7 Famous Women Pilots of the 20th Century

You can list aviation as another industry that women are beginning to take over. What was once exclusive to only one gender is now a sector that is attracting the other sex.

Even though the world of aviation is dominated by male pilots, there have been many women who have entered this profession and left their mark. Today, there are thousands of women who work as pilots, but there were other women since the dawn of flight that paved the path for this generation. Every pilot in the 21st century is just following in their predecessors’ footpath.

Here are seven famous women pilots of the 20th century:

1. Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart is probably the most famous female pilot in the world of aviation. She was the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932 and set many individual flying records. Earhart was also a talented author and published many books on her flying experiences. In 1935, she joined the faculty at Purdue University to inspire others into an aviation career. In 1937, she attempted a circumnavigational flight of the globe with navigator Fred Noonan, but they got lost over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island.

Until this day, her remains have not been found, though there have been many theories put forward. Decades later, Earhart remains one of the most famous women pilots in history.


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2. Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman was a civil aviator born in Atlanta in 1892. She was the first African American female to become a pilot and hold an international pilot’s license. Her achievements are believed to be even more important because she was born during a time when racism was rampant, and blacks were not given any opportunities. Besse learned to fly in France. Her dream was to inspire African females to follow in her footsteps.

Unfortunately, she died at a very young age of 32, when her new aircraft crashed while she was flying.


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3. Kalpana Chawla

Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian American astronaut and the first Indian to fly into space. She is one of the most famous women pilots from India.

In 1997, she flew on the space shuttle Columbia as a mission specialist and the robotic arm operator. In 2003, she again flew into space aboard the ill-fated space shuttle. Unfortunately, this time the spacecraft disintegrated during its re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere and all seven crew members lost their lives. Chawla was awarded the Congressional space medal of honor after her death.


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4. Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova was the first and youngest woman to have flown into space in June of 1963. She piloted the Russian spacecraft Vostok and spent three days orbiting the planet. To this day, she remains the only female to have flown on a solo space mission. Before she was recruited as a cosmonaut, Tereshkova worked in a textile factory.

Today, she remains an active member of the communist party and has continued to encourage women to seek careers in aviation.


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5. Harriet Quimby

Harriet Quimby was an American aviator in the early 1900s. In 1911, she became the first female to be awarded a U.S. pilot’s license. A year later, she became the first female to fly solo across the English Channel. She took off from Dover, England onto Calais, France. She made this flight in 59 minutes and became the first woman pilot to cross the English Channel. Unfortunately, this major accomplishment did not get much attention from the media because it was during this same time period (a day before) that the Titanic sank.

Quimby was also a screenplay writer and authored seven screenplays that were made into silent films. She even acted in one movie. Later that year, while flying out of Boston, her aircraft had problems, and she and her co-pilot were killed.


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6. Sally Ride

Sally Ride was the first American woman to travel into space in 1983. She operated the robotic arm during the missing and also assisted in deploying two satellites into space. Ride was added to the Astronaut Hall of Fame and is still the youngest American astronaut to have traveled into space.

After contributing a lot of input to aircraft maintenance management and technology, Ride died from pancreatic cancer in 2012.


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7. Sheila Scott

Sheila Scott was a British aviator who got her pilot’s license in 1960. She broke more than 100 aviation records during her time and was the first British woman, and the first British person, to fly over the North Pole. She was also the first British pilot to fly solo across the world. Scott passed in 1988, but her achievements are still remembered in the field of aviation.

Even prior to Women’s Liberation movements around the world, some women just etched out their own path and took what they wanted. Despite the barriers erected on their journey to history, many of these famous women pilots just kicked them down and made their names that will live on for eternity.


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About Author

Justin is a journalism student from Ottawa, Canada. Since a young age, he has felt a passion for writing along with a knack for asking curious questions, which guided him into his current path today.