22 Famous Female Pilots That Left a Mark on Aviation History
Back in the early days of aviation, men weren’t the only ones who were fascinated with taking to the skies. Even before women in America had earned the right to vote, they were already proving their aptitude as pilots. These original pioneers inspired the following generations of adventurous women who dared to dream of becoming a pilot.
Let’s take a look at 22 of the famous female pilots both past and present who have created a lasting legacy with their accomplishments:
1. Amelia Earhart
The world knows Amelia for her unexplained disappearance in the summer of 1937, but the aviation world recognizes her for her achievements as well. Earhart was the first female pilot to make a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. She was also one of the organizers of the Ninety-Nines organization for female pilots.
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2. Ann Baumgartner
Ann Baumgartner is a prime example of the power of successful role models. When Ann was a child, Amelia Earhart paid a visit to her school. Ann was inspired by Earhart’s example and she went on to join the Women Airforce Service Pilots. She would later become a test pilot and her lasting legacy is that of being the first American woman to pilot a US Army Air Forces jet.
3. Anne Lindbergh
Charles Lindbergh rose to fame as an aviator, but his wife was also a pilot. In fact, Anne was the first American woman to earn her glider pilot’s license. She joined Charles on flights from Africa to South America as well as exploring polar routes to travel from North America to Asia and Europe.
4. Beryl Markham
The first person to complete a non-stop solo east to west flight across the Atlantic Ocean, Beryl Markham is perhaps best known for the subsequent memoir which she penned. West with the Night takes readers along on the flight and life of this remarkable Kenyan racehorse trainer and bush pilot.
5. Bessie Coleman
Bessie was the first woman of both African American and Native American ethnicity to earn a pilot license. When she set her eyes on flight school in the early 1920s, no school in the United States would accept her. Rather than giving up on her dream, she saved up money and found scholarships that allowed her to attend flight school in France. Bessie officially became a pilot in December of 1921.
6. Blanche “Betty” Stuart Scott
In 2005, Blanche Stuart Scott was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame to commemorate her pioneering achievements in the field of aviation. After becoming the first woman to drive across the United States, Betty was up for a new challenge. She decided to learn how to fly, and in the fall of 1910, she became the first woman to fly at a public event. Billed as the “Tomboy of the Air,” Betty became a skilled stunt pilot and the first female test pilot.
7. Eileen Collins
In 1995, NASA astronaut Eileen Collins made history as the first female space shuttle pilot. Eileen was also first female shuttle commander. Prior to joining NASA, Collins served as an Air Force colonel, test pilot and instructor.
8. Emily Howell Warner
Female airline pilots are becoming more and more common, but it wasn’t until 1976 that Emily Howell Warner became the first female pilot of a major U.S. commercial passenger airline. Emily loved flying and had heard about a Norwegian female pilot who was hired by a major international airline. This inspired Warner to spend fifteen years logging thousands of flight hours and earning numerous certifications in pursuit of her goal. After Frontier Airlines hired her, Emily also became the first female captain, commanded the first all-female flight crew and was the first female member of the Airline Pilots Association.
9. Evelyn Bryan Johnson
If you’re looking for a pilot who genuinely loved to teach, Evelyn Bryan Johnson is your woman. This National Aviation Hall of Fame inductee logged a total of more than 57,600 hours of flight time. Evelyn was affectionately referred to as “Mama Bird” thanks to her penchant for mentoring student pilots and helping them develop their skills.
10. Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock
Geraldine Mock secured the record that Amelia Earhart was pursuing when she disappeared – the first female pilot to make a solo flight around the world. The 29-day trip in 1964 earned her a spot in aviation history and was the subject of her 1970 book Three Eight Charlie.
11. Harriet Quimby
The first American woman of any ethnicity to earn a pilot’s license was Harriet Quimby. She received her certificate – number 37 given out by the Aero Club of America – in 1911 and in 1912 became the first woman to fly across the English Channel.
12. Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran
In May of 1953, Jackie Cochran became the first woman to break the sound barrier. She was a successful racing pilot and helped to form the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Jackie held more altitude, distance and speed records than any other pilot during her career. After retirement, she served as a special consultant for NASA.
13. Jeana Yeager
Jeana Yeager (not related to Chuck) was Dick Rutan’s co-pilot for the first non-stop, non-refueled flight around the world in December of 1986 in the Rutan Voyager. This flight earned her a Collier Trophy – the first ever awarded to a woman.
14. Julie Clark
Julie Clark is one of the most well-known aerobatic pilots and has received several Performer of the Year awards. She was one of the first female commercial airline pilots, following in her late father’s footsteps. Julie has been honored as one of the Living Legends of Aviation.
15. Katherine Stinson
Look at a list of aviation records, and you will notice that Katherine Stinson’s name comes up a lot. She was the 4th American woman to earn her pilot’s license. At the age of 18, this also made her the youngest licensed female pilot. Three years later in 1915, she became the first female pilot to fly an acrobatic loop. Katherine went on to set other records as the first woman to fly at night, the first female skywriter and the first female pilot authorized to carry U.S. mail.
16. Katrina Mumaw
Katrina Mumaw started her aviation career incredibly young. Inspired by meeting Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan when she was only 3 years old, Katrina began learning everything she could about aviation. She was so successful that at only 11 years old, Katrina was allowed to fly a Mig-29 fighter jet and she became the youngest pilot to break the sound barrier. Katrina went on to graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy.
17. Marjorie Stinson
Katherine’s Stinson’s sister Marjorie was another famous female pilot. Like Katherine, Marjorie also earned her pilot license from their mother’s Stinson School of Flying at the age of 18. Marjorie was a charter member of the Ninety-Nines and the only woman in the U.S. Aviation Reserve Corps.
18. Opal Kunz
One of the most vocal and high-profile early female aviators was Opal Kunz. She loved flying and participated in many interviews and public appearances to encourage other women to try flying. Opal was a charter member of the Ninety-Nines and the primary organizer of the Betsy Ross Air Corps. In 1930 she became the first female pilot to race in – and win – an open flying competition.
19. Patty Wagstaff
Patty Wagstaff is a legend in the aerobatic world. She was the first woman to become the U.S. National Aerobatic champion – a title that she has won three times. Wagstaff has also won gold, silver, and bronze medals in international Olympic-level aerobatic competitions. She is an inductee into the National Aviation Hall of Fame as well as the International Air and Space Hall of Fame.
20. Raymonde de Larouche
The first woman to pilot a plane and to receive her pilot’s license was Raymonde de Laroche of France. The Aeroclub de France was the first organization to issue official pilot licenses, and Raymonde earned the 36th license ever given out. She went on to set a women’s distance record for a 201-mile flight as well as two altitude records before her untimely demise while serving as co-pilot of an experimental aircraft.
21. Valentina Tereshkova
When it comes to female space records, Valentina Tereshkova is the queen. This Russian cosmonaut was the first and – at the age of 26 – the youngest woman to fly in space. Her 1963 solo flight still remains the only solo spaceflight ever conducted by a woman.
22. Willa Brown
In 1937, Willa Brown earned her commercial pilot license and became the first African American woman to do so. As a founding member of the National Airman Association, she helped black pilots get accepted into the U.S. Army Air Corps. In fact, Willa went on to become a flight instructor and she had the distinction of training more than 200 of the Tuskegee Airmen pilots.
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