Women have played an important role in aviation through the decades. However, as there are so many incredible women aviators in the world, it would be impossible to include them all. To start this page, we’ve chosen just a few, who could be considered early pioneers in the world of female aviators. Bookmark this page – we’ll be adding to this list.
LT. COLONEL JACQUELINE COCHRAN Lt Col. Jacqueline Cochran (1906-1980) was a pioneering pilot holding more aviation records than any other pilot at that time in the USA. She was the first female pilot to break the sound barrier and set an altitude record of 55,000 ft. She was the first woman to take off from and land a jet aircraft on an aircraft carrier at sea and broke several speed records, including being the first woman to fly at twice the speed of sound.
Wings for Britain Before the US joined the war during WWII, Cochran was part of the “Wings for Britain”, an organization that ferried American-built aircraft across to Britain. She was the first woman to fly a B-17 Bomber across the Atlantic. In Britain she volunteered her services to the RAF for ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) ferrying new and repaired aircraft to the frontlines. And in 1943 she returned to the USA and became director of the WASP group, supervising training of hundreds of women pilots.
Betty Huyler Gillies Betty Huyler Gillies (1908-1998) began flying in 1928, when she was a student nurse at Presbyterian Hospital, New York City. And after getting her license, she started building hours for her commercial license. In 1942 she was flying for Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp., when the States entered WW2. She had 1,400 flying hours to her credit with various aeronautical ratings and was one of the first to qualify for the original group of 25 female pilots, known as the WAFS – Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. The WAFS changed their name to WASPS (Women Airforce Service Pilots) in 1943. In March 1943 Gillies became the first female pilot to fly the P-47 Thunderbolt and in August that year, she qualified as one of the first female Captains on a Boeing B-17 heavy bomber. She made three deliveries of this aircraft that same month. Gillies was made squadron leader of the WASPS, attached to the 2nd Ferrying Group at New Castle Army Air Base. She ferried a wide range of aircraft until the group was disbanded in December 1944. Betty Huyler Gillies received several aeronautical honors during her long flying career and died age 90, in San Diego, California.
BESSIE COLEMAN Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) was the first African American female aviator and became one of the most famous women in early aviation history. Her passion for aviation was sparked after reading about pilots during WWI. However, when she tried to learn to fly, no American flight school would take her. So she learned French, moved to France to live and learned to fly at the famous Caudron School of Aviation. She later returned to the States and earned her living barnstorming and stunt flying. In 1926, she was killed during rehearsals for a flying display at the young age of 33.
RUSSIAN NIGHT WITCHES Their name came from the soft “whooshing” noise their planes made after idling their engines as they neared their targets and then gliding their way to their bomb release points. They were nicknamed the “Night Witches” by the Germans as this noise apparently reminded them of the sound of a witch’s broomstick. These female aviators were loathed and feared and every German pilot who downed a “witch” was awarded the Iron Cross. The 588th squadron was the most highly decorated female unit in the force, flying 30,000 missions over four years and dropping 23,000 tons of bombs on invading German armies.
AMELIA EARHART Amelia Earhart (1897-1939) was a famous American aviation pioneer and author. She was the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. For this she was awarded the US Distinguished Flying Cross. She went on to set lots of other records throughout her flying career. During her short lifetime, she used her passion for aviation and her celebrity status to push two causes that meant a lot to her; the advancement of women in aviation and the development of commercial aviation. In 1937, she attempted to fly around the globe flying a Lockheed Electra 10. She disappeared over the central Pacific near Howland Island and was never heard from or seen again.
“PANCHO” BARNES Florence Leontine Lowe Barnes (1901-1975) nicknamed ‘Pancho Barnes’, was a famous aviatrix, stunt pilot, preacher’s wife and owner of the Happy Bottom Riding Club Bar & Ranch. Also a close friend of Amelia Earhart and Chuck Yeager. Never one to let the grass grow under her feet, she created the first Pilot’s Union, to get fair pay rates for their work and took on the Mexican Army dressed as a man. She sued the US Military when they stole her land… and won. After learning to fly she became a test pilot for aircraft manufacturers and a stunt pilot in movies. She also made promotional aerial films and worked with Howard Hughes on his film Hell’s Angels. A larger than life character, Barnes died alone in 1975 after suffering major health problems.
The Military Place carefully researches each patch to achieve authentic replication of size and color. However, due to lack of official standardization during the era to which the patch relates, and variations found, some elements may differ from historical documentation. Image credits: Pinterest.com/WWII/WWI, Montrose Airport Museum, CO