Fay Gillis Wells abandoned school to start flying in 1929. Three days after making her first solo trip, she was invited to be a passenger on an experimental aircraft where the pilot would be performing some aerobatics. On that day, she became the first woman to join the Caterpillar Club for pilots who parachute from a faulty airplane.
Alongside Amelia Earhart, she founded the 99s, an organization that aimed to foster camaraderie and promote opportunities for women in aviation. She helped create the International Forest of Friendship in Amelia Earhart’s birthplace, Atchison, Kansas.
A New Era of Women in Aviation
All throughout history, female pilots have played a part in revolutionizing the aviation industry. Amelia Earhart was just one of many influential women who pioneered the field.
Today the list is endless but here are a few more inspirational women we think you should meet.
The Baroness of Flight
On 8 March 1910, Baroness Raymonde de Laroche of France became the first woman to be awarded a pilot’s license by the Aeroclub de France. Her first flight with Wilbur Wright in 1908, sparked her fatal attraction to flying. She was a woman who loved living on the edge so flying a plane was fitting for her boisterous personality.
Laroche broke the women’s altitude record in 1919 by climbing to almost 13,000 feet. Two weeks later, her life tragically ended in a plane crash at Le Crotoy airfield, when a test pilot offered her a ride in an experimental Cauldron.
Wartime Flying Machine
Another original member of the 99s was Betty Huyler Gillies. She started flying in 1928, whilst studying as a nurse. Between 1939 and 1941 she was the president of the 99s. She dedicated her life to fighting for the equal rights of women in aviation.
Gillies became the first pilot to join the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron on 12 September 1942. In 1981, her work in World War II earned her the Elder Statesmen of Aviation Award from the National Aeronautic Association of the U.S.
In 1942, Willa Brown Chappell became the first African-American woman member of the Civil Air Patrol. She was also the first African-American woman in the United States to get a private pilot license. She later went on to receive her commercial pilot license.
Alongside her husband, she created the first U.S. government-approved school of aviation for black people. Brown dedicated her life to helping others realize their dream of flying.