10 Photos

Aviators for Girls


Bessie Coleman and her plane, 1922Imagine what bravery it took to become a pilot when aviation was in its infancy, especially for women who were never expected to fly, let alone be pilots. Even today, the skies remain male-dominated. By the end of 2013, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, women still only made up 6.6 percent of pilots worldwide.

August 19 is National Aviation Day in the United States. In honor of this celebration, I couldn’t resist highlighting some of our female American aviation pioneers, women who have inspired generations of aviators.

  1. An actress, writer, and photojournalist, became the first American woman to earn a pilot’s license and cross the English Channel.
  2. A woman of African American descent wasn’t allowed to earn a pilot’s license in the United States, so went to France and became the first African American of any gender to earn her international pilot’s license in 1921.
  3. The first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic? Why, of course.
  4. Another flew around the world and landed successfully in Oakland, California, on June 11, 2014, ending a journey that she hoped would inspire female aviators.
  5. We also honor the American first woman to go into space. “We remember Sally Ride not just as a national hero, but as a role model to generations of young women, ” said President Barack Obama upon Ride’s death in 2012.

By NASA, via Wikimedia CommonsAnd then there are the many women aviators AAUW helped support.

  1. , 1966 AAUW Achievement Award winner, was one of two women selected to test fly the B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber during World War II. Many men were initially afraid of flying the B-29 due to its reputation for unreliability, so Dougherty and her colleague were charged with showing the men how it was done.
  2. Recipient of a 1998–99 AAUW Career Development grant, is a U.S. Air Force veteran, author of a children’s book Goodnight, Captain Mama, and a White House Champion of Change. She joined the ROTC while earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley; was commissioned as an Air Force officer; and graduated from navigator flight school at the top of her class.

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  1. 2007 AAUW Achievement Award winner and the first African American woman in space aboard NASA’s space shuttle Endeavour, carried Bessie Coleman’s picture with her on her first mission.
  2. Born and raised in Lima, Peru, , 2006–07 AAUW Selected Professions Fellow, did her doctoral research on improving and continuing human space flight. She now works at NASA.
  3. Since completing a bachelor’s degree, 2011–12 AAUW Career Development Grantee has been working in the aviation industry and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in aeronautical science and hoping to obtain her doctorate in order to increase aviation safety while promoting the involvement of women in the field of aviation.


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