Women in Aviation History: 1950 Onwards

By Emma Rasmussen, Correspondent

The world is celebrating its thirty-fourth annual Women’s History Month, and naturally, the spotlight is on the varied achievements of women throughout history. For over a century, women have consistently contributed to the advancement of human flight in particular, often not receiving the deserved recognition for several decades. While the history of women’s involvement in aviation reaches far back in history, Horizons Newspaper is highlighting the lesser-known accomplishments of women in aviation from 1950 onwards. As of 2021, women make up eighteen percent of all aerospace engineers and five percent of all airline pilots in the United States. 

1950: Pioneering Australian aviatrix Nancy-Bird Walton and thirty-four other women develop the Australian Women Pilots’ Association. 

1953: Jacqueline Cochran becomes the first woman to break the sound barrier. Her mark on supersonic flight came just six years after Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. Yeager went on to train Cochran himself. 

1955: Frenchwoman Jacqueline Auriol becomes the first female aviator to obtain a test pilot’s license. She goes on to become the first woman to pilot the supersonic airliner, Concorde. Jean Ross Howard Phelan starts the Whirly-Girls, a female helicopter pilot organization. The British Women Pilots’ Association is also formed.

1956: Ada Rogato becomes the first ever pilot to overfly the Amazon Rainforest in a single-engined aircraft. 

1958: Letitia Chitty becomes the first woman fellow admitted into the Royal Aeronautical Society. 

1959: Rhona Fraser and Ena Monk form the New Zealand Association of Women in Aviation.

1960: Olga Tarling becomes the first Australian female air traffic controller. Frankie O’Kane and Yvonne Pope Sintes become the first British female air traffic controllers.

1962: Jacqueline Cochran becomes the first woman to pilot a jet aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean. 

1963: Valentina Tereshkova of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Soviet Union) becomes the first woman to reach space. Betty Miller becomes the first female aviator to solo across the Pacific Ocean. Eight stewardesses publicly protest and condemn the American flight attendant retirement age of 32 years old. 

1964: Geraldine Mock becomes the first woman to fly solo around the world. She pilots “The Spirit of Columbus,” a Cessna 180 single-engined monoplane.

1965: The United States House of Representatives publicly shows condemnation of the flight attendant retirement age. 

1967: The India’s Women Pilot Association is formed. 

1970: Rosella Bjorson becomes the first female commercial pilot in Canada. 

1971: Louise Sacchi sets a flying speed record between New York and London. The Association of French Female Pilots is formed. 

1972: Yvonne Pope Sintes becomes the first British commercial pilot after an air traffic control career. 

1973: Emily Howell Warner becomes the first female flying for a commercial airline. The United States Navy announces a pilot training program for women. Bonnie Tiburzi became the first female pilot for American Airlines and the first woman to earn flight engineer status in a turbojet aircraft.

1974: Sally Murphy becomes the first woman to become an aviator for the United States Army. Mary Barr also becomes the first female pilot for the United States Forest Service. Emily Howell Warner became the first woman to join the Air Line Pilots’ Association (ALPA). 

1975: Emily Howell Warner becomes the first female American airline captain.

1977: Long overdue, the United States Congress passes a bill recognizing the sacrifices of the female aviators (WASPs) that fought valiantly during World War II. An all-female crew from the Soviet Union set five records flying a Russian-built Ilyushin IL-62. 

1978: The International Society of Women Airline Pilots is formed. Jill Brown-Hiltz becomes the first female African American airline pilot. 

1979: Marcella Ann Ng becomes the first female African American pilot in the United States military. 

1980: Female airline pilot Lynn Rippelmeyer becomes the first woman to pilot the iconic Boeing 747 jumbo jet. Mary Crawford becomes the first female flight officer in the United States Navy. 

1982: Bahamian Patrice Washington becomes the first female African American commercial pilot to graduate from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. 

1983: Charlotte Larson becomes the first female pilot of a smoke-jumper aircraft.

1984: Beverly Burns becomes the first woman to pilot a Boeing 747 on a cross-country flight and Lynn Rippelmeyer becomes the first woman to pilot a Boeing 747 on a transatlantic flight. They both share the honor of becoming the first female Boeing 747 captains. 

1986: The Women Soaring Pilots Association is founded In Tucson, Ariz., providing a community for women in gliding. Beverley Bass captains the first all-female crewed commercial flight in history. 

1990: Women in Aviation International is formed to help women further themselves in aviation-related career paths. Julie Ann Gibson and Sally Cox become the first female military aviators in the Royal Air Force. 

1991: The United States Senate votes to allow women to fly in combat. Patty Wagstaff became the first woman to win the United States Aerobatic Championship. Beverley Drake becomes the first woman to join the National Transportation Safety Board as an aircraft accident investigator. 

1992: Barbara Harmer completes her training with British Airways to fly Concorde.

1993: Barbara Harmer becomes the first female airline pilot to fly the Concorde. She is one of only three female Concorde pilots in history. 

1994: Female military aviator Jackie Parker becomes the first woman to qualify as an F-16 fighter pilot. Jo Salter becomes the United Kingdom’s first female fighter pilot. 

1995: Eileen Collins becomes the first female pilot of the American space shuttle. 

1997: The Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance is created. Jennifer Murray becomes the first woman to fly around the world in a helicopter.

1998: The first female military pilots in the United States fly combat missions from aircraft carriers. Barbara Cassani becomes the first female CEO of an airline. 

1999: Eileen Collins becomes the first woman to command a space shuttle. 

2009: Virginie Guyot of France becomes the first woman to lead a national aerobatic demonstration team. The first all-African American female crewed commercial flight takes place.

2010: The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) of World War II receive the Congressional Gold Medal. 

2012: Andrea Deyling becomes the first woman zeppelin pilot in the United States. 

2014: NBC affiliate reporter and private pilot Amelia Rose Earhart, unrelated to Amelia Earhart, becomes the second youngest woman to fly around the world in a single-engined aircraft. 

2016: EasyJet more than doubles female entrant pilots. Singapore Airlines begins to hire female pilots.

2019: Woman aviator Aarohi Pandit becomes the first female to solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and ice sheets in Greenland. She does so using a light sport aircraft.

What will the future hold next for women in aviation?