fbpx

Women’s History Month: A timeline of women in aviation

This is a timeline of women in aviation which describes many of the firsts and achievements of women as pilots and other roles in aviation. Women who are part of this list have piloted vehicles, including hot-air balloons, gliders, dirigibles and helicopters. Some women have been instrumental in support roles. Others have made a name for themselves as parachutists and other forms of flight-related activities.

Bessie Coleman and her plane in 1922. (Courtesy photograph)

1909

— Katharine Wright, sister of Wilbur and Orville Wright, is instrumental in advancing her brothers’ aviation business. She is the first woman invited to a meeting of the Aero-Club de France and is awarded the Legion d’honneur in recognition for her contributions to early aviation.

— Oct. 27: Sarah Van Deman becomes the first woman to fly in an airplane in the United States. She was taken up as a passenger by Wilbur Wright at the College Park Airport in College Park, Md.

1910

— Sept. 10: Bessie Raiche of United States is credited with the first solo airplane flight by a woman in the United States.

1911

— Aug. 1: Harriet Quimby becomes the first American and the world’s seventh woman to earn a pilot’s license.

Harriet Quimby in 1911 (Courtesy photograph)

1912

— April 16: Harriet Quimby is the first woman to fly across the English Channel.

— Hilda Hewlett is the first woman to co-found an aircraft factory.

1913

— Ruth Law is the first woman to fly at night.

1921

— Bessie Coleman is the first African American to earn a pilot’s license.

1928

— Janet Bragg is the first woman admitted to the Curtiss-Wright School of Aeronautics.

1929

— The Federation Aeronautique Internationale creates a new category for records set by women pilots.

— Florence Lowe “Pancho” Barnes becomes the first female stunt pilot, working in Hollywood.

— Aug. 18: First Women’s Air Derby is held in the United States. Louise Thaden is the winner.

— Nov. 2: The Ninety Nines are founded to create a group to support and mentor women in aviation.

Hazel Ying Lee, one of the first two Chinese Americans in the Women Air Force Service Pilots. Maggie Gee and Hazel Ying Lee were the first two Chinese Americans in the Women Air Force Service Pilots. Members of the WASP program were the first brave women to fly American military aircraft, forever changing the role of women in aviation. Their dedicated service and record of excellence served as a gateway for future Airmen. (Courtesy photograph)

1930

— Elinor Smith and Evelyn Trout of the United States are the first women to refuel a plane in flight.

— May: Laura Ingalls, a distance and stunt pilot from New York, set a stunt record of 980 consecutive, continuous loops in a little less than 4 hours at Hatbox Field in Muskogee, Okla.

1931

— Anne Morrow Lindbergh becomes the first U.S. woman to earn a glider pilots license.

1932

— Amelia Earhart is the first woman pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

1933

— Fay Gillis Wells is the first American woman to fly a Soviet-made airplane.

1934

— Dec. 31: Helen Richey becomes the first women to pilot a commercial airliner in the United States. She later resigned because she was not allowed into the all-male pilot’s union and was rarely allowed to fly.

1935

— Amelia Earhart is the first woman to fly a solo round-trip from Hawaii to the continental United States.

1937

— Willa Brown is the first African American woman to earn her pilot’s license in the United States.

1941

— Jacqueline Cochran of the United States is the first woman to fly a bomber across the North Atlantic.

Pancho Barnes (Courtesy photograph)

1942

— Sept. 14: Gen. Henry Arnold approves the program that created the United States Army Air Forces Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD).

— June 1: Mary Chance VanScyoc becomes the United States’ first female civilian air-traffic controller.

1943

— Janet Bragg becomes the first African American woman to earn a commercial pilot’s license.

— Aug. 5: The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program is formed in the United States by merging WFTD and WAFS.

1944

— Dec. 20: The WASP is disbanded and the women in the program provided no military veteran benefits for their service.

1949

— Dorothy Layne McIntyre becomes the first African American woman licensed as a pilot by the Civil Aeronautics Authority.

On Dec. 31, 1934, Helen Richey became the first women to pilot a commercial airliner in the United States. She later resigned because she was not allowed into the all-male pilot’s union and rarely allowed to fly. (Courtesy photograph)

1953

— May 18: Jacqueline Cochran becomes the first woman to break the sound barrier.

1962

— Jacqueline Cochran is the first woman to fly a jet across the Atlantic Ocean.

1963

— Valentina Tereshkova becomes the world’s first woman to fly in space.

— Betty Miller is the first woman to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean.

1964

— Geraldine Mock is the first woman to fly around the world.

1973

— Bonnie Tiburzi is the first female pilot for American Airlines and the first female pilot for a major American commercial airline, as well as the first woman in the world to earn a Flight Engineer rating on a turbo-jet aircraft.

1975

— Capt. Jane L. Holley, U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School Class of 74B, became the first woman to graduate from the school as an engineer.

1976

— Emily Howell Warner becomes the first woman in the United States to work as an airline captain.

Amelia Earhart standing under nose of her Lockheed Model 10-E Electra. In 1932, Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. (Courtesy photograph)

1977

— Sept. 2: Ten women graduate from UPT Class 77-08, earning their silver wings for the U.S. Air Force. The women who start and graduate are Connie Engel, Kathy LaSauce, Mary Donahue, Susan Rogers, Christine Schott, Sandra Scott, Victoria Crawford, Mary Livingston, Carol Scherer and Kathleen Rambo.

— November: President Carter signs a bill giving all former WASPs World War II veterans’ status.

1978

— A group of former WASPs form the Women’s Military Pilots Association (WMPA).

