Women in Aviation and Space History
These are some of the women whose participation in and contributions to aviation, space exploration, and aerospace technology are noted in the National Air and Space Museum's exhibitions.
Black women in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps were assigned to Tuskegee Army Air Field Hospital (c 1943) to assist pilots and cadets with physical and psychological problems. Part of their training included ground school instruction, but they never flew during World War II. | Photo credit: Air Force Flight Test Center History Office
Members of the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) at Lockbourne Army Air Field during World War II. (L to R) Frances Green, Margaret (Peg) Kirchner, Ann Waldner, and Blanche Osborn. WASPs were civilian women pilots who flew in non-combat situations for the U.S. Army Air Forces.
Shannon Lucid on Russian Mir Space Station, March 28, 1996. NASA astronaut Shannon Lucid was the first American woman to live on the Mir space station. Her 188 day stay on Mir broke the U.S. astronaut spaceflight record (previously held by Norm Thagard who spent 115 days in space as first American astronaut to live on Mir in 1995). She also set a record for the most flight hours in orbit by any woman in the world at that time. NASA photo GPN-2000-001034.
Jeana Yeager, 1986. On December 14, 1986 Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan set out to break one of aviation's last records: to fly around the world non-stop and non-refueled. The flight lasted nine days, finishing on December 23, 1986. Yeager participated in the building of the aircraft, the "Voyager," and she piloted it for many hours during the multi-record flight. She is seen here inside the "Voyager" cockpit. Photo courtesy of Visions.
Patty Wagstaff, circa 1994. In 1991, Wagstaff became the first woman to win the title of US National Aerobatic Champion, a title she then defended in 1992 and 1993. In 2004, Wagstaff was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. She is pictured here with the nose of her Extra 260 visible in the background. NASM-94-9327
Louise Thaden, August, 1929. Thaden set may records during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1928 she became the first pilot to hold the women's altitude, endurance, and speed records in light planes simultaneously. Flying a Beech Staggerwing, Thaden won the Bendix trophy in the Bendix Transcontinental Race of 1936, the first year women were allowed to compete against men. She is pictured here in her Beechcraft Travel Air Model B-4000 after winning the "Powder Puff Derby" in 1929. SI-82-2132
Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to fly in space from June 16 to 19, 1963. She was launched into orbit aboard the "Vostok 6" and made 45 revolutions around the earth, operating her spacecraft with manual controls. She then parachuted from the "Vostok 6" after re-entering the earth's atmosphere, landing northeast of Karaganda, Kazakhstan. She is pictured here with cosmonauts Pavel Popovich, Yuri Gagarin, Andrian Nikolayev, Valery Bykovsky, and Gherman Titov. SI-2006-635
Sisters Marjorie C. Stinson (left) and Katherine Stinson (right), 1913. On July 18, 1915, at Cicero Field in Chicago, Katherine Stinson became the first woman to perform a loop. She was also the first woman authorized to carry US mail (for a route in Montana). Marjorie Stinson joined her family in establishing a flight school in San Antonio, and later became a draftsman with the Aeronautical Division of the US Navy. They are seen here at the controls of a Wright Model B biplane. NASM-2007-5474
Ida Van Smith, 1967. In 1967, Ida Van Smith founded a series of flight training clubs for minority children to encourage their involvement in aviation and aerospace sciences. Soon there were more than 20 clubs throughout the United States, with members ages 13-19. As a result, thousands of children were exposed to aviation and many pursued careers in aviation. She is seen here holding the prop of a Cessna 172. NASM-95-8300
Elinor Smith, circa 1930. Smith soloed at 15, earned her license at 16, and holds the honor of having flown under all four bridges (1920s-era) in New York City. She teamed up with Bobbi Trout in November of 1929 to set a new women's endurance record of 42 hours and to become the first women aviators to accomplish aerial refueling. NASM-2000-10682
Betty Skelton, three-tme Feminine Aerobatic Champion, was known as the "First Lady of Firsts." In the process of setting 17 aviation and race car records, she also paved the way for women to enjoy equal opportunities in aviation, sports, and business. She is pictured here in the cockpit of the Pitts S-1C "Little Stinker." SI-95-8289
