Airline transport pilot and certified flight instructor Wang Zheng (also known as Julie Wang) became the first Asian woman to circumnavigate the Earth in an airplane, and the first Chinese woman to fly solo around the world, when she returned to the Texas town of Addison in the Dallas area 33 days after starting her […]
By Robert L. Sumwalt As Women’s History Month draws to a close, we at the NTSB reflect on the thousands of women who have made a profound impact on transportation—at the NTSB and in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. The contributions women have made to advance transportation safety, currently and throughout America’s history, are immeasurable […]
I was annoyed from the start by the attitude of doubt by the spectators that I would never really make the flight. This attitude made me more determined than ever to succeed.
— Harriet Quimby, just prior to her flight across the English Channel, 1912.
Photo Courtesy: Library of Congress
I might have been born in a hovel
but I am determined to travel with the wind and the stars.
— Jackie Cochran
Photo courtesy: This Day in Aviation
On June 3rd, 1964, Jackie Cochran breaks her own speed record with the Lockheed Starfighter averaging 1,127.4 miles per hour.
Photo Courtesy: Library of Congress
E. Lillian Todd is the first woman to design and build an airplane in 1906, though it never flew.
The path from dreams to success does exist.
May you have the vision to find it,
the courage to get onto it and,
the perseverance to follow it.
Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian astronaut, traveled aboard Soyuz-11 and traveled 7 days, 21 hours and 40 hours aboard Salyut 7.
That was 1984.
It was not until 1996, that the first Indian woman made it to space.
Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia
Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian American woman in space. Born in Karnal, India, she obtained a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh in 1982. She obtained her MS in Aerospace Engineering from University of Texas at Austin, a second MS and PhD in aerospace engineering from University of Colorado, Boulder. She also held a CFI for airplane and glider, and commercial license for single and multi-engine planes, seaplanes and gliders.
She was selected for her first flight at NASA astronaut corp in 1996 and flew her first mission aboard Columbia as part of STS-87. On January 16th, 2003 she returned aboard Columbia ironically, for her second and last mission on STS 107. She logged 30 days, 14 hours and 54 minutes in space.
Columbia, disintegrated in space during re-entry, over Texas, on February 1, 2003.
Sunitha Williams, is the other NASA astronaut of Indian origin.
Women in Aviation
Sarla Thakral: Indian Woman Pilot (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)
March is Women in History month and also Women of Aviation month. As I started to write this article, I realized I knew so little about women pilots of India. Even less who the first woman was to have taken flight.
There is a lot of misinformation about who the first women pilot of India was. Some sites (including wikipedia and IWPA) attribute this to Sarla Thakral while others claim it is Urmila Parikh. Based on the dates and veracity of the source, it appears Urmila Parikh was the first women pilot of India. She obtained her license in 1932 while Sarla Sharma ne` Thakral obtained it in 1936.
The first woman to obtain her commercial pilot’s license was Prem Thakur in 1948. She later started flying for Deccan Airlines. In 1956, Durba Bannerjee became the first woman inducted into the Indian Airlines and in 1990, Nivedita Bhasin became the youngest woman to command a jet at the age of 26. She was also the first woman check pilot for A300. The first Indian woman to obtain an FAA pilot’s license in 1967 was Chanda Buddhabatti, who started the Indian Women Pilots Association.
It was interesting to learn that the growth of women pilots in India is happening faster than the rest of the world. About 11.6% of the pilots in India are women. The last five years, almost 14.7% of the commercial licenses’ issued were issued to women. More than 48% of the workforce in airline industry is composed of women.
- India currently has 586 women pilots out of a total of 5050 pilots in the country
- Of whom 187 are commanders. Globally there are 480 women commanders.
- Of whom 399 are co-pilots.
Unfortunately, India still has no general aviation presence.
I learned to watch, to put my trust in other hands than mine. I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know — that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it. These I learned at once. But most things come harder.
Beryl Markham, West with the Night
How is it possible to bring order out of memory? I should like to begin at the beginning, patiently, like a weaver at his loom. I should like to say, “This is the place to start; there can be no other.”
But there are a hundred places to start for there are a hundred names…
So the name shall be Nungwe:
Type of aircraft: Avro Avian
Journey — Nairobi to Nungwe
Time — 3 hrs 40 min
Pilot — Self
So begins, West with the Night by Beryl Markham.
It was one of the first books written by an Aviatrix, that I read after I obtained my private pilot license. Not the least because, there is some overlap with people and places, with the book that became a popular movie, “Out of Africa” written by Isak Dinesen.
Flying in early 20th century was precious. Being a women, and flying in early 20th century was incredible!
The book, West with the Night, covers the authors experiences of living and flying in Kenya, Nairobi, Tanzania and more. If the mention of Kifaroo or Muthaiga club makes you nostalgic, this might be a book for you. If you are a fan of Out of Africa and the BBC TV series In the Heat of the Sun, this might be the book for you.
On September 4th, 1936 Beryl Markham took off from Abingdon, England and after a 20 hour flight, crash landed in Nova Scotia, Canada. She was the first women to cross the Atlantic solo. She was the first women to fly from England to North America, non-stop, from east to west.
You can read all about the adventure in the book.
The book can be purchased as hardcover, paperback, audio or Kindle edition. Here is the description from Amazon:
Women History Month
March is women history month, celebrating great women throughout history who made a difference. March is also Women in Aviation month. Aviatrix around the world not only remember and honor women aviation giants, but also organize and promote many events to encourage other women into aviation.
Photo courtesy: Early Aviators
On March 8, 1910, Raymonde de Larocha became the first women to obtain her fixed wing pilot’s license at the age of 24. She learned to fly with Charles Voisin on the grounds of Challons, in France. After obtaining her license, she participated in the Reims meet, the only women to do so. She crashed and was seriously injured. After a long recovery, she went on to win the Femina Cup for the longest endurance of 4 hours nonstop flight. In 1919, she set the record for altitude, 15,700ft. That same summer, she perished in a crash, while flying as a copilot on a test flight at Le Bourget airport in France.
Each year, the Women of Aviation Worldwide organizes events the first week of March to commemorate the first women pilot and to inspire women into aviation. A popular event in March is the Fly It Forward event, where pilots give girls and women an opportunity to take flight at a local airport. Check your local area for events at your location.
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is hosting their Women in Aviation and Space Heritage day on March 14.