end before her fortieth birthday, her name is known worldwide for her record-breaking aviation accomplishments and her efforts in paving the way for women in commercial flight. Earhart's exposure to the aviation world began while working at a Canadian military hospital, where she met aviators and heard of their flight experiences. In 1918, she attended her first flying expedition, and by 1920 she took her first flight. 

Earhart's love for flying was almost instant from the time she set foot on a plane and was determined to help make a name for herself and other women in the industry. By 1921, she was flying by herself, and the very next year she bought her first aircraft. She set the female record for altitude in that first year of owning her airplane, flying 14,000 feet. Earhart set several altitude and speed records in the ten years following that, and then set the record as the first female to fly solo and non-stop across the Atlantic in 1932. 

This transatlantic flight made Earhart a worldwide name and made aviation history. She continued to break several records for flying in the years following; however, in 1937, she disappeared during one of her attempts to fly around the globe. Her plane is believed to have crashed in the Pacific Ocean.

Willa Brown: First African American Woman to Earn Both a Pilot's License and Commercial License & The First African American Woman to Receive a Commission as a Civil Air Patrol Lieutenant

Willa Brown was an inspiring African American aviator and a pioneer for women in the industry. Born in 1906 in Kentucky, she was the first African American female to receive her commercial pilot's license. Willa was also the first African American to receive a commission as a Civil Air Patrol lieutenant. At age 33, she founded the Cornelius R. Coffey School of Aeronautics in Chicago - the first U.S. government-approved aviation school for African Americans.

The school provided flight training and other aviation-related courses to African Americans who were often excluded from other flight schools due to racial discrimination. Brown was an influential civil rights advocate and devoted her life to promoting opportunities for African Americans in aviation until her death in 1992. She was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2005, recognizing her immense contributions.

Jackie Cochran: First Female to Break the Sound Barrier 

Jackie Cochran was an incredibly unique and powerful force in the aviation industry - holding more speed, altitude, and distance records than any other pilot in history at the time of her death in 1980. During her late 20s, Cochran was hard at work to launch her own cosmetics company. During this time, she was approached by a wealthy financial advisor, Floyd Bostwick Odlum, about the idea of getting her wings to travel across the states to beat out her competition. Cochran swiftly acted on Floyd's advice and learned how to fly that summer. Following her initial flying lessons, Cochran expressed that's when she knew "a beauty operator ceased to exist, and an aviator was born." 

In the late 1930s, Cochran decided that she wanted to take her newfound love for aviation and use it to help contribute to the protection of her country. She wrote a detailed letter to Eleanor Roosevelt – who was the First Lady at the time – proposing to create a plan to include female pilots in military support missions and offering herself to lead the efforts. Though nothing came of the proposal at first, she was eventually asked to help research how female pilots could assist the U.S. Army Air Corps, several years later. The research Cochran did for this project soon led to the creation of a U.S.-established program to train women to fly, called Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). Although proven to be successful, the approval of the program into military formality was eventually denied by congress. 

Bessie Coleman: First African American Female to Receive Her International Pilot's License

Bessie Coleman was a pioneering African American aviator, widely recognized as the first black woman to earn a pilot's license. Born in Atlanta, Texas in 1892, Coleman faced racial discrimination throughout her life. She moved to Chicago in her early twenties to pursue her dream of becoming a pilot, but found that no American flight school would accept her because of her race and gender.

Undeterred, Coleman learned French and traveled to France to pursue her pilot's license. In 1921, she earned her international pilot's license from the Federation Aeronautique International. Soon after, Coleman went on to develop her career as an airshow pilot and became quite famous. Coleman was also a passionate advocate for civil rights and often spoke out against racial discrimination. She refused to perform at segregated air shows and used her fame to promote racial equality. Tragically, her life was cut short in 1926 when she was killed during a test flight of a new aircraft. Despite her short career, Coleman's legacy continues to inspire generations of pilots and civil rights activists.

In conclusion, the achievements of these four remarkable women in aviation history have paved the way for future generations of women to pursue their dreams in the field. From breaking records to serving as pioneers in aviation technology and fighting for equal rights, these women have left an indelible mark on the industry. Their stories are a powerful reminder of the courage, determination, and resilience required to overcome challenges and push boundaries.

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