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Women of Aviation Collection

Welcome to the Women of Aviation collection. Today an aviatrix, or female aviator, may seem like nothing out of the ordinary, but women like Jacqueline Cochran, Amelia Earhart, and Evelyn “Bobbi” Trout overcame many obstacles, such as sexism, negative stereotypes, and even physical inabilities, to help female aviators get to where they are today. Through this collection you will learn more about the achievements female aviators have accomplished and how they overcame the obstacles standing before them. Below are brief biographies on women highlighted.

  To view Women of Flight Finding Guide, go HERE.

To view archival images on Flickr, go HERE.

Amelia Earhart  Amelia Earhart was born July 4th, 1897 in Atchison Kansas. After given a ride by pilot Frank Hawks, she knew she wanted to fly. Amelia became one of the most famous female aviators in history after becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic on May 20th, 1932. But before she flew across the Atlantic, Amelia had set a world altitude record of 14,000 ft. on October 22, 1922. The following year, she became the 16th woman to receive a pilot’s license on May 15th. Her other achievements, are first woman to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean from Honolulu to Oakland California, and first person to fly solo from Mexico City to Newark. However, Amelia wanted to become the first woman to fly around the world, and on June 1st, 1937, she left with navigator Fred Noonan from Miami. On June 9th, the two landed in Lae New Guinea with having completed all but 7,000 miles. July 2nd, the next destination was a small island called Howland, but because of poor weather conditions and poor visibility, Amelia attempted to get help by radio, and the last report heard was at 8:45 and Amelia was not heard from again after. Over $4 million was spent searching for her, and it was the most extensive in naval history, but the U.S had to call off search. 

Anna Fisher Born August 24th, 1949, in New York City Anna Fisher attended UCLA and received a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry in 1971, and later earned a Master of Science in Chemistry and a PhD of Medicine in 1971. In January, 1978, NASA selected Fisher as an astronaut candidate. Fisher served as a mission specialist on STS-51A which was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on November 8, 1984, and she was part of the first space salvage mission in history when the crew retrieved the palapa B-2 and Westar VI satellites. After her first flight, she logged a total of 192 hours in space. Fisher also served as a representative on the crew procedures board, and served on the astronaut selection board for the class of 1987 after working on the Challenger before the accident. 

Barbara Ann Allen (Rainey)  Born on August 20th, 1948 in Bethesda Naval Hospital, Barbara grew up in a military family. Barbara was the first female naval aviator, designated at a ceremony at Corpus Christi, Texas on February 22, 1974. She received her naval aviator Wings of Gold and died in a crash while training touch and go landings. 

Barbara Jayne Barbara Jayne was one of three of the women who were test pilots for Northrop Grumman Corporation during World War 2. These test pilots would fly F6F Hellcats, one of the most important aircraft of the war, right off the assembly lines. 

Bessie Coleman Born January 26th, 1892, Bessie Coleman was the first African American, man or woman, to receive an international pilot’s license. Because of her gender and race, all aviation schools denied her acceptance, so she taught herself French and moved to France to earn a pilot’s license at Caudron's Brother's School of Aviation in 7 months. Bessie specialized in barnstorming, parachuting, and stunt flying. In 1922, she flew publicly, and it was the first public flight by an African American woman in America. Four years later, on April 30th during rehearsal she died in an accident. 

Betty Gillies Born January 1st, 1908, Betty Gillies spent her life in aviation. She was one of the original WASP's and was named commander by December of 1942, and flew for Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation when the U.S. entered WW2. She was a member of the Ninety-Nines, and served as president from 1939-1941. She also was the chairman of the All Women's Transcontinental Air Race from 1953-1961. After 50 years of flying, Betty stopped in 1986 because of vision problems. 

Betty Wharton Born in 1926 in Texas, Betty moved to San Diego in 1936 and became a member of the San Diego Charter of the Ninety-Nines, and served one term as a member of the international board of directors. She also served as member of the Powder Puff Derby board for 9 years.

