Mary Westenra, daughter of the fifth Baron Rossmore, was born on December 1, 1890 in Rossmore Castle, Ireland. She married Sir Abraham ‘Abe’ Bailey, a wealthy South African mining magnate of British descent, in 1911. Mary volunteered to be an aviation technician when World War I began in 1914, and was stationed in Britain and France with units of the Royal Flying Corps.
She gained her pilot’s licence in 1927 and embarked on a record-breaking career:
Became the first woman to fly across the Irish Sea
Set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world height record of 5,268 metres in a light aircraft category
Set the record for the longest solo flight and the longest flight by a woman flying 8000 miles from Croydon, South London, England, to Cape Town, South Africa and a 10,000-mile return flight.
She won the Harmon Trophy as the world’s outstanding aviatrix in 1927 and 1928.
Mary Bailey was one of the finest women pilots and one of the most remarkable Irishwomen of the 20th century. She died on July 29, 1960, at the age of 69.
I might have been born in a hovel but I am determined to travel with the wind and the stars. — Jackie Cochran
Born Bessie Lee Pittman in Pensacola, FL in 1906, Jackie Cochran, was the youngest of five children. She rose from a poverty-stricken childhood to become one of history’s most accomplished female aviators. She worked in a cotton mill at the age of six, and labored at a series of jobs before answering her call to the air. She married Robert Cochran in 1920, and after the marriage ended with the death of Robert in 1925, she retained the name of Cochran and began using Jacqueline or Jackie as her name.
She learned to fly in 1932 at the Roosevelt Flying School in Long Island and pursued advanced flight instruction at Ryan School of Aeronautics going on to get her instrument, commercial and air transport pilot ratings. Some of her achievements included:
In 1934, she flew in the London, England to Melbourne, Australia race.
In 1935, she became the first woman to fly in the Bendix Trophy Race, which she won in 1938.
In 1937 she became the first woman to make a blind instrument landing.
In 1939-40 she set new women’s records in altitude and open class speed.
She was the first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic Ocean during World War II, leading to the formation of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) program.
In 1950, she received the Harmon Trophy as the Aviatrix of the Decade.
In 1953, she became the first woman to break the speed barrier.
In 1962, she subsequently set 73 records in three years.
In 1964, she exceeded Mach 2.
She was also the first woman to land and take off from an aircraft carrier
She was a sponsor of the Mercury 13 program, an early effort to test the ability of women to be astronauts. She served as the President of the Ninety Nines for two terms. She received the Distinguished Service Medal for her leadership of the WASP and three Distinguished Flying Cross awards for other records. She was also a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. Jackie Cochran also authored two autobiographies —The Stars at Noon and, with Mary Ann Bucknam Brinley, Jackie Cochran.
Jackie Cochran pioneered women’s aviation as one of the most prominent racing pilots of her generation.
Born in Atlanta, TX in 1892, Bessie Coleman was the first African American, and the first Native American woman pilot. She had twelve brothers and sisters. During World War I, when she learned that France was allowing women to learn flying, she became interested in becoming a pilot. Although she applied to many schools across the country, being a woman and African American she was at a disadvantage. She started learning French and applied to flight schools in France. She was accepted at the Caudron Brothers’ School of Aviation in Le Crotoy, France and received her international pilot’s license on June 15, 1921 from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Her dream was to own a plane and open her own flight school.
She performed her first public flight in 1922 and was famous for doing “loop-the-loops” and making the shape of an “8” in an airplane. She toured the country giving flight lessons, performing in flight shows, and encouraging African Americans and women to learn to fly. She suffered her first accident in 1923 when her engine stopped and was badly injured. She survived the accident and returned to flying performing dangerous tricks in 1925.
On April 30, 1926, while taking a test flight with a mechanic named William Wills who was at the helm, a loose wrench got stuck in the engine of the aircraft at about 3,000 feet. The aircraft was no longer controllable and flipped over. Unfortunately, Coleman was not wearing a seatbelt. Airplanes at that time did not have a roof or any protection and Coleman immediately fell out of the open plane and died.
March is Woman History Month and Women of Aviation Month.
Anne Baumgartner was born on August 27th 1918 in Augusta, GA. Her interest in aviation began when she learnt about Amelia Earheart in school. She learned to fly at Somerset Hills Airport in Basking Ridge, New Jersey and entered the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) training at Houston, TX in 1943. She was assigned to tow a target squadron at Camp Davis, North Carolina, flying Curtiss A-25s, and later transferred to Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, where she became the first and only female test pilot.
Some of the aircraft she flew included: T-7, AT-17, AT-10, C-45, C-47, A-24, A-25, B-25, B-26, B-17, B-29, P-38, P-40, P-47, P-51, YP-59A as well as foreign-made Avro Lancaster, deHavilland Mosquito, Spitfire, Junkers Ju-88 and the Canadian C-64. She became the first women to fly a jet when she test flew the YP-59A in 1944.
When the WASP was disbanded in 1944, she returned to flight instruction and writing for New York Times. She died in 2008 at the age of 90.
Aviation pioneer Neta Snook Southern was born in the city of Mount Carroll Illinois, in 1896. While best known for teaching Amelia Earhart how to fly, Southern also left behind a legacy of several other noteworthy aviation achievements. Southern graduated from Shimer School (now Shimer College) in Chicago in 1912. Three years later, she enrolled […]
Canadian aviation pioneer Lorna de Blicquy was born in 1931 near the town of Goderich in the province of Ontario. De Blicquy, who developed a strong interest in aviation after a cousin took her for a flight over the Canadian capital of Ottawa, started to take flying lessons when she was only 14. At the […]
Amelia Earhart was all very well, but did she cycle the Tour de France? Amy Johnson was pretty good but did she swim the length of the Seine? Jackie Cochran achieved a lot but was she the champion precision shooter of all France? No. And how many people fly in a supersonic Voodoo jet on their 80th birthday? The remarkable…