The aviation industry has always been male dominated. However, there have been many strong and inspiring women who have made remarkable contributions. From inventors and engineers to astronauts and airline executives, these women have broken records and shattered stereotypes.
In the spirit of 25by2025 – the initiative to increase female participation in the industry to 25% – let us recognise the accomplishments of the many extraordinary women who have helped shape the aviation industry today.
Throughout the 20th century, there were many women who made important contributions to the field. Below are a few of the most significant.
No celebration of women in aviation would be complete without remembering Amelia Earhart. This influential aviator took her first flight in 1920, after which she knew she had to become a pilot and in 1932, she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. The previous year, she had broken another record – piloting an autogiro to an altitude of 18,415 feet.
Aside from her career as a pilot, Earhart was a central figure in the development of commercial air travel, boosting the reputation of commercial flights and making them more accessible to the general public.
She was renowned for encouraging women to reject oppressive social norms and to enter the field of aviation. She founded the Ninety-Nines, an organisation of female pilots, and was also the first female vice president of the National Aeronautic Association.
In 1911, Quimby became the first American woman to be awarded a pilot’s license. She was also the first woman to pilot an aircraft over the English Channel, and the first to fly over Mexico City. In addition to her aviation career, she broke many gender stereotypes by travelling the world alone as a professional writer and photographer.
After buying her first plane from Orville Wright at age 21, Law enrolled in the Burgess Flying School in 1912. Wright had refused to train her as he believed that women did not have the mechanical aptitude for it; she certainly proved him wrong, gaining her pilot’s license later that year and going on to break various records. She was the first person ever to fly from New York to Chicago in a single flight, was adept at aerobatic manoeuvres, and was known for carrying out maintenance on her planes.
Women in Aerospace and Aeronautical Engineering
Engineering, another male-dominated field, has also seen notable contributions from women.
Below are a few of the most prominent women in aerospace and aeronautical engineering.
MacGill was the first female aircraft designer in the world. In 1927, she graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in electrical engineering and in 1929, she became the first woman in the US to be awarded a MSc in Aeronautical Engineering. She had also conducted research and development for the University of Michigan’s aeronautics facilities and later went on to do doctoral studies at MIT.
Some other notable achievements include:
- Becoming Chief Aeronautical Engineer at Canadian Car and Foundry – the first women to have ever had such a position.
- The development of several fighter aircrafts for the RAF
- The design of de-icing controls and ski-landing systems
- Becoming Technical advisor for ICAO
- The development of Air Worthiness regulations for the design and production of commercial aircraft
- The establishment of her own aviation consulting firm
- Becoming chairman of the United Nations Stress Analysis Committee
- Being awarded with the Centennial Medal by the Canadian Government, the Amelia Earhart medal, and the gold medal of the Ontario Association of Professional Engineers
Quite the impressive CV. She was also actively involved in promoting women’s rights and was part of various business committees for women.
Flügge-Lotz was the first female professor of engineering at Stanford University, specialising in the mathematics of aerodynamics. She made significant contributions to the field during a research position at the Aerodynamics Institute of Göttingen, developing the “Lotz Method” which is used in calculating the aerodynamics of wings.
Other notable achievements include the Achievement Award by the Society of Women Engineers, being a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and being the only American female delegate at the first Congress of the International Federation of Automatic Control in Moscow.
Mary Sherman Morgan
Morgan designed Hydyne, the liquid rocket fuel used to launch the Jupiter-C rocket, and she hadn’t even obtained a university degree. She was offered a job as a chemist during the war and was responsible for manufacturing explosives. After the war ended, she worked on the fuel that enabled the U.S. to make it into space.
Women in Aviation Safety and Management
More and more women are taking on high-level positions in aviation management. Below are just a handful of the many inspirational women in aviation in modern times.
- Mrs. Ghaida Abdullatif: As former Vice Chairman, Director General and CEO of Syrian Arab Airlines, she achieved a great deal in her role, from expanding the airline’s fleet to upgrading its technology infrastructure.
- Susan Mashibe: Mashibe was the first female FAA-certified commercial pilot and aircraft maintenance engineer in Tanzania. She is also the founder of VIA Aviation, which provides private aviation services in several countries in Africa. In addition, she is the Africa Regional Lead for the National Business Aviation Association and is developing maintenance and repair services at Kilimanjaro.
- Carol J Carmody: As Vice President of the National Transport Safety Board during the incident of 9/11, she assisted the FBI in recovering aircraft parts and victims. She has also investigated various aircraft accidents, worked on solving environmental issues, and convinced the ICAO to begin a safety program to ensure the effective implementation of ICAO standards.
- Betty Crites Dillon: Dillon was the first women to be part of the ICAO Council. Other positions included Air Transport Examiner for the US Civil Aeronautics Board’s Bureau of International Affairs, and commander of a Civil Air Patrol Squadron.
- Maureen Dougherty: Doherty’s 35-year career with Boeing has led her to her current president of Boeing Australia, New Zeland, and South Pacific. She coordinates all Boeing activities, which includes directing strategic initiatives and leading government relations.
- Maya Leibman: Leibman is currently Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer at American Airlines. Her career with AA began in 1994 in revenue management and she has since ascended far up the ladder. Leibman is involved in various volunteer programmes including the So SMAART programme, an initiative aimed at teaching minority girls ages 9-12 about technology.
Women have been a part of the aviation industry since the beginning and, despite facing significant challenges, they were able to make a significant impact on the industry. Some of the early pioneers mentioned were responsible for building public support for aviation, which helped to encourage investment in the industry and resulted in more commercial flights. Who knows where we would be today without their contributions.
We’d also like to acknowledge some of the women that make OASES who we are today, including:
- Alessandra Palma-Tilley – Operations Director
- Iulia Focsaneanu-Cuarente – Project Manager
- Milena Todorov – Head of Support and Customer Success
We also greatly appreciate the women working within the companies of our customers, such as:
- Sarah Almatouq – Materials Controller at Jazeera Airways
- Sara Bellis – Systems Data Integrity Engineer at Titan Airways Ltd.
- Joanne Morales – Asset manager at Aviatic MRO (AirHub Aviation
- Lilija Boltovska – Head of CAMO at SmartLynx Airlines
We thank these women – and all the others in aviation – for their contributions to the industry!
At OASES, we are committed to taking aviation further through digitising MRO processes.
Contact us today to discover how our solutions can help your airline get the most from its data.