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Raymonde de Laroche – the First Woman to receive an Airplane Pilot’s license | #WomensDay

by Milicent Atieno
Raymonde de Laroche

Did you know that the first time a woman legally took the controls of an airplane after March 8th, 1910? Raymonde de Laroche was the woman’s name, a French-born on August 22nd, 1882 in Paris.

Laroche was the daughter of a plumber, and when growing up, she grew fond of sports. Later in her teen, she took a liking to motorcycles and automobiles. As a young woman, de Laroche became an actress during which she became acquainted with several aviators.

In October 1909, she appealed to her friend, aviator, and an airplane builder Charles Voisin to teach her how to fly a plane. On October 22nd the same year, de Laroche traveled to the Voisin brother’s base of operations at Chalon, some 90 miles (140 km) east of Paris.

The Voisin’s plane at the time could only seat just one person, the pilot, and no passenger. De Laroche had to climb up into the plane and operate it by herself as her instructor stood on the ground giving instructions. When she had mastered the basics controls, de Laroche flew the aircraft off the grown lifting some 300 yards (270m) above the ground.

That flight is often cited as the first time a woman ever flew a powered heavier-than-air craft, but as it would later turn out, that was not true. Other women P. Van Pottelsberghe and Therese Peltier, have flown an airplane a year earlier.

About a decade later after de Laroche flight at the Voisin, an aviation journalist Harry Harper wrote that she had in fact flown once before that day. Although at the time, she was a passenger but insisted to flying the plane and took the controls. She was in the company of Charles Voisin who expressly forbade her from attempting to fly, but after taxiing twice across the airfield, de Laroche decided to take off and flew some ten or fifteen feet off the ground.

On March 8th, 1910, de Laroche officially received her pilot license from the Aero-Club of France, effectively become the first woman licensed pilot. After getting her license, de Laroche took part in several aviation meetings at Heliopolis in Egypt, Budapest, Saint Petersburg, and Rouen.

On July 1910, she took part in a week-long airshow at Reims, France. On the 8th her plane crashed, and she got such severe injuries that people were questioning if she will ever recover. However, two years later, she had made a full recovery and was back in the air flying planes, but that would not last long. On September 26th, 1912, she and Charles Voisin were in a car crash. Voisin lost his life, and de Laroche survived.

On November 25, 193, she won the Aero-Club of France’s Femina Cup after making a non-stop long-distance flight over more than four hours. When the World War I broke out, women were not discouraged from flying planes in dangerous air spaces, so de Laroche was relegated to chauffeuring military officers as a driver at the back of the war front.

On June 1919, she set two women’s altitude records by flying at an altitude of 15,7000 feet (4,800m) and covering a distance of 201 miles (323 km).

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