Remembering the Life of Aviation Pioneer Lilian Bland

Her place in aviation history is assured

The Mayfly
Lilian Bland's plane, the Mayfly.
Creative Commons

Some notable figures in the history of aviation are universally known to anyone with a passing familiarity with the subject. The Wright Brothers, Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh are all names which can be invoked today with little context needed for listeners or readers.

But there are other figures who, by all rights, should be more ubiquitous than they are. In a new article at Jalopnik, Elizabeth Blackstock explores the life and legacy of Lilian Bland. Bland was, Blackstock writes, “the first woman to design, build, and fly her own plane.” And her achievement — a plane dubbed the Mayfly — is particularly impressive given that Bland was already established in one field at the time that she set out to venture into the world of aviation.

Bland was a journalist in 1909, when Louis Blériot flew from France to England. Already intrigued by flight, Bland embraced the new science of aviation, and began to work on designing her own plane.

A page dedicated to Bland at the Women’s Museum of Ireland describes the meticulous process by which she worked on building the Mayfly. She initially created it as a glider, testing its weight capacity and drawing on her knowledge of avian biology to design the wings. Eventually, the Mayfly was capable of flying of a height of 30 feet and traveling for a quarter of a mile.

Bland’s interest in vehicles of all types can be seen in what her next career move was: she became an enthusiast for Model T Fords, and spent time selling them in Northern Ireland before emigrating to Canada. Hers was an unconventional life; then again, the lives of many pioneers in their fields frequently are.

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