No Fear of Flying Here: 12 Women Aviators to Celebrate

Bessie Coleman and her plane, 1922

August 19, 2014

Imagine what bravery it took to become a pilot when aviation was in its infancy, especially for women who were never expected to fly, let alone be pilots. Even today, the skies remain male-dominated. By the end of 2013, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, women still only made up 6.6 percent of pilots worldwide.

August 19 is National Aviation Day in the United States. In honor of this celebration, I couldn’t resist highlighting some of our female American aviation pioneers, women who have inspired generations of aviators.

  1. By NASA, via Wikimedia Commons

    By NASA, via Wikimedia Commons

    An actress, writer, and photojournalist, Harriet Quimby became the first American woman to earn a pilot’s license and cross the English Channel.

  2. A woman of African American descent wasn’t allowed to earn a pilot’s license in the United States, so Bessie Coleman went to France and became the first African American of any gender to earn her international pilot’s license in 1921.
  3. The first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic? Why Amelia Earhart, of course.
  4. Another Amelia Earhart (no relation) flew around the world and landed successfully in Oakland, California, on June 11, 2014, ending a journey that she hoped would inspire female aviators.
  5. We also honor the American first woman to go into space, Sally Ride. “We remember Sally Ride not just as a national hero, but as a role model to generations of young women,” said President Barack Obama upon Ride’s death in 2012.

And then there are the many women aviators AAUW helped support.

    1. Dora Dougherty, 1966 AAUW Achievement Award winner, was one of two women selected to test fly the B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber during World War II. Many men were initially afraid of flying the B-29 due to its reputation for unreliability, so Dougherty and her colleague were charged with showing the men how it was done.
    2. Judith Resnik, an AAUW Fellow, became the second American woman in space and died in the 1986 Challenger explosion.
    3. Recipient of a 1998–99 AAUW Career Development grant,Graciela Tiscareno-Sato, is a U.S. Air Force veteran, author of a children’s book Goodnight, Captain Mama, and a White House Champion of Change. She joined the ROTC while earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley; was commissioned as an Air Force officer; and graduated from navigator flight school at the top of her class.

Will you help us continue our support of women in aviation?

girl astronaut thumbnail
Your membership support will fuel the next generation of Bessies, Amelias, Doras, and Maes.

  1. 2007 AAUW Achievement Award winner and the first African American woman in space aboard NASA’s space shuttle Endeavour, Mae Jemison carried Bessie Coleman’s picture with her on her first mission.
  2. Born and raised in Lima, Peru, Jessica J. Marquez, 2006–07 AAUW Selected Professions Fellow, did her doctoral research on improving and continuing human space flight. She now works at NASA.
  3. Since completing a bachelor’s degree, 2011–12 AAUW Career Development Grantee Chelsea Stein Engberg has been working in the aviation industry and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in aeronautical science and hoping to obtain her doctorate in order to increase aviation safety while promoting the involvement of women in the field of aviation.
  4. Pam Melroy, a 2014 Woman of Distinction, was a NASA astronaut and is one of only two women to have commanded a space shuttle. Before joining NASA, she blazed another path through the heavily male-dominated Air Force, serving as a fighter and test pilot.

These brave and trailblazing women are just an example of the brave and trailblazing women AAUW honors, inspires, and creates every day. And we need your help to continue doing so! Whether you’re interested in advocating by lending your voice to ours or programs like Tech Trek, which gives girls hands-on access to science and technology fields, or participating in our lively social media community, AAUW needs you to help continue our long tradition of paving the way for the next generation of fearless female flyers. Join us!

Christy Jones, CAE By:   |   August 19, 2014

Join the Conversation

You must be logged in to post a comment.