Balloonists, dirigible fliers, airline and fighter pilots, innovators, industrialists, astronauts, cosmonauts, explorers. Women have been reaching for the heavens for nearly 250 years. Almost from the moment human flight began, women have taken to the skies. Each year at the beginning of March, we stop to celebrate their enormous – if too often unsung – contributions to aviation during Women’s Aviation Week.
In 1784, Élisabeth Thible was the first woman to float above the Earth; dressed as Minerva, a passenger in an untethered hot air balloon. Thousands of other women have followed, brave, daring pioneers who often had to overcome incredible odds – and sometimes gave their lives – in pursuit of their dreams. Their accomplishments deserve not an annual week’s-worth of special attention, but inclusion in the aviation pantheon alongside their male colleagues.
To that end, TheAvGeeks are pleased to present a series of profiles of women from different spheres and different eras of aviation. Some of their names you already know, others may be less familiar.
Amelia Earhart’s story is now part of popular culture; read about her fearless contemporaries Jean Batten, the record-setting, glamorous “Garbo of the Skies” and Bessie Coleman, fearless barnstormer and granddaughter of a slave who dreamed of founding an aviation school for anyone who wanted to learn to fly, regardless of their race or gender.
Sally Ride captured the public’s imagination when she became the first American woman in space. Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova preceded her by 20 years and is still the only woman to have made a solo space flight.
20th century corporate pioneer Olive Ann Beech built and sustained the company that bore her husband’s name – commissioning the Model 18 Twin Beech, a plane in continuous production since the 1940s. 21st century aviation entrepreneur (and TheAvGeeks contributor!) Laura shares Beech’s barrier-breaking spirit. We feel so lucky to be able to share her deeply personal essay about her experiences as a woman in the aviation industry with our readers.
And while we think all of these women are superheroes, Jeanne Leavitt – the U.S. Air Force’s first female fighter pilot and first woman to command a USAF fighter wing – actually helped inspire the lead character in Marvel’s newest action flick – only the latest in Leavitt’s long and distinguished list of achievements.
These women and so many others dedicated their lives not to breaking gender barriers, but simply to aviation. They have served their countries, set records, designed aircraft, performed feats of daring for gleeful audiences, and pushed the boundaries of space and speed. In the process, they have soared far above the glass ceiling.
We salute them.