Women in Aviation: A Timeline

If you’ve followed our “Women in Aviation” blog series over the past few months, you’ve hopefully learned about some remarkable accomplishments by female pilots. Though we still have a lot of work to do, women have come a long way in the aviation industry. The following is a timeline that highlights some of the most important events for women in the history of aviation.

Ninth Century BCE

– The Greek myth about Daedalus and his son Icarus is one of the first stories of humans in flight.

Fifteenth Century CE

– Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), an artist and inventor, watches birds and sketches ornithopters and improves our understanding of human flight.

Eighteenth Century

– Sir George Caley (1773–1857) begins experimenting with gliders.

Nineteenth Century

– Otto Lilienthal (1848–1896) improves the glider and is called “the world’s first true aviator.”

– Airships are popular, but prove to be fairly dangerous.


– Orville and Wilber Wright build and fly the first airplane. Katharine Wright, their younger sister, is often called the “Third Wright Brother” for all her contributions in helping her brothers with the feat.


– A French woman named Elise Raymonde de Laroche (1886–1919) becomes the first female pilot.


– Harriet Quimby (1875–1912) becomes the first American woman to earn her pilot’s license. She is the first woman to fly at night and the first woman to fly solo over the English Channel.


– Bessie Coleman (1892–1926) becomes the first African-American to earn a pilot’s license.


– The Ninety-Nines, the first organization of female pilots, is formed.


– Helen Richey (1909–1947) becomes the first American female pilot to be hired by a commercial airline. After facing much discrimination, she left 10 months later and returned to flying at air shows and competitions.


– Amelia Earhart, arguably the most famous female pilot ever and the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, disappears while attempting to be the first woman to fly around the world.


– During World War II, women take jobs at factories to build military airplanes and bombs to aid in the war effort and become part of the “Rosie the Riveter” campaign.

– Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran (1906–1980) and Nancy Love (1914–1976) help form the Women Air Force Service Pilots, or WASPS.


– Jackie Cochran becomes the first woman to break the sound barrier.


– American pilot Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock (1925–2014) is the first women accomplish what Earhart set out to do—fly around the world.


– Emily Howell Warner (1939–) becomes the first female captain of a U.S. commercial airline.


– Jeana Yeager (1952- ) and her co-pilot, Dick Rutan, become the first aviators to fly around the globe without stopping to refuel.


– Eileen Collins (1956– ), a former test pilot in the Air Force, is the first female Space Shuttle Commander.


– Created by the mother-daughter team Nancy and Deanie Parrish, the first Fly Girls of WWII WASP exhibit goes on display at the Women’s Memorial in Washington, DC. The traveling exhibit is on permanent display at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo in Michigan.


– President Obama issues the Congressional Gold Medal to the members of the WASPS for their contributions.


Isn’t it incredible to see the progress we’ve made in just a little more than 100 years? From strapping wings to our arms and jumping off cliffs to flying faster than the speed of sound and traveling to the moon, the aviation industry as a whole has grown by leaps and bounds in such a short period of time, and women have continued to make an impact from day one. What will we see next?

This timeline will be featured in Nomad Press’s upcoming children’s book titled Aviation: Cool Women Who Fly. Check out the rest of their children’s books at www.nomadpress.net.


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