Blanche Noyes Taught how to fly by her husband, Blanche Noyes soloed her first plane in February 15, 1929 and earned license in July making her the first woman pilot in the Cleveland area. Her aviation career involved being a demonstration pilot for Standard Oil in 1931. Until 1935 she flew with various corporations, then summer of 1936 joined Air Making Group of the Bureau of Air Commerce. The same year, she co-piloted for Louis Thaden in the 1936 Bendix Trophy race, which they, won making them the first women to win the Bendix Trophy race. In the Women's Air Derby from Santa Monica to Cleveland, Blanche placed fourth. In 1970, she was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Blanche was the first woman to receive a gold medal from the commerce department and for many years was the only woman allowed to fly government aircraft. 

Bonnie Dunbar Born March 3, 1949 in Sunnyside Washington, Bonnie Dunbar became a NASA astronaut in 1981. She served as a mission specialist on STS 61-A in 1985, STS-32 in 1990, and STS-71 in 1995. She was a payload commander on STS-50 in 1992 and STS-89 in 1998. A couple more of her experiences were on STS 61-A Challenger, STS-32 Columbia, STS-50 Columbia, STS-71 Atlantic, and STS-89 Endeavor. Bonnie was inducted into the Women in Technology International hall of fame in 2000 

Evelyn "Bobbi" Trout Born January 7, 1906 in Greenup, Illinois, Evelyn "Bobbi" Trout first took flying lessons on New Year's Day, 1928. She received her solo certificate on April 30 and pilots ID from U.S. Department of Commerce on September 1, 1928. The same year at age 22, she set the solo endurance record for women at twelve hours and eleven minutes. Soon after, a woman named Elinor Smith beat Evelyn's endurance record but Evelyn made a second attempt, and beat Elinor's time by flying seventeen hours. Evelyn broke the altitude record for light class aircraft when she reached altitude of 15,200 ft. Evelyn wanted to fly a new plane, the Golden Eagle Chief in 1929, and the only chance she got to fly it was if she participated in the first All Women’s Transcontinental Air Race (AWTAR). She agreed, and had the fastest engine plane in the light class. After race, Evelyn made an agreement with Elinor Smith, to attempt an endurance refueling flight, which they began on November 27, 1929. With this flight they set a new world record by staying up in the air for 42 hours three and a half minutes, and it was the first refueling endurance flight made by women. Two years later on January 4, 1931, Evelyn left with Edna May to break the previous fueling flight record set, and within two day they broke the record. Three days later, January 9, the engine began to run poorly, so they were forced to land, but had set a new record of 122 hours and 50 minutes. Evelyn received many awards, but the most notable are: the Federation's Medallion presented by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale which is the highest honor and a representative of King Carol of Romania presented a Royal Decree of The Aviation Cross for pilots who have made cord flights. Only three of these decrees were ever given, the other two were given to Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart. 

Hanna Reitsch  Born March 29, 1912 in Hirschberg, Silesia, Hanna Reitsch was one of the first Germans to fly a glider over the alps, and set a world long distance record, winning the National Soaring Contest in which she was the only woman contestant in 1937.Hanna was the first woman to be awarded the military flying medal, and February 1938 became first woman to fly a helicopter inside a building and demonstrated the FA-61 to Charles Lindbergh. While flying the Messerschmitt Me-163, Hanna almost died in her last of three flights because of the cockpit arrangement and her size. Through her life, she set more than fifty records, and awarded prestigious awards, such as a special diamond-encrusted version of the Gold Medal for Military Flying by Reichsmarshall Göring, and the Iron Cross First Class. Although associated with Nazi officials, Hanna was slow to realize their actions and continually argued that she fought for Germany, not the Nazi's.

Harriet Quimby Born May 11, 1875 in Michigan, Harriet Quimby learned to fly at the Moisant School of Aviation and was America's first licensed female pilot. On April 16, 1912 she became the first woman to pilot her own plane across the English Channel. On July 1, 1912, both Harriet and passenger William Willard died from being thrown from plane after it went into a nose dive. 

