Here I am wth the first part of 5 women in aviation history! I’ve been thinking of writing a similar article for a while, but I guess just one is not enough, there is a lot to learn. And since I enjoy discovering history through biographies, here’s the first part of a series. Known, unknown, famous and less famous, it will depend on where you live and what interests you.
Amelie Beese (1886-1925)
Born in Dresden from a wealthy middle-class family, at first she studies art and architecture with the intention of making a career as a sculptor. An aviation enthusiast, after seeing the exploits of her coevals she decides to put aside her studies. On her parents’ insistence, she starts courses on design and flight mechanics. Despite open hostilities and sabotages from many fellow men, Beese is able to get a pilot license in 1911 on her birthday: she’s the first woman of German origin to obtain it. She wants to fly, and is able to beat some records, including Helen Dutrieu’s for altitude.
Beese and her husband, Charles Boutard, also a pilot, open their flight school. Unfortunately, funds for the construction of airplanes in war time are allocated to larger companies; according to German law, the Boutards are French and therefore, as foreigners, they can not receive funds from the government. Her working and private life begins to worsen: little is known about Beese’s last years, until suicide, in 1925.
Amy Johnson (1903-1941)
Born and raised in Hull, after a short while in Sheffield she decides to move to London: soon she is fascinated by the first aircrafts, so much to spend a lot of time on the aerodrome. Having obtained her pilot license in 1929, she begins to plan a trip to Australia. The following year Johnson departs from Croydon to Darwin, with very basic information on weather and maps. She is the first woman to fly alone from Great Britain to Australia. She then sets record times from London to Tokyo, Moscow, Cape Town and the United States.
In the 1940s Johnson focuses on other activities, especially on fashion, working with designer Elsa Schiaparelli. After joining a RAF support organization, she loses her life during a mission, although it’s not clear how.
You can see a replica of the Gipsy Moth, the biplane with which Johnson traveled to Australia, at the Yorkshire Air Museum.
Helen Richey (1909–1947)
Passionate about aviation and determined to become a pilot, she begins to take flight lessons in 1929 and gets a license one year later. At first Richey works in exhibitions but, deciding to make her own passion a real job, she soon gets the license to fly commercial aircrafts. In spite of this, she continues to work in shows and to compete.
Richey applies for a co-pilot position at Central Airlines (then United Airlines) and becomes the first woman to be hired by a commercial airline. She manages to make frequent flights, but soon meets men’s hostility and some opposition from the Department of Commerce, which allows her to fly only a few times a month.
During the war, she serves as flight instructor, as well as as a pilot for the English Air Transport Auxiliary.
Unfortunately, at the end of the war, jobs are entrusted to men and Richey, probably frustrated and depressed, withdraws and commits suicide in 1947.
Sophie Blanchard (1778-1819)
It is said she was shy and reserved, was easily frightened by loud noises and carriages: nevertheless, she fell in love with flying at the first experience.
Her husband, an inventor and fan of hot-air balloons, convinces Blanchard to try ascension together, hoping that the presence of a woman may attract investors. After some ascensions with him, Blanchard makes one alone in 1805, becoming the first woman to pilot a balloon.
Blanchard continues to work after the death of her husband, drawing Napoleon’s attention first and Louis XVIII’s then, who both set up offices for her in their government. Meanwhile, she makes several trips to Europe.
During her last flight, just after lighting some fireworks, the balloon gets fire and then hits the roof of a house, kicking Sophie into the street.
Raymonde de Laroche (1882-1919)
A multi-faceted artist, she begins to fly after meeting Charles Voisin: after a year she gets the license, the first time ever for a woman. Soon de Laroche starts to participate in numerous air shows in Europe and Africa and is given the title of Baroness by the press, an idea reinforced by Tsar Nicola II, who addresses her with this title. At the outbreak of war, she plans to fly planes in battle, but is not allowed to do so: she was still able to do her part on the ground. Blanchard decides to become a test pilot, setting several altitude records, but, during a test with a new plane, she is killed after a malfunction.
If you go to Le Bourget airport in Paris, you can see her statue.
Second part at this link.
Photo by Roger B. Whitman Early Aviation Photograph Collection, NASM Acc. No. XXXX-0517. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“Flying is everything, living is nothing.”