Get to know these leading aviatrices who blazed the way for a new generation of female pilots and aerospace adventurers.
While there’s still a glaring imbalance of female pilots compared to their male compatriots in the aviation industry, this hasn’t stopped more and more ladies of today from taking to the skies. In fact, these prominent women in aviation featured here have shattered the glass ceiling, proving that if you put your mind to it, there’s nothing stopping you from reaching the clouds.
This Kansas-born pilot will forever be immortalised as an icon for championing the advancement of women in aviation. An extensive list of records and achievements are listed under her belt, such as being the first woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross (1932), the first woman to fly nonstop coast-to-coast across the United States, (1933) and breaking the women's speed transcontinental record (1933), among others. Although her disappearance remains one mysteries of the twentieth century - when she disappeared somewhere over the Pacific Ocean during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe - her legacy lives on until today, continuing to inspire women and girls across all fields of expertise, and not just in aviation.
When the Sabahan native felt that reading law was not her true passion, she decided to pursue a career in the aviation industry instead. Lauding her older brother, who is a pilot, as her inspiration to soar above the skies, she secretly enrolled in the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) cadet programme. After going through rigorous training with the RMAF, she earned her crown as the first Asian female fighter pilot to fly the Russian-made Mikoyan MiG-29. Now, Major Yapp is currently in the training command, overseeing the training of the RMAF such as flying, safety maintenance, ground operations and more.
Norashikin Onn took up her flight training in Fort Pierce, Florida while she was studying for a degree in music. She launched her career in commercial aviation after converting her US license to a Malaysian equivalent, earning her a spot as the first female pilot in the country to receive an Airline Transport Pilot License. She then helmed numerous commercial flights for AirAsia to destinations all over the world, including a flight to Australia that saw her make history by landing a wide-body aircraft at Gold Coast Airport with her female co-pilot. More recently, she undertook the repatriation mission to bring home 81 Malaysians and their dependents from Italy. The 52-year-old veteran pilot performed her longest flight yet, stating that she flew for 26 hours for the mission - proud to be able to serve her country in its time of need.
Frenchwoman Marie Marvingt was an all- rounder sportswoman, clinching gold medals for events such as skiing, bobsledding and rifle shooting, among others. She was even awarded a gold medal “For All Sports” from the French National Sports Federation in 1910, the only person in history to have earned it. Her foray into the aviation world started when she learned how to pilot free balloons, later rising in ranks when she earned her fixed-wing pilot’s license to eventually fight alongside the French infantry in aerial bombing missions. Her most celebrated achievement in the aviation world would be her life- long effort to make airplanes an integral part of medical support for both civilian and military casualties. She advocated the creation of airplane ambulances, further establishing civil air ambulances in French Colonies in Northern Africa. Her passion shines through as her name has been commemorated in the aviation world as the first certified flight nurse.
Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman was inspired to fly when she heard the heroic stories of pilots in World War I. Unfortunately, due to sexism and racial discrimination of the time, she was denied access to flight schools across te country. She then turned to France for her flight training, earning her pilot license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale on June 15, 1921. Armed with an unbreakable spirit, Bessie performed illustrious air stunts such as the “loop-the-loop” and the number 8 that wowed audiences. Her career was cut short though, as she died in an unfortunate plane crash. Nevertheless, she goes down in history as the first woman of African-American descent, and also the first of Native-American descent, to hold a pilot license. Bessie’s achievements are not only important for the African-American community, but also for all women of colour everywhere, be it in the Western world or elsewhere.