Helen R. Dick Born 1919, Helen R. Dick received her private certificate for airplanes in 1940. She was accepted by the WASP's and joined the SPAR's, a woman's branch of the Air force, then briefly worked for Convair. To get more flight time because it was expensive, Helen joined the Associated Glider Clubs of Southern California, and she was able to get flight time for free, or at a very low price. Helen was the tenth American woman to receive a silver badge, 3rd woman to receive a gold badge, and first American to receive diamond badge. She was inducted into the United States Soaring Hall of fame in 1968 and was the second woman in hall of fame. She was the first woman to receive the Warren E. Eaton Memorial Trophy in 1972. She died December 15th, 2012 after having a long illness. 

Janice Brown Born June 7, 1948, Janice brown received a pilot’s certificate in 1975, and in 1980-1981 was selected to pilot the world’s first solar powered aircraft because of her small build. In the Challenger she attained an altitude record of 15,300 feet in early 1981. 

Jacqueline Cochran Born May 11, 1910 in Pensacola Florida, Jacqueline Cochran earned her pilots license in 1932, and won Bendix Transcontinental Air Race three years later, she is the first woman to win this race. Three years later she set transcontinental record three years later. Jacqueline Cochran was very active during WW2, serving in the British Air Force Auxiliary and leading WASP training program. 1945 she was awarded with the Distinguished Service Medal. During 1953, Jacqueline flew an F-86 Sabre fighting plane, and became the first woman to fly faster than the speed of sound, then flew faster than two times the speed of sound in 1964. She is believed to have set over 200 records in her lifetime. 

Joellen Oslund Joellen Oslund was the Navy's first woman aviator ever assigned to duty aboard a Navy ship, and became the Navy’s first female helicopter pilot in 1974. Joellen was the Navy's fourth female naval aviator and one of the very few women selected for promotion to Captain. 

Judith Resnik Born April 5, 1949 in Akron, Ohio, Judith Resnik was selected by NASA as an astronaut candidate in January of 1978. She worked on projects supporting orbit development such as experiment software, Remote Manipulator System, and training techniques. She flew as a mission specialist on STS 41-D on August 30, 1984, and STS 51-L on January 28, 1986.

Kathryn Sullivan Born October 3, 1951 in Patterson, New Jersey, Kathryn Sullivan was the first American woman to walk in space, and was inducted into Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2004. Her expedition included serving as a crew member on the STS-41G October 5, 1984 and STS-31 in April of 1990, and was a payload commander on STS-45, the first space lab mission dedicated to NASA's Mission to planet earth. Kathryn held high positions in different panels and councils. In 1985 she was appointed to the National Commission on Space by President Reagan. March 1988, she was appointed Chief of naval operations Executive Panel. In 2003, Ohio governor Robert Taft appointed her to Chair of the Ohio Aerospace and Defense Advisory Council. 

Laura Ingalls Laura Ingalls was a stunt flier and the first woman to make a solo transcontinental flight, which she started October 5 and completed October 9, 1935. In 1934 she flew around South and with this flight she set the woman's flight distance record of 17,000 miles. As a stunt flyer she had performed 980 continuous loops on May 26, 1930, in Muskogee and 714 barrel rolls at Lambert field in St. Louis, on August 13, 1930. During World War 2, she was convicted and imprisoned for 29 months, charged with being an unregistered agent of the Nazi German Government. 

Margaret Rhea Sheldon  Born November 8, 1947 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Margaret Rhea Sheldon was selected by NASA and became a trainee in 1978. She then continued to become a crew member on the Discover mission on April 12, 1985, the Columbia June 5, 1991, and the STS-40 Spacelab Life Sciences, and served as a payload commander on the STS-58 Spacelab Life Sciences-2.

