Here are five female aviators you might’ve not heard of—yet!

First female to earn a pilot’s license

Before becoming a true pioneer for women in aviation, Raymonde de Laroche was a glamorous French stage actress. A bit of a daredevil, she always had a likeness for sports, including motorcycles and cars. Her interest in aviation is said to have begun with one of the Wright brothers’ flight demonstrations in Paris back in 1908.

A year later, Raymonde convinced Charles Voisin, a famous French aircraft architect of the time, to give her flying lessons. She soon found herself in the cockpit of a single-seat Voisin aircraft. Since there was no second seat, the student would have to listen to the instructor shout orders from the ground. After getting the hang of taxiing, against Charles Voisin’s explicit ban to take flight, Raymonde became airborne and flew 270 meters. Most cite this flight as the first by a woman in a powered heavier-than-aircraft.

Raymonde de Laroche
Raymonde de Laroche, French aviator to complete a first flight as a woman.

On 8 March 1910, Raymonde became the first woman to receive a pilot license. This was the beginning of her ever-growing international fame for her courage and skills as a pilot.

World’s first female fighter pilot

22 different aircraft, 8,000 flight hours, and a total of 32 military operations completed during her pilot career have put Sabiha Gökçen, a Turkish aviator, down in aviation history as not only Turkey’s but also the world’s first female combat-ready pilot (not all, but the majority of historians agree with the title).

Losing both of her parents early in her childhood, Sabiha and her brother were growing up as orphans. But at the age of 12, her life changed when she was adopted by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first president of the Republic of Türkiye. With aviation as his main focus to revitalize Türkiye, Atatürk took 12-year-old Sabiha to the opening of the Türkkusu Flight School, where she fell in love with aviation.

World's first female fighter pilot
World’s first female fighter pilot Sabiha Gökçen.

The encouragement of her father played an important part in her path to a fighter pilot. He saw the potential she had in piloting and supported her dreams unconditionally. Since girls were not being accepted to military schools back then, Atatürk made sure Sabiha received the necessary training. However, she did have to survive criticism and doubtfulness from her peers. Against it all, she completed rigorous training and at the age of 23 earned her wings. By 1937, she was taking part in military operations and retired from the Air Force in 1938 with a Leutenent’s rank, continuing her career as a Flight Instructor.

Youngest female pilot to solo around the world

Would you be surprised if we told you that before being broken, the record for the youngest woman to fly solo around the world in a single-engine aircraft was 30 years old? Shaesta Waiz’s held record was outdone by a Belgian-British 19-year-old aviator Zara Rutherford in 2022.

She began her pilot license training at the age of 14 and became a pilot in 2020. A year later, Zara stated her intention to break Waiz’s record. Aside from this, she also aimed to break two more records—to become the first woman to circumnavigate the world in a microlight aircraft and the first Belgian to circumnavigate the world solo in a single-engine aircraft.

She started her solo flight on 18 August 2021, taking off in Kortrijk, Belgium, and landed back in Kortrijk, on 20 January 2022, after a very challenging 5-month journey across the globe. The solo flight made Zara the youngest woman pilot to fly solo around the world and the first person to complete a circumnavigation in a microlight aircraft, breaking two out of the three set records.

Aviation’s most fearless stuntwoman

Imagine strutting across a biplane’s wingspan at 160 meters in the air or busting out slick dance moves. This was what Gladys Roy did for a living back in the 1920s America. While she didn’t hold a pilot license like her brothers did, Gladys found her passion in aerial performance as a wingwalker and barnstormer.


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After the World War I, many of post-war aircraft found their way into barnstorming, a very popular form of entertainment back in the 1920s. Pilots would entertain crowds with crazy stunts and breathtaking displays of aerial maneuvers. Being the daredevil she was, Gladys joined in on the fun first as a parachute jumper and later as an aerial performer.

Four people standing next to an aircraft, looking up
Gladys Roy (third from the left), American barnstormer and aerial performer.

Keeping the masses entertained was a tough gig. Inventing new, exciting, and head-spinning tricks was at the heart of what Gladys did. She was brilliant at coming up with new performances that captured the attention of her audiences. Some of her most famous stunts included walking blindfolded across the wing of a Curtiss JN-4, dancing the Charleston mid-flight, and even playing a tennis match (though no tennis balls were involved for obvious reasons).

First woman pilot to work at an airline

With so many female pilots achieving amazing feats throughout aviation history, when it comes to commercial aviation, the story is a tad bit different. Commercial aviation in general became somewhere as popular as today well into the 1950s, so there is no surprise that female pilots made their way onto airlines later.

Turi Widerøe in a cockpit of a commercial aircraft
Turi Widerøe at the helm of a commercial aircraft.

From what is known, the first woman to work as a commercial airline pilot for a major airline in the Western world was Turi Widerøe, a Norwegian pilot. She earned her commercial pilot’s license in 1965 and before joining the Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS), she flew for a regional airline. In 1969 she started flying for SAS on a Convair CV-440 Metropolitan as a First Officer. Later, she was promoted to Captain and flew the Caravelle and Douglas DC-9 jet airliners.

Bottom line

While Amelia Earhart undoubtedly deserves her place in the aviation records, many other female pilots—and aerial performers—have, too, achieved some extraordinary things throughout aviation history, and continue to do so to this day. So, the next time someone asks you to name a woman pilot other than Earhart, you have five new names and memorable nuggets of information to share!