“Aviatress of the World”: Raymonde de Laroche

Raymonde de LarocheThe Women in Aviation, International conference in Nashville is right around the corner.  It has been held in March since the organization was founded and it is no secret as to why this month was chosen.  March is nationally known as women’s history month to which we raise a toast to the influential women who have pushed passed gender barriers and paved the way for future generations.  More specifically, March 8th possesses a particular meaning in the canons of women’s history.  To begin, March 8th signifies International Women’s Day which began in 2011 when more than 100 countries joined together to celebrate the accomplishments of women worldwide.  Various nations have commemorated IWD since 1911 when it first began, focusing on the women who have worked tirelessly towards a more egalitarian society.  This day holds an even more special meaning to those of us in the aviation community, it is the date in which women entered into aviation.  On this day in 1910, Raymonde de Laroche became the first woman in the world to obtain a pilot’s license.

Born on August 22, 1882 in Paris, France as Elise Raymonde Deroche.  She initially pursued an acting career where she took on the stage name of Raymonde de Laroche.  It was not until 1908 when Wilbur Wright arrived in Paris to perform a flight demonstration that she became interested in flying.  She inquired with aviator Charles Voisin from whom she took flight instruction.  She earned License #36 from the International Aeronautics Federation (F.A.I.) on March 8, 1910 at the young age of twenty-four.  Several months later she entered the Reims air race as the only woman pilot.  Unfortunately a near fatal crash involving Laroche brought the race to abrupt stop to her aviation career.  She suffered multiple injuries which forced her to be grounded for a time, but it did not keep her from returning to the skies.  Laroche later went on to set new women’s flight records including her altitude record of 15,700 feet (4758 m).  She also won the Femina Cup for nonstop flying at a total of four hours.

In the summer of 1919, Laroche was determined to push the limitations further by pursuing a possible career as the first female test pilot.  She reported to the airfield at Le Crotoy to report for duty.  During a training flight with another pilot, the aircraft went into a dive on its landing approach resulting in the deaths of both the pilot and Laroche.

Laroche set the precedent for women around the world in aviation.  She inspired Harriet Quimby, Bessie Coleman, and other women to push through the gender barriers proving that they too could fly.  Happy International Women’s Day Raymonde de Laroche – this day is truly yours.

Below is an excerpt from Colliers Magazine written by Baroness de Laroche on September 30, 1911 about her experience flying in the presence of the Czar of Russia.

by Baroness de Laroche
from Colliers Magazine
30 September 1911
Transcribed by Dave Lam, 1-9-04

After practicing at Moumelon, and breaking my arm in a fall, I went to Helipolis, where I obtained by pilot’s certificate. I had hardly recovered from my accident, but I felt no apprehension on mounting my machine one more. What can I tell you of this first meeting, except that as soon as we took the air we were all seized by treacherous currents which flopped us about at the wind’s pleasure, although the atmosphere seemed perfectly calm. From there I went to Saint Petersburg.
The aviation ground was small. None of us was willing to fly, and yet we all decided to do so. On the occasion of one of my flights I mounted to a height of 150 meters, being enveloped by the smoke from the factory chimneys which surrounded the ground. I flew over houses, then above forests, and turned three times. In order to reach the ground at the end of the fourth turn I made a little curve, tacked, and stopped my motor at a height of 100 meters. It was my first volplane, so I was somewhat excited. To my great astonishment nothing broke. The Czar, who was present at this meeting, wished to congratulate me. He asked what my feelings had been, and I was able to assure him that his presence in the first place, and the houses and the landing ground, which was only 30 meters wide, in the second, had brought my heart into my mouth.
Then I set out for Budapest, where I successfully achieved a flight of 37 minutes. There again the factory chimneys, which served as pylons, so to speak, caused very disagreeable currents with their smoke. It was that flight which has left me with one of my most striking impressions. Nevertheless, in my opinion, the record for currents was broken at Rouen. There, being caught in a kind of tempest when I was in the air, I had to lower my equilabrator immediately and came to earth by the barriers that surrounded the aerodrome, where my biplane stood on end. If I had stopped my motor I should without doubt have fallen on the crowd. Happily, I had a little presence of mind left.

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