Celebrating Women in Aviation, in Pensacola and Around the World

Today kicks off Women Of Aviation Worldwide Week! This global awareness week marks the anniversary of the world’s first female pilot license (more on that below!) on March 8, 1910, and serves as a call to address gender imbalance in the air and space industry.

To celebrate Women of Aviation Week, we’re highlighting a handful of the many many incredible women who have made remarkable contributions to aviation throughout history. 

Bessie Coleman

First up is Bessie Coleman, AKA “Brave Bessie,” “Queen Bess,” and “The Only Race Aviatrix in the World.” Bessie was the first African American (and Native American) woman to earn a pilot’s license in the world.

The tenth of thirteen children, Bessie Coleman was born in Atlanta, Texas, on January 26, 1892. She learned about aviation through childhood reading. She finished high school and some teacher’s training before moving to Chicago where she was mentored by two Black philanthropists, Robert Abbott and Jesse Binga. 

Bessie was denied admission to American aviation schools due to her race and gender so she learned French and moved to France to earn her international pilot’s license. She returned to the U.S. where she spent the next five years touring, giving exhibition flights, barnstorming and parachuting at airports. 

Bessie challenged racial discrimination and refused to participate in segregated events. She planned to open a more inclusive aviation school for Blacks and other races, but her life was cut tragically short when she died during an exhibition accident. Her legacy continues today and pilots honor her life each year by air-dropping wreaths over her gravesite. 

Jerrie Mock

Self proclaimed as “The Flying Housewife,” Jerrie Mock was the first woman to fly solo around the world.

Born in 1925, Geraldine first flew at age five in a Ford Trimotor. A little over a decade later she became one of the first female aeronautical engineering students at Ohio State University. Flying cross-country with her husband, she enjoyed listening to other pilots discuss their various routes and destinations—so she began planning her own trip because she “just wanted to see the world.” 

Geraldine’s departure date and flight path was the same as Amelia Earhart’s last flight and though not in competition with one another, the media followed the progress of each to see who would finish first.

Jerrie set off March 19, 1964, from Columbus, Ohio. 22,860 miles, 21 stopovers, and 29 days later, she returned to Columbus on April 17. President Lyndon B. Johnson presented her with the FAA’s Exceptional Service Decoration the next month. 

Raymonde de Laroche
Raymonde de Laroche is believed to be the first woman to pilot a plane and definitively the world’s first licensed female pilot. 

Born Élisa Léontine Deroche on August 22, 1882, in Rue de la Verrerie in Paris France, Élisa had varied interests as a child, including sports, motorcycles, automobiles and later hoped to be a singer, dancer, and actress at a young age, using the stage name “Raymonde de Laroche” as she came to be known. 

Raymonde was inspired by Wilbur Wright’s 1908 demonstrations of powered flight in Paris. She was also acquaintances with many aviators, including sculptor Ferdinand Léon Delagrange, who was also one of the earliest aviators. They had a son together. Though Delagrange was tragically killed in an airplane accident in 1910, Raymonde’s interest in aviation was undeterred. She trained for four months at Chalons and made her first solo flight on Friday, Oct. 22, 1909. 

The following year, she became the first female licensed pilot in the world. She would go on to participate in various aviation events, and a news article erroneously called her “Baroness de la Roche,” a title that stuck. She was unable to fly in World War I so she served as a military driver instead, before dying in 1919 when she was co-piloting an experimental airplane that malfunctioned.

Katie Cook

Major Higgins Katie Cook was the first woman to join the elite aviation demonstration team known as the Blue Angels.

Born August 27, 1986, in Jacksonville, Florida, Katie grew up in a military family that moved around a lot. She graduated high school in Fairfax, Virginia, in 2004 before completing her Bachelor of Science degree from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2008. By then a commissioned Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, she went on to study International Security at Georgetown University, where she completed a Master of Arts degree in 2009. 

A third generation military aviator, Katie became a naval aviator with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 and served in Afghanistan—one of very only a few women who flew combat missions in the country. In 2013, during her first action against the Taliban, Katie fired two Hellfire missiles and eliminated an enemy position, thus saving the lives of a group of Marines nearby. Next she was assigned to Uganda to support contingency operations in Africa. It was during this time that she received an unexpected call from a member of the Blue Angels inviting her to apply for the team. By 2015, she had flown nearly 400 combat hours in seven countries.  

In July 2014, Katie was selected by the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron to join the 2015 Blue Angels demonstration team. Higgins flew in her first Blue Angels demonstration in March 2015 in the C-130 Hercules, better known as “Fat Albert”. After two years of completing some truly astonishing flights with her teammates, Katie served as the Airfield Operations Company Commander at EAF Bogue in North Carolina. She now lives in Texas with her husband and children.

Katie credits the amazing women like the WAVES of WWII, LtCol Sarah Deal Burrow (the first USMC Pilot), and the countless other women in support roles on the Blue Angels team for helping carve a path for her.

Amanda Lee

Lieutenant Commander Amanda Lee is the first female pilot in the elite Blue Angels fighter jet demonstration squadron. 

Born in Mounds View, Minnesota, in 1986, Amanda was a natural athlete, competing in soccer, athlete, ice hockey, and swimming in high school, before graduating in 2004. While attending the University of Minnesota Duluth, Amanda worked at UPS before enlisting in the U.S. Navy as an Aviation Electronics Technician. She was selected to commission as a Pilot through the Seaman-to-Admiral commissioning program in 2009, and began officer training at the Naval Science Institute Newport, Rhode Island, the following year. Simultaneously she began her studies at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, where she received a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry.   

Amanda earned her commission in the U.S. Navy in August 2013, and reported to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, to begin training as a Naval Pilot. She completed Aviation Preflight Indoctrination in April 2014 and completed Primary flight training in November 2014. Next, she reported to NAS Kingsville, Texas, where she completed intermediate and advanced flight training in the T-45C Goshawk while attached to VT-22 “Golden Eagles.” 

Amanda was designated a Naval Aviator in April 2016. After earning her wings of gold, Amanda received orders to the “Gladiators” at NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia, for training in the F/A-18 Super Hornet. Her first fleet assignment was with the “SUNLINERS” at NAS Oceana, Virginia, where she completed two combat deployments aboard USS Harry S Truman supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation Freedom Sentinel, and NATO Exercise Trident Juncture. 

In 2019, Amanda flew in the first ever all-female flyover as part of the funeral service for retired Navy Capt. Rosemary Mariner, one of the first female Navy jet pilots and the first woman to command an operational naval aviation squadron. 

Upon completing her 2019-2020 deployment, Amanda reported back to Virginia Beach as an F/A-18 E/F Instructor Pilot to train newly winged naval aviators and naval flight officers in the tactical employment of the Super Hornet. 

Amanda joined the Blue Angels in September 2022. She made her debut as Left Wing demo pilot in the number three jet in March 2023, and has accumulated more than 1,800 flight hours and over 225 carrier-arrested landings (and counting!). Her decorations include four Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals and various personal and unit awards. 

You can still see Amanda in action today, as she continues to inspire generations of girls and women to achieve their aviation dreams.

We are so grateful to Raymonde, Jerrie, Bessie, Katie, Amanda, and all the other amazing women throughout history and today who work tirelessly to improve the air and space industry! 

You can learn more about Women Of Aviation Week at https://womenofaviationweek.iwoaw.org/

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