Thursday, October 9, 2014

Women of the Wild Blue Yonder: The Aviators

This fourth and final installment about female aviators focuses of the women themselves and their contributions to aviation history. 

Ann Baumgartner Carl--(1918-2008)-- became the first woman to fly an USAAF jet at Wright Field when she flew the Bell YP-59A twin jet fighter. 

Cochran with Canadair Sabre Mk.3 No. 19200 at Edwards AFB

Jackie Cochran--(1906-1980)--was a pioneer in the field of American aviation, considered to be one of the most gifted racing pilots of her generation. She was an important contributor to the formation of the wartime Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (W.A.A.C.) and Women Airforce Service Pilots (W.A.S..P).

Eileen Marie Collins--(born November 19, 1956) is a retired NASA astronaut and a retired United States Air Force colonel. A former military instructor and test pilot, Collins was the first female pilot and first female commander of a Space Shuttle.  

Pauline Mary de Peauly Gower--(1910-1947)--British pilot who was instrumental in creating the Women's section of the A.T.A. and helping get equal pay for female pilots.  In 1943 she became the first woman to be appointed to the board of a state airline when she joined the British Overseas Airways Corporation. She died giving birth to twin sons in 1947.

Amy Johnson--(1903-1941)--Amy Johnson was a pioneering English aviator. She set numerous long-distance records during the 1930s.  Johnson flew in World War II as a part of the A.T.A. where she died during a ferry flight.

Hazel Ying Lee--(1912-1944)--she was a Chinese-American pilot who flew commercially in China and for the U. S. as a member of the W.A.S.P.  She was the last member of the W.A.S.P. to be killed in service to her country on Nov 25, 1944.

Lidya "Lilya (Lily)" Vladimirovna Litvyak--(1921-1943)--WWII Soviet pilot who was the first woman in history to shoot down an enemy plane and one of the world's only two female fighter aces.  Flying under the call sign White Lily, she is credited with up to 12 solo kills. Litvyak died in 1943 when her plane was shot down as she attacked German bombers in Ukraine. She was 21.

Nancy Harkness Love--(1914-1976)--she organized the first group of woman in America to fly military aircraft, the W.A.F.S. and was the commander of the ferrying division of the W.A.S.P. until it's end in 1944. 

"Nachthexen"--Night Witches--three regiments of Soviet women combat pilots who flew night bombing missions and were so successful and deadly the Germans feared them, calling them "Nachthexen" - night witches.  The women of the 586th, 587th, and 588th Night Bomber Regiments dropped 3,000 tons of bombs during the course of the war, with over 23,000 sorties were flown by 2-woman teams. 

Nadezhda "Nadia" Vasil'yevna Popova--(1921-2013)--trailblazing military pilot of the Soviet Union.  Highly decorated; she set the record for missions flown in one night by executing eighteen sorties over Poland in 1945.  She was shot down on numerous occasions, flew rescue and supply missions, and completed 852 missions throughout her career.   

Marina Mikhaylovna Malinina Raskova--(1912-1943)--A famous Soviet navigator and decorated pilot during WWII.  She founded three air regiments (400 each) of all women combat pilots and crew which would eventually fly over 30,000 sorties in WWII.  She was killed in an air crash in 1943.  

Hanna Reitsch--(1912-1979)--was a German test pilot and the first woman to fly a helicopter.  She was one of only six women who flew for Germany during World War II.

Helen Richey--(1909-1947)--was was a pioneering female aviator and the first woman to be hired as a pilot by a commercial airline in the U.S.  In 1936 she and Amelia Earhart came in fifth at the Bendix air race and she also flew for the A.T.A. during WWII.  Richey was also the first woman sworn in to pilot air mail and one of the first female flight instructors. 

Sally Kristen Ride--(May 26, 1951 – July 23, 2012)--was an American physicist and astronaut. At the age of 32, she became the first American woman in space.  She remains the youngest American astronaut to travel to space. She died of cancer in 2012.

Melitta Schiller, Countess Von Stauffenberg--(1903-1945)--was a prolific test pilot for Germany.  She was of Prussian and Jewish ancestry but her value as a pilot protected her from reprisal. She was shot down in April 1945 and died of her wounds.

Mildred Strelitz--was the first woman engineering aide to participate in test flights at Wright Army Air Field, Ohio on Nov 9, 1943.

Since World War II, women have been involved in every facet of aviation history.  From commercial airline pilots, combat pilots, astronauts, and everything in between.  In the air and on the ground, women have had an upward struggle to be recognized and credited for their roles in flight.  They are an inspiration to little girls everywhere who have that dream of flying into the "wild blue yonder".

American Women and Flight Since 1940 by Deborah G. Douglas (History)

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