Mary "Carlotta the Lady Aeronaut" Myers Mary Myers' husband, Carl Meyers, was a scientist working to develop a balloon that would carry a person, but was flexible enough to fold and store. His wife helped by stitching the balloons, but one day she decided to test the balloon herself, and to fly it. On the Fourth of July, 1880, Mary (who changed her name to Carlotta because Mary was too boring,) made her first flight. She flew over Little Falls New York where over 15,000 people were waiting to see a woman flying a balloon. On her first flight, Carlotta had issues. She had gone up to high and got lost in a cloud, and when she came out of the cloud she landed on a farmer’s field who felt she was too young to be far away from home alone, and sent her back by horse and buggy. She made two more flights afterwards, the second going well with no problems and staying in the air for over an hour. Her third flight went bad when she took off before a storm came in. The storm caused her to rise against her will, and no matter how much air she released from the balloon, and she was stuck in dense turbulence unable to see. When she was able to come down, she ended up flying too close to the woods, and she got stuck in trees. When hunters found her, they got a ladder for her to come down, but she refused to leave her balloon, so the hunters cut down enough trees for the balloon to fit. In 1886 she flew from Franklin Pennsylvania to test new light weight balloon, and believed to have risen 4 miles above the ground, a new record for balloon height. 

Meredith Campbell  Born 1917, Meredith Campbell knew she wanted to fly since age 4. Because of the cost of flying, Meredith decided she wanted to join Jacqueline Cochran's group that was accepted into a military base in Sweetwater Texas. She was unable to join this group though. Because of a tooth molar that needed to be filled, and her lack of money, she ended up working at the Flight Training Command Headquarters in Fort Worth Texas until she could pay for dental work. In 1943 she could afford to have her tooth fixed, and went to Sweetwater. She was later discharged from WASP's after instructor felt she wasn't strong enough anymore after being involved in a plane accident.

Nancy Harkness Love Born February 14, 1914 in Houghton, Michigan, Nancy Harkness Love was just sixteen when she took her first flight lessons and earned her pilot's license. At 22 she married Robert Love, which whom she built a successful aviation company in Boston that she piloted for. Others she flew for where the Bureau of Air Commerce, she was a test pilot from 1937-1938, and as a test pilot for the three wheel landing gear. She also worked as a navigational pilot, helping mark town names on water towers. While she was commander of the WAF's, she recruited 29 female test pilots to join. The WAF's merged with the Women's Flying Training Detachment, and became the WASP's on August 5, 1943. Nancy was the first woman to be checked out in a P-51, and the first woman in U.S. Military history to fly the B-25 with which she flew coast to coast in record time, and was the first woman to be checked out in a B-17. She was awarded the Air Medal for her “Operational leadership in the successful training and assignment of over 300 qualified women fliers in the flying of advanced military aircraft”. She died October 22, 1976 of cancer.

Florence "Pancho" Barnes  Born July 14, 1901 in Pasadena, California, Florence "Pancho" Barnes made her first solo flight after only 6 hours of instructional flying. She participated in the 1929 first Women's Transcontinental Air Derby, but was forced to withdraw because she crashed into a vehicle on the runway. The next year she participated again, and set a new world record in average speed for women, having gone 196.19 mph. Florence was the first female stunt pilot in movies, such as Howard Hughes' "Hell's Angels", leading her to begin her own company to help stunt fliers get jobs and to help provide Hollywood with stunt fliers. In 1930 she became the first woman to fly from Los Angeles to Mexico City and stole the speed record from Amelia Earhart. The next year, she organized a new cross country race for women. A year later she was awarded two trophies for her flying accomplishments by the Governor of California. She, along with other female pilots, also organized a Woman's Air Reserve in hopes it would generate equal flying qualifications for women. 1975 she died alone in Martha's Vineyard due to undiagnosed thyroid problems.