Blanche Stuart Scott, circa 1910. Scott was the first American woman to take a solo hop into the air, although her flight is not regarded as official. She was the first and only woman to receive instruction from Glenn Curtiss. She became an exhibition pilot, performing inverted flight and "Death Dives" from 1,219 m. (4,000 ft.). She is seen here, seated at the controls of a Curtiss Model D. SI-72-4803
Sally Ride, 1980. On June 18, 1983, Dr. Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly in space. She was named a mission specialist on the seventh flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983 and flew on a second mission in 1984. Following the 1986 Challenger disaster, Ride served on the investigation committee. She left NASA in 1987 to pursue an academic career. Photo courtesy of NASA. NASM-97-15070
Bessica Raiche. On September 16, 1910, Bessica Raiche made the first accredited solo flight by a woman in the United States. Raiche was considered a "new" woman of the 20th century because she drove an automobile and wore bloomers. She was an accomplished musician, painter, and linguist. Later, Raiche embarked on another career as a doctor. She became one of the nation's first woman specialists with a practice in obstetrics and gynecology. NASM-2007-5475
Harriet Quimby, 1912. Despite a very short career, Quimby remains one of the most popular pioneer female aviators. Stylish in her purple satin flying suit, Quimby was the first American woman to earn a pilot's license and the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel. She is seen here posing at the controls of her Moisant Bleriot XI type monoplane. NASM-2002-23705
Therese Peltier, circa 1908. A talented sculptor, Peltier became the first woman to fly as a passenger in a heavier-than-air craft. On July 8, 1908 she made a flight of 200 meters (656 feet) with Leon Delagrance in Milan, Italy. She subsequently made several solo flights in a Voisin biplane but did not pursue a flying career. NASM-2002-14084
Blanche Noyes, July 7, 1931. Noyes left a promising theater and movie career to marry an airmail pilot who wound up teaching her to fly. Noyes became a demonstration pilot for Standard Oil in 1931 and continued flying with various corporations until 1935. In 1936, she joined the Air Marking Group of the Bureau of Air Commerce. She was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame in 1970. She is pictured here beside a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogiro. NASM-97-15069
Ruth Nichols, 1930. Nichols was the only woman to simultaneously hold the women's world speed, altitude, and distance records for heavy land planes. In 1940, Nichols founded Relief Wings, a humanitarian air service for disaster relief that quickly became an adjunct relief service of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) during World War II. She is pictured here next to her Lockheed Model 5 Vega Special "The New Cincinnati," in which she set a women's transcontinental speed record in 1930. NASM-79-3164
Matilde Moisant, 1911. Moisant was the second woman in the United States to receive a pilot's license. She flew in aviation meets throughout the US and Mexico until the early spring of 1912, often flying at higher altitudes than most male pilots. She is pictured here, wearing a (pre-WWII) swastika brooch as a good luck charm. NASM-73-3564
Bernetta Miller, circa 1912. Miller became the first person to demonstrate a monoplane before US government officials in October, 1912. She also took an active part in WWI, joining the Women's Overseas Service League Infantry Division in France. She served first as an accountant and then went to the front as a canteen worker. She was awarded the "Croix de Guerre" and many American citations for her work. She is pictured here at the controls of a Blériot XI type monoplane. NASM-86-6344
Nancy Harkness Love, September 22, 1942. With the approach of World War II, Love recognized the coming need for pilots to ferry aircraft and identified highly qualified women pilots who could perform such duties. In September 1942, the Army Air Corps' Air Transport Command approved the creation of a temporary, civilian women's flying corps, the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), under her direction. She is pictured here leaning against a Fairchild PT-19A. SI-96-15604
Anne Morrow Lindbegh, 1933. Mrs. Lindbergh, famous through her marriage to Charles Lindbergh, had her own career as a pilot. In 1931 and 1933, she and Mr. Lindbergh embarked on two lengthy trips in a Lockheed Sirius to explore possible overseas airline routes. Mrs. Lindbergh served as copilot and radio operator on these flights. She is pictured here in their Lockheed Sirius. NASM-80-438
Mary Light, November 27, 1937. Dr. Richard Light and his wife Mary embarked on a scientific expedition for the American Geographical Society in 1937 to photograph and map remote areas in Uganda and the Congo, specifically the Ruwenzori mountain range. They are pictured here with Glen Batsman (right). Photo courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries.