Women in Aviation
When people hear the phrase “women in aviation,” they inevitably think of Amelia Earhart, the famed aviatrix who was the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. However, Earhart is most remembered for disappearing on a 1937 flight across the Pacific Ocean when she was just 39 years old. Earhart’s disappearance has been a staple of mystery fans with dozens of theories about her fate. In March 2017, new research suggested a plausible conclusion to the mystery, although it’s the kind of story people will likely debate for years. Regardless of her fate, her legend endures. She has served as an inspiration for female pilots for the better part of a century.
The first woman to fly solo was Jeanne Labrosse who piloted a hot air balloon in 1788. (She was also the first woman to parachute!) Since then, women have been embracing aviation with enthusiasm, whether as a hobby or career. In 1906, E. Lillian Todd was designing and building aircraft. Raymond de Laroche of France became the first licensed female pilot in 1910. Later that year, Belgium’s Hélène Dutrieu became the first female pilot to fly with a passenger. In 1921, Bessie Coleman became the first African American woman to become a licensed pilot. Helen Richey became the first woman to fly for an American commercial airline in 1934. In 1943, America women took to the skies as Women Airforce Service Pilots (W.A.S.P.s) to do their part during World War II, logging more than 60 million miles in flight. In 1978, Sally Ride became the first female astronaut in the U.S. And as the 20th century drew to a close, Eileen Collins became the first woman to command a U.S. flight shuttle. Each of these milestones inspired women from all around the globe to follow in these airborne footsteps, or, should we say, wing flaps?
Hundreds of female pioneers rushed to enter the aviation industry, from daredevil stunt flying to military service. In 1929, 99 women pilots formed the first organization to support the advancement of females in aviation. They called themselves The Ninety-Nines in honor of the number of charter members. In 1990, Women in Aviation International was launched, which also supports women in aviation careers. Both organizations are dedicated to encouraging women to take up flying, either as an avocation or career. In fact, in March 2018, the Institute of Women of Aviation Worldwide Week welcomed 61,000 women to its annual conference. During the first week of March, more than 12,000 women around the world took their very first flight!
On October 18, 2017, Southwest Airlines flew its first “unmanned” flight. In other words, the entire crew was female. In an industry where women are typically seen as flight attendants, this was an historic flight and was not unnoticed by passengers who were surprised to learn this was not a common occurrence. Currently, only about six percent of pilots are women, and only five percent of U.S. and Canadian commercial airline pilots are women. but that is changing. Women comprise more than twelve percent of student pilots these days. In fact, this represents the population at Epic Flight Academy, and we see a steady increase each year. We also employ female flight instructors, who go on to fly for commercial airlines. Lauren Hensel, for instance, is an Ameriflight Captain and was featured in our recent Epic Buzz newsletter. And our Ground School instructor, Judy Rice, is a renowned aviatrix in her own right, flying a Citation Mustang around the world visiting 10,000 students in 35 countries as an aviation ambassador. We are extremely proud of the leadership our female flyers demonstrate. They are role models for young women who are thinking about becoming pilots.
With the growing pilot shortage and more women inspired to follow their dreams, we expect to see even more women enrolling in flight schools around the country. Even “Barbie” is getting in on the women in aviation trend. On March 8, 2018 (International Women’s Day), Mattel announced it is manufacturing an Amelia Earhart Barbie doll! Perhaps this will encourage even more little girls to look to the skies in pursuit of their dreams.