Raymonde de Laroche - The first woman to receive a pilot’s license
Visitors to Le Bourget Airport in Paris may well have noticed a statue of Raymonde de Laroche without realizing what a key role she has played in aviation history as the first woman in the world to receive an official pilot’s license.
Born in the French capital in 1882, de Laroche became an actress and, moving in the kind of social circles that entails, became close friends with several leading aviators including airplane builder Charles Voisin whom she asked to teach her how to fly. In October 1909, she took to the skies for the first time. As the plane only had enough space for one person, de Laroche took charge of the controls while Voisin advised her from the ground.
That short 270m hop at the Voisin brothers’ base of operations at Chalons is often cited as the first ever by a woman in a powered heavier-than-air craft.
According to Flight Magazine, the following day, she once again took to the air, this time completing a total of some 6km, twice circling the flying field. One year later, she was issued with pilot license 36, making her the first woman in the world to receive one.
De Laroche went on to set two women’s altitude records in 1919 – one at 4,800m and also the women’s distance record at 323km. Her next goal was to become the first professional female test pilot. This, however, ended tragically when she was killed in a plane crash on 18 July 1919.
Her legacy lives on, though. Besides the statue, Women of Aviation Worldwide Week is held annually during the week of 8 March, which marks the anniversary of de Laroche’s pilot license as well as International Women’s Day.