Feb
01
2010

Who was the first woman to obtain a pilot’s license?

Raymonde de Laroche (photo PD)

Raymonde de Laroche (photo PD)

The early years of powered flight required pilots of daring, courage and skill. One of these pioneers was a remarkable Frenchwomen, Elise Deroche, who in 1910 became the first woman to hold a pilot’s licence.

In the few short years following the Wright Brothers’ successful flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903, aviation had been a matter of trial and error for aviators and their flimsy aircraft, with an ever present danger of death or serious injury. It was also a man’s world, into which stepped Elise Deroche.

Born a daughter of plumber in 1886, she became an actress and used the stage name of Raymonde de Laroche, she also became known as Baroness de Laroche.

She had already tried ballooning, so for this determined woman, flying would be the next obvious step. She persuaded Charles Voisin, one of two brothers who were aviation pioneers, to teach her to fly. She achieved this on 22 October 1909 when she flew solo for a distance of 300 yards. She was not the first woman to fly. This had been achieved by Thérèse Peltier in July 1908.

Further longer flights took place, and on 8 March 1910 the Aero-Club of France issued her pilot’s license number 36 of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (International Aeronautics Federation or F.A.I.) and she became the first woman in the world to receive a pilot’s licence.

With the help of the Voisin brothers, he attended a number of demonstrations at Heliopolis, Egypt; St Petersburg, Russia; Budapest, Hungary; and Rouen, France. At the next show at Rheims in July 1910, she flew one of Voisin’s biplanes. However, while trying to fly two circuits of the airfield, the plane plummeted from a height of 150 feet and crashed. She received severe injuries including hip dislocation, fractured right leg and left thigh, and numerous bruises. [1]

After several months she fully recovered and returned to flying, but in September 1912 was injured again after a car accident in which Charles Voisin was killed while driving.

Her flying activities were suspended during the World War I although she made several attempts to join the French Air Force.

After the war, she set a new record for a woman flying at the altitude of 4,900 metres. On 18 July 1919 while co-pilot, she was killed in a crash at the Crotoy Aerodrome, Somme, France. [2]

[1] The Times, Saturday, Jul 09, 1910; pg. 8;
[2] The Times, Monday, Jul 21, 1919; pg. 11;

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