Amelia Earhart was born July 24, 1897 in Atchinson, Kansas to Edward & Amy Earhart. She saw her first plane—a biplane with double wings and built of wood, wire and oiled canvas—while attending the Iowa State Fair in 1908. She would take flight lessons from Neta Snook, the first woman to graduate from the Curtiss School of Aviation. In 1922, she received her pilot’s license, making her one of about a dozen licensed women fliers in the world.
Her first plane ride was with Frank Hawks, a famous record-setting pilot, aboard the Friendship. Together, they crossed the Pacific Ocean. “I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes,” she candidly admitted. For four years following, she would train to prove that she really was the first woman in aviation and go on to complete a solo transatlantic flight.
Earhart was the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to California, the first flier—man or woman— to cross the Pacific Ocean solo. The first woman to fly an autogyro, an aircraft that was part airplane, and part helicopter. Along with female aviator, Ruth Nicols, they formed the Ninety-Nines, a women’s flying organization.
On July 24, 1936 she would take possession of the airplane she’d use to make a round-the-world flight. It would turn out to be her last. The plane was an all-metal twin-engine Lockheed Electra with retractable landing gear and a 55-foot wingspan, capable of speeds up to 210 mph and 27,000-foot altitudes. Modifications were made to remove some of the seats so that extra fuel tanks could be added. When completed, the Electra had a 1,200-gallon fuel capacity, which gave it a range of up to 4,000 miles. At the time of the Great Depression, it cost $80,000 and the purchase was funded by Purdue University where she worked part-time as a women’s career counselor and aviation consultant.
Her husband, George Putnam promoted and raised money for the trip. He arranged credentials for her and the crew, visas for every country, passports, health certificates, negative police records, made arrangements for fuel and mechanics for her planned stops. With 7,000 miles remaining, the plane lost radio contact near the Howland Islands. It was never found.
Prior to her flight, she’d mentioned to friends that following the trip, she would consider spending time writing poetry or screenplays.
Other early female aviators include:
- Raymonde de Laroche (1882-1919), received the first pilot's license awarded to a woman on March 8, 1910.
- Blanche Stuart Scott (1889-1970), became the first woman to fly in America. Her life spanned the era when airplanes were just being invented and given trials, to the moment she saw Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon. She set a long distance flying record for women of 10 miles on July 30, 1911 and then a 25-mile record in August 1911.
- Harriet Quimby (1875-1912), first American woman to earn a pilot’s license. Her flying career was cut short when she died in an air show accident in 1912.
- Elinor Smith Sullivan (1911- 2010), the youngest pilot—male or female—to earn a license at 16-year old, which was signed by Orville Wright. With Bobbi Trout as co-pilot, they became the first women aviators to refuel a plane in mid-air in 1929. She flew until 2001, taking her last flight at the age of 89 to test the C33 Raytheon AGATE at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.
- Bessie Coleman (1892-1926), the first African-American female to earn an International Pilot’s License in 1921. U.S flight schools wouldn’t license African-American females, but France would. So, Coleman landed there. Coleman’s dream was to make enough money to open a flight school, but sadly, she died at 34 after the biplane she was flying in spiraled into a nosedive. A champion for equal rights, Bessie Coleman is remembered for helping to break the racial and gender barriers that existed at the time.
- Katherine Stinson (1891-1977), she’s credited as the first female skywriter, the first woman to fly over London, the first woman to fly at night, and the first female pilot authorized to carry U.S. airmail.
- Jacqueline Cochran (1906-1980), in her lifetime set more aviation records than any of her contemporaries, male or female. In 1953, she became the first woman to break the sound barrier, piloting an F-86 Sabrejet. In 1971, Cochran became the first living woman enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame. She is widely considered to be the most influential female in the modern era of aviation.
- Willa Brown (1906-1992), first African-American woman to earn a commercial flight license in the United States in 1937. She was a founding member of the National Airmen Association, which lobbied for the inclusion of black pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps, and as a flight instructor she trained more than 200 students who eventually became Tuskegee Airmen, the all-black aerial combat unit that flew with distinction in World War II.
- Mary Riddle (1912-1981), became the first Native American woman to earn a pilot’s license; she also earned her commercial license soon after. She was best known for being a performing parachutist.
You can discover more by accessing Wikipedia’s list of women aviators.
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- “5 Early Influential U.S. Female Aviators to Know.” Hartzell Propeller, 9 Dec. 2019
- Chadwick, Roxane. Amelia Earhart: Aviation Pioneer. Lerner Publications Co., 1987
- Magazine, Smithsonian. “Flying with America's Most Famous Female Aviators.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 21 Oct. 2009
- “Native American Women Aviation Pioneers.” National Air and Space Museum
- Pearce, Carol A. Amelia Earhart. Facts On File Publications, 1988
- “Scott, Blanche Stuart.” National Women's Hall of Fame
- Women in Aviation and Space History - Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum