Four Unknown Female Pilots Who Also Were Aviation Pioneers

Beyond Amelia Earhart, these aviatrices also shattered multiple glass ceilings.

Pilot Jacqueline Cochran sits in the cockpit of a P-40 Warhawk, a World War II-era fighter plane. (Getty Images)
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Currently, only three percent of the world’s pilots are estimated to be women. But early female pilots were not content to just pave the way for other aviators of their gender, they broke multiple glass ceilings at once. National Geographic took a look at some of the women who have proved that even though few women fly, they can still make barrier-breaking contributions.

Bessica Raiches: She was a linguist, artist, and dentist who began her own practice as one of the first American woman specialists in obstetrics and gynecology. She became the first American woman to fly solo in 1910 and took that flight on an airplane she built herself out of silk, bamboo, and wire in her living room.

Jacqueline “Speed Queen” Cochran: She was the first female pilot to break the sound barrier as well as the first to fly above 20,000 feet without an oxygen mask. She held more speed, distance, and altitude records than any other pilot—man or woman—by 1980.

Willa Brown: Not only was Brown the country’s first black female licensed pilot, she was also the first African-American officer in the U.S. Civil Air Patrol and the first black woman to run for Congress.

Babs Ambrose: She was a mother of five and the grandmother of eight. She started the Stono Farm Market and Tomato Shed Café, an organic vegetable farm. She also founded a nonprofit, taught marketing to women entrepreneurs in Russia, served as the mayor, and of course, had her pilot’s license. She said that flying gave her “an exhilarating sense of freedom.”

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