The Most Influential Women in Aviation History: What You Need to Know

Women have struggled to make their voices heard throughout history. However, whenever a remarkable woman was able to break through the barrier and change history, all while living in a man’s world, her story is worth noting. If you want to feel inspired, here’s a list of the most influential women in aviation history, and all they have accomplished.

Juanita Bailey

Juanita Bailey was one of the most influential women in aviation history. She was also known as The Flying Beautician since her second claim to fame was that she owned and ran her own salon. Running her salon was able to fund her flying. Bailey began flying nearly 50 years ago at Bettis Field near McKeesport, Pennsylvania. However, learning to fly in the early 1940s was no simple task. Things were tough for a woman — and Jaunita was in the male-dominated field of flying. Most of her instructors didn’t think women like Juanita had any business flying. One instructor even told her that all the boys were to fly first — while Bailey herself would have to wait and ‘do needle-pointing.’

However, despite these setbacks, she picked up the trade quickly and served with the Civil Air Patrol. Bailey would patrol and coastal missions during World War II. When the war ended, she transitioned into another role as a ferry pilot for Piper distributors in Panama and Alaska. Bailey flew new aircraft from the factory in Pennsylvania to delivery points that included distant places such as Panama, Central, and South America, and Alaska.

Not many people have heard of Jaunita Bailey; however, she holds the distinction of being the first woman to fly a plane solo from the United States all the way to Panama. Furthermore, she contributed, even more, landing her a well-earned spot as one of the most influential women in aviation history. She participated in establishing the flight routing for light aircraft between Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, and Panama. She flew her formation with Col. John C. Adams, Piper distributor for Central and South America at that time.

Juanita made an impressive amount of delivery flights ranging from the 65 hp J-3 Cubs flight to the 450 hp Stinson “Gull Wing” flight as well. None of these planes that she used were equipped with a radio device, so long solo flights often over thick jungle or open oceans had to be navigated by sheer ‘know-how.’ During one of these such deliveries, Juanita flew into not one, but two government revolutions while flying. The first rebellion took place in Salvador. It started just as she was circling their capitol city to locate the airport. The second was when she was flying during an invasion of Costa Rica by the country of Nicaragua.

All in all, Juanita was not only brave, but she also had an impressive career. During her flying career as a ferry pilot, she delivered a total of 35 aircraft to Panama and South America. This impressive number includes 12 Pipers to Alaska. Additionally, she also made 50 deliveries within the USA — specifically to the midwest and Portland.

Juanita is a Life Member of The Ninety-Nines and a member of the “Silver Wings Fraternity.”

In addition to her Nicaraguan and Panamanian pilot licenses, she holds an FAA pilot certificate. In conclusion, Bailey has logged over 6000 hours throughout her shining career in aviation. She died peacefully in her sleep in 1995, due to congestive heart failure.

Amelia Earhart

Of course, you can’t bring up influential women in aviation history without bringing up the famous Amelia Earhart. Amelia Earhart was born on a summer day on July 24th, 1897.

She wasn’t obsessed with flying right away. But when a 10-year-old Amelia Mary Earhart first saw a plane at a state fair, she was not excited. Fast forward ten years later, she saw what these machines were able to do. She attended a stunt-flying exhibition, and that’s when everything clicked.

She became obsessed with everything concerning flight when she was nearing her twenties.

At this stunt exhibition, a pilot saw Earhart and her friend, who was watching from an isolated clearing, and drove towards them. Earhart stood her ground. When the plane swooped by, she realized this is what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.

It’s easy to see why Earhart became one of the most popular women in aviation history. To boost her own morale, she also kept a scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings about successful women in predominantly male-oriented fields. Back then, these fields included film direction and production, law, advertising, management, and mechanical engineering. This was exciting for Amelia, as she was not the type of person who wanted to live her life performing home care. She was adventurous and wanted to explore the world.

It wasn’t long before she became a pilot, as after graduating from Hyde Park High School she attended a women’s finishing school in Philadelphia. However, she left in the middle of the year to start as a nurse’s aide in a military hospital in Canada. Later, Earhart became a social worker at Denison House, which was a settlement house in Boston that took in women and children.

Earhart took her first flying lesson on January 3rd, 1921. In only six months, she managed to save enough money to buy her first plane. It was tiny yet fast, so she came up with the perfect name for her new plane — “The Canary.” It came complete with yellow paint and aviation clamps. It also helped solidify her spot as one of the most influential women in aviation history.