1979

— November: Marcella Ng becomes the first African American to become a pilot in the U.S. military.

— The United States Navy allows women to train as flight officers.

1980

— The U.S. Air Force Academy graduates its first female officers. One-hundred-fifty-seven women entered the school in 1976 in a class of approximately 1,500. Of those 157 women, 97 graduated.

In 1937, Willa Brown became the first African American woman to earn her pilot’s license in the United States. (Courtesy photograph)

1981

— June: Mary Crawford becomes the first women’s flight officer in the U.S. Navy.

— Olga Custodio becomes the first Hispanic female to graduate from the United States Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training program and the first female T-38 Instructor Pilot at Laughlin AFB, Texas.

1983

— March 21, 1983. A U.S. Navy aircrew comprising aircraft commander Lt. Elizabeth Toedt, Lt. J.G. Cheryl A. Martin, and flight crew AD3 Gina Greterman and ADAN Robin Banks, perform the first all-female Aircraft Carrier Landing.

1984

— Beverly Burns becomes the first woman to be the captain on a 747 cross-country trip.

— Lynn Ripplemeyer is the first captain of a 747 on a transatlantic flight.

1986

— Beverley Bass becomes the first female captain of a commercial plane at American Airlines.

— Dec. 30: Beverley Bass captains the first all-female crew in the history of commercial jet aviation, on an American Airlines flight from Washington, D.C., to Dallas, Texas.

Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of the Canadair F-86 with Chuck Yeager. (Photo courtesy Air Force Flight Test Center History Office)

1987

— British Airways hires its first woman pilot, Lynne Barton.

— Continental Airlines ñ “The first all-women crew to command a wide-bodied commercial aircraft touched down in Sydney yesterday ñ and they were on time. Captain Lennie Borenson, 39, first officer Dorothy Clegg, 26, and second officer Karlene Ciprtano, 25, taxied their Continental DC-10 to the terminal at 6am after leaving Hawaii about 8pm on Thursday (Sydney Time). The high flying trio were backed by 12 female cabin crew for the trip across the Pacific into aviation history.”

1988

— The Women’s Military Pilots Association changes its name to the Women Military Aviators (WMA).

1990

— Women in Aviation International (WAI) is first organized to help women advance their careers in aviation.

1991

— Patty Wagstaff is the first woman to earn the title of U.S. National Aerobatic Champion.

— July 31: The United States Senate votes “overwhelmingly” to allow American military women to fly aircraft in combat situations.

1992

— Barbara Harmer completes her training and joins the Concorde fleet as the first woman to fly the supersonic airliner as a line pilot.

1993

— Jeannie Leavitt becomes the first fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. She later went on to command the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

— Matice Wright becomes the first African American female flight officer in the United States Navy.

— Lt. Col. Susan J. Helms became the first military astronaut to enter space when Space Shuttle Endeavour launched on a five-day mission.

Astronaut Eileen M. Collins, mission commander, looks over a procedures checklist at the commander’s station on the forward flight deck of the Space Shuttle Columbia on Flight Day 1. The most important event of this day was the deployment of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the world’s most powerful X-Ray telescope. Collins became the first female pilot of the Space Shuttle in 1995 aboard STS-63, which involved a rendezvous between Discovery and the Russian space station Mir. (NASA photograph)1995

— Eileen Collins became the first female pilot of the Space Shuttle in 1995 aboard STS-63, which involved a rendezvous between Discovery and the Russian space station Mir. In recognition of her achievement as the first female Shuttle Pilot, she received the Harmon Trophy. She was also the pilot for STS-84 in 1997.

— Sarah Deal becomes the United States Marine Corps’ first female aviator.

1997

— Karen Brannen becomes the first female U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot to earn her “wings of gold” as a strike fighter pilot.

— March: The Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance is formed.

— Jennifer Murray is the first woman to go around the world in a helicopter.

1998

— Women fighter pilots in the United States military fly the first combat missions off aircraft carriers.

— Dec. 17: Kendra Williams is credited as the first woman pilot to launch missiles in combat during Operation Desert Fox.

Astronaut Eileen M. Collins, mission commander, looks over a procedures checklist at the commander’s station on the forward flight deck of the Space Shuttle Columbia on Flight Day 1. The most important event of this day was the deployment of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the world’s most powerful X-Ray telescope. Collins became the first female pilot of the Space Shuttle in 1995 aboard STS-63, which involved a rendezvous between Discovery and the Russian space station Mir. (NASA photograph)

1999

— Eileen Collins became the first female commander of the Space Shuttle.

2000

— Betty Mullis becomes the first woman and pilot in the United States Air Force to become a brigadier general.

2003

— Vernice Armour becomes the first African American combat pilot to fly during the Iraq War.

2009

— Virginie Guyot of France is the first woman to lead a national aerobatic team — Patrouille de France,.

A close up of 1st Lt. Jeannie Flynn, the first F-15E female pilot, sits in the cockpit as she performs engine start. 1st Lt. Flynn will be assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron for six months of tactical training.

2010

— The women who worked as WASP pilots are given the Congressional Gold Medal by the United States Congress. More than 250 women attended the ceremony.

— Col. Dawn M. Dunlop assumed command of the 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., the first woman to command the wing. She was also the first woman to fly the F-22 Raptor when she flew Raptor Number 4006 at Edwards.

2013

— The largest head-down freefly formation with only women is accomplished in Arizona with 63 women from the United States, Canada, Mexico, England, France and Russia.

2020

— Col. Sabrina Pabon assumes command of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., the first woman commandant in the school’s history.

More Stories