Phoebe Omlie Born 1902 in Des Moines, Iowa, Phoebe Omlie worked with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and Civil Aeronautics Administration. After gaining an interest for aviation at her first airshow, on the day before graduation, she went to a local airfield and begged the manager to have a pilot take her up. The manager finally agreed, and she flew up. After her ride she earned enough money to buy her own plane, a Curtiss JN-4D, a "Jenny". She made a deal with Fox, allowing them to film her wing walking and parachuting. She hired a man named Vernon Omlie, who she later married in February of 1922, to be her pilot. In 1920 she began her flying circus, the first ever owned by a woman, and during her act she would hang by her teeth, wing-walk, and parachute. She later hired another stunt flier, Glenn Messer, to work on a stunt she wanted to attempt by transferring from one plane to another. During a parachuting stunt attempt on July 10, 1922, Phoebe jumped but the parachute did not open correctly, she free fell for 5,000 feet, when she finally reached the ground she had set a new world record for women's parachute jump, having jumped 15,200 feet. In 1928 in the National Reliability Tour for the Edsel Ford Trophy, she was not only the only female competitor, but became the first woman to fly over the Rockies in a light aircraft. She also participated in the Powder Puff Derby a year later and won the light plane division. The same year she joined the Ninety-Nines. In 1930 she was the winner of the Dixon Derby. 1931, she was the overall winner of the Transcontinental Handicap Air Derby, and gained the attention of Eleanor Roosevelt. Roosevelt asked Omlie to campaign for her husband. Omlie became the first woman to hold an official post in connection with aviation in the federal government after doing a successful job on the Roosevelt campaign and getting officially appointed to the NACA. After the death of her husband, Omlie went back to Tennessee and quite job at NACA in Washington. While in Tennessee, Omlie co-authored the state’s new aviation act, helped establish a system of state supported schools that trained civilian pilots, and introduced the first vocational courses in aviation in public schools which became a part of the curriculum. In 1941 she returned to Washington to help with America in the war as a Senior Private Flying Specialist of the Civil Aeronautics Authority. In the first few months of the same year, she had established 66 schools in 46 states. Eleven years later, in 1952, Phoebe left aviation for good claiming the government was over regulating aviation. 

Ruth Elder Being an actress was not enough for determined Ruth Elder. After Charles Lindbergh’s flight, Ruth Elder’s biggest goal was to become “Lady Lindy”, and to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. After getting sponsored by businessmen, she bought a new Stinson Detroiter for the flight. Five months after Lindbergh’s flight, Ruth Elder left with instructor George Haldeman from Lakeland Florida, their destination was Portugal. The plane had suffered oil pressure failure, causing them to land in the ocean. Their survival was due to the inflatable rubber suits they took aboard with them. But Ruth Elder had almost succeeded; she had 300 miles left before plane began leaking. Ruth was a member of the ninety-nines until her death in 1977.

Rosemary Bryant Mariner Born 1953, Rosemary Bryant Mariner was one of the first 8 women to enter military pilot training, the first women to fly a frontline light attack aircraft, and one of the first of the female military aviators to fly tactical jet aircraft. In 1990, she became the first woman to command an operational aviation squadron, and selected for major aviation shore command. 

Sally Ride Born May 26, 1951 in Los Angeles, Sally Ride double majored in Physics and English at Stanford. On June 18th, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space; she helped deploy satellites as a mission specialist. Afterwards, she went to space again a second time, and was supposed to go on third but didn’t after Challenger explosion on January 28, 1986. Instead she served on the Presidential Commission investigating the explosion. In 2001, she created a program to help girls pursue their interest in the field of math and science. Sally Ride has received the NASA Space Flight Medal and NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Award, and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and Astronaut Hall of Fame. She died July 23, 2012 because of pancreatic cancer. 

Shannon Lucid Born January 14, 1943, Shannon Lucid was the only American woman to serve aboard Russian Mir Space Station. She served aboard for 188 days, longer than any American on vehicle. Shannon was selected by NASA to become an astronaut in August 1979. She served on the STS-51G Discover from June 17 to June 24 in 1985, STS-34 Atlantis from October 18 to October 23 in 1989, STS-43 Atlantis from August 2 to August 11 in 1991, and STS-58 Columbia from October 18 to November 1 in 1993. Shannon holds U.S. single mission space flight endurance record on Russian Space Station Mir.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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