Being a pilot was first seen as a male occupation, however, these amazing female aviators proved that to be wrong. Here's a list of ten amazing women who earned pilot's licenses extremely young, were the first to fly space shuttles and broke multiple aviation records.
10: Betty Skelton Erde – The First Lady of Firsts
You may have heard of her as ‘the first lady of firsts’, or perhaps as ‘the fastest woman on earth’, but regardless of the nickname, her credentials are just as impressive. A three-time national aerobics champion, Betty set multiple speed records on both airplanes and automobiles. The multitalented risk taker proved from early on in her life that nothing would hold her back from flying, taking on her first solo flight at just 12 years of age despite laws forbidding so. She debuted the inverted ribbon cut before going on to break the lightweight plane altitude record – twice – and set an unofficial women’s air speed record of 421 mph before her engine exploded. She landed safely and was undeterred, living a long life before passing away in 2011 aged 85.
9: Jacqueline Auriol – French Speedster
If you’ve read Jacqueline Auriol’s autobiography ‘I Live to Fly’, you’ll know all about her exciting life in the aviation business. The daughter of a prosperous shipbuilder, she married Paul Auriol whose father would go on to become the President of France.Not long after obtaining her pilot license in 1948 she underwent a tragic accident as a passenger in a crashed flight. She would spend the next three years in hospitals but, far from being emotionally scarred by the incident, she spent this time studying to obtain an even more advanced pilot certification. Over the next couple of decades she joined a handful of women to break the sound barrier and chalked up another five world speed records.
8: Eileen Collins – First Female Space Pilot
From a young age it was obvious that Eileen was a gifted individual. Earning a reputation of an incredibly talented mathematician, she became a flight instructor before aiming for the stars. In 1995 she achieved her dream by piloting the Space Shuttle of STS-63.In 1999 Eileen made history again as she became the first woman commander in a shuttle mission, a feat she repeated six years later. A real pioneer of the aviation industry, the New Yorker was inducted to the Nation Women’s Hall of Fame forever cementing her legacy.
7: Elinor Smith – Youngest Pilot on Earth
With an actor for a father and a singer for a mother, it is easy to see how a sense of ambition was instilled in Elinor Smith from a young age. It didn’t take long for Elinor to discover her own passion in life, falling in love with aviation after her first flight, aged six. At the age of ten she was taking regular flying lessons on her way to become the youngest US government-licensed pilot in the world.During her time flying, Elinor broke the record for light plane altitude when she reached 11,889 ft. She would also go on to break speed and endurance records, and is still understood to be the only person to fly underneath all four of New York’s East River bridges – something she did whimsically on a dare.
6: Sophie Blanchard – First Woman to Fly Solo in a Hot Air Balloon
Sophie Blanchard – or Sophie Armant, as she was back then – first got a taste of fame when she married esteemed inventor Jean-Pierre Blanchard. Jean-Pierre was an innovator in – unsurprisingly – the balloon business, and it wasn’t long before his new wife began to share his vibrant interest.It was Sophie’s gender itself that led to her first hot air balloon journey as it was believed that having a female host would increase interest in a money-raising event. Sadly, Jean-Pierre suffered a heart attack mid-flight and Sophie decided to continue his work. She was later declared ‘Aeronaut of the Official Festivals’ by Napoleon.
5: Amy Johnson – Long-Distance Record Setter
A true lover of aviation, Amy Johnson set various records across a multitude of journeys during her time as a pilot. Hailing from Kingston upon Hull, England, she would sometimes fly with husband Jim Mollison, yet she broke several records for solo flights. Traveling from one side of the world to the other, Amy was the first woman to make the journey from London, England to Australia and set notable speed records via Japan and South Africa’s Cape Town. A brave and adventurous woman, her life controversially ended on a flight during World War II with many speculating that she was in the middle of a secret mission. This proves that there also were female pilots during World War II.
4: Bessie Coleman – African American Pioneer
Born in Texas in the late 19th century, it is obvious why Bessie Coleman’s groundbreaking achievement is so impressive. Widespread bigotry was still a massive problem when Bessie managed to become the first African American woman to secure an International Pilot's License, a huge step for both women in aviation and African Americans in general. After failing to gain entry to US flight schools Bessie mastered the French language and traveled to Paris to learn how to fly. On June 15th, 1921 she earned her license and returned to the US where she became a popular figure, attending air shows regularly and fighting for equality before a crash in 1926 sadly led to her death.
3: Harriet Quimby – First Female US Pilot
At a time when there wasn’t a single female licensed pilot in the whole of the US, Harriet Quimby opened the door to future generations of women when she earned hers in August 1911. Harriet became the first American woman to fly solo across the English Channel, an achievement somewhat tarnished by the unfortunate news that the RMS Titanic had sunk just a day earlier. She died doing what she loved at an airshow in Massachusetts but her actions helped shape the future of female pilots forever.
2: Jacqueline Cochran – WASP Advocate
Jostling for the top position on the list is Jacqueline Cochran. Earning her license in 1932 Jacqueline demonstrated her entrepreneurial spirit by using this to promote her own line of cosmetics - ‘Wings’, but she soon went on to make a much more significant impact on society. Lobbying with Eleanor Roosevelt, Jacqueline convinced General Henry Harley "Hap" Arnold to permit women to fly for military purposes. This led to the development of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots Program or WASP, earning her both the Distinguished Service Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross. She would later become the first female to break the sound barrier and also notched various altitude, distance, and speed records that she would hold until her death in 1980.
1: Amelia Earhart – First Woman Pilot to Fly Solo across the Atlantic
Yes, you guessed it. Topping our list is the most famous female pilot of all time, Amelia Earhart. She is widely known for being the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean non-stop, and also across North America, but at the time she was also known for being the first female passenger across the Atlantic Ocean – a feat achieved at a young age that no doubt spurred her on.Like many of the most ambitious pilots, it was a dream of Amelia’s to fly around the world, and this would ultimately prove her undoing. She famously went missing on the last leg of her journey, resulting in widespread theories about what happened to her. Gone but never forgotten, she is now a household name for female aviators.