Pioneering Women in Early Aviation Who Changed Aviation History

Aviation is a male-dominated field, but this hasn’t always been the case. Many of these pioneering women helped turn aviation into what it is today


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From Amelia Earhart to Anne Morrow Lindbergh and more, here are just a few brave women who changed history. Find out how they made their mark on an industry dominated by men learn some women in aviation facts.


Flying Against Tradition, Gender Discrimination, and Sexism 

Women have been flying airplanes since the beginning of aviation. Many early female pilots were inspired by the Wright Brothers’ success and hoped to begin their careers in aviation. 

But before achieving their goals, they had to overcome numerous obstacles, including gender discrimination, sexism, and tradition.

In the early 1900s, women were not allowed to be pilots. The idea that a woman could fly an airplane was unheard of. However, many women of aviation did not let this stop them from pursuing their dreams of being an aviator.


Betty Skelton
Betty Skelton in the cockpit of the Pitts S-1C Little Stinker. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.)

Betty Skelton

Betty Skelton was one of these pioneering women of aviation who defied convention by becoming a pilot and stunt woman. That is despite societal expectations that she should be staying at home with her husband instead of flying planes for fun. 

She was one of many female pilots who fought against traditional roles for women at that time. She proved this just because a person is female doesn’t mean she isn’t capable of doing hard work or accomplishing difficult tasks like flying an airplane!

Born Betty Jane Pluth in 1929 to Earl and Vera Pluth. She was a gifted athlete from an early age.

She dreamed of becoming a pilot like her father, who died in 1935 when Betty was only six years old. It wasn’t until after World War II that women were allowed to fly military aircraft. 

After graduating from high school in 1947 and attending college for two years, Skelton left school to marry pilot Robert Skelton and move with him to California.

In 1951, Betty started flying planes at the age of 22. She joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program and trained as a test pilot for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. 

This experience gave her the skills necessary for breaking the sound barrier—she earned her wings as a lieutenant in 1952.

When she set out to break the sound barrier on September 26th, 1953, in an F-86 Sabre jet plane, she was only 24 years old! 

It took her three tries before she successfully broke through Mach 1 (the speed of sound). On her third try, she reached an estimated 719 mph.

She was also a stunt pilot and parachutist who taught parachuting. She even once parachuted into an air show during her husband’s flight.


Harriet Quimby
USA Postage stamp in memory of Harriet Quimby

Harriet Quimby

Harriet Quimby is a name that should be familiar to anyone interested in aviation. She was the first woman to earn a pilot’s license in 1911.

She was also the first woman to fly across the English Channel and the second person ever to fly an airplane solo across it, after Louis Blériot.

Quimby was born in Michigan in 1875. She moved to Boston with her family when she was nine and attended public school.

She got her start as a journalist, writing for women’s magazines and newspapers. In 1910, she moved to New York City and began training as a pilot with Orville Wright.

In 1912, she became the first woman to fly across the English Channel. However, she died during her second attempt at crossing it later that same year.



You may not have heard of these women before, but they’re pioneers who helped pave the way for women in aviation. In recent years, we have seen an increase in female pilots and astronauts, but their stories are often told only as a side note or “first woman to do this or that.” 

Our goal with this article was to highlight the contributions made by these pioneers so that they can be recognized for their achievements—and inspire others to pursue careers in flying!


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