However, this was simply the beginning of her career. She got called to make one of her most popular flights while at work after high school and college.

Initially, she didn’t want to take the call that would change her life. She thought it was a joke and wouldn’t take the call. But after hearing that it was crucial, Earhart answered. She was then asked is she wanted to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic. She couldn’t answer yes fast enough. She loaded her plane up and took off, happy to take on this challenge. It changed her life. She was known as one of the most influential women in aviation history after this.

This landmark flight rapidly made headlines worldwide. It was such a famous voyage because three women had died within the year, trying to make the same journey. When Amelia and her crew returned to the United States, they were greeted with an explosive welcome party held by President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.

This day was momentous, and from then on, Amelia Earhart’s life revolved around flying. She continued to break records and placed third at the Cleveland Women’s Air Derby. She soon met George Putnam. They developed a friendship and were married on February 7th, 1931. Intent on retaining her independence, she referred to the marriage as an equal partnership.

In the years that followed, Earhart continued to reach new heights. On January 11th, 1935, she became the first person to fly alone across the Pacific from Honolulu to Oakland, California. However, she didn’t take a break, as later that year, she was the first to solo from Mexico City to Newark.

In 1937, as Earhart neared her 40th birthday, she was prepared for another record-breaking task. Earhart wanted to be the first woman to fly around the globe. She packed her bags and stocked her plane, and took off with her navigator, Fred Noonan. The duo departed from Miami and began the 29,000-mile journey. By June 29th, when they landed in Lae, New Guinea. They only had all 7,000 miles to go before reaching their goal. They arrived at Howland Island— which was by far the most challenging feat as it was located 2,556 miles t the mid-Pacific. However, things did not go well from here. Despite leaving cargo behind to make more room for more fuel, it managed to run low. They were also unable to reach them through radio. Unfortunately, they both disappeared and never made it back to the United States. Their disappearance became an enigma

A rescue attempt immediately commenced one of the most extensive searches in naval history. On July 19th, the United States government called off the operation search party. They had spent nearly four million dollars in the process.

Despite many theories, no one knows exactly what happened. There is no doubt, however, that the entire world will remember Amelia Earhart for her history and her courage, vision, and life’s achievements, both in aviation and for women. This all makes her one of the most influential women in aviation history. In a sad letter to her husband, the late Amelia Earhart had written one last message to her husband. She said, “Please know I am quite aware of the hazards.” She ended the note by also saying that she wouldn’t let anyone say that she couldn’t pave her way into long-standing American history.

Ann Wood Kelly

Lastly, we have another example of one of the most influential women in aviation history — Ann Wood Kelly.

Ann Wood Kelly was born in Philadelphia in 1918 and was educated in Philadelphia, Belgium, and at the D’Youville College in Buffalo, NY. She took up flying shortly after this and attended ground school through the federal government’s Civilian Pilot’s Training Program. However, she was initially rejected. But Kelly kept at it. She was finally accepted when the program failed to locate one last male applicant. In a short time, she became a flight instructor after filling in this missing slot and passing inspection. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Ann Wood-Kelly ferried more than 900 planes in her career to destinations such as England and France. She executed these numerous missions with only one accident from which she escaped uninjured!

In recognition of her war-time service to the UK, Ann Wood-Kelly was awarded the King’s Medal by King George IV. It was presented to her in Washington DC by the British Ambassador. After the war, and after this unique honor, she served as the First Assistant to America’s first Civil Air Attache, based at the US Embassy in London.

She always had a soft spot for flying. She was with the same airline for twelve years, successively assuming the roles of Special Assistant to the President, and later to the Chairman of the Board. In 1972 she was named Staff Vice President for International Airport Charges.

Her mother’s early encouragement led to a full life of aviation wonders and record-breaking flights, making her one of the most influential and famous women in aviation history. She, unfortunately, passed away quite recently in 2006. She was 88 and died of mycobacterium avium complex.

Wrapping Up on Aviation History

There are various influential women in aviation history. Without their pioneering skills, modern aviation would not be as advanced as we know it today. We may not have useful things, such as helicopter replacement parts.

Therefore, take some time to appreciate all that these women have done to change the world for the better.

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