It wasn’t very long ago when ‘women in aviation’ was a topic that not many people talked about. With an increased focus on equality for women and other underserved populations, however, the United States is seeing some forward progress.
Today, we’ll walk you through some of the most notable moments in history for women in aviation. Then, we’ll look at what the aviation industry looks like today for female aviators and where it’s headed in the future.
Exploring the History of Women in the Aviation Industry
Since the 1900s, women have been making history in aviation. Unfortunately, they’ve often been hidden in the shadows of their male colleagues. The aviation industry wouldn’t be the same today, however, without these notable female figures:
Blanche Scott (1910) – Also recognized as the first female to drive across the United States, Blanche became the first woman to fly in America. Although her first flight wasn’t far, she later became known as the “Tomboy of the Air” and flew for the Curtiss Exhibition Team.
Bessie Coleman (1922) – As a black female Native American, Bessie faced many challenges as she attempted to find an aviation program that would accept her. At the time, France was ahead of the U.S. when it came to women’s equality. So, she traveled to Europe and received her aviation training at the Caudron Brothers’ School of Aviation in Le Crotoy, Frace. Her aeronautic tricks and performances gained her notoriety, as well as the fact that she was the first African-American female and woman of Native American descent to get a pilot’s license.
Amelia Earhart (1932) – Perhaps one of the most familiar female pilots in American history, Amelia is best known for her solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932.
Female Pilots During WWII – Thanks to a pilot shortage similar to what we see today, women pilots were in hot demand during World War II. As more females filled the pilot vacancies, their male counterparts were freed up to participate in overseas military combat. Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) was born, a group of elite female pilots who proved their skills by piloting a variety of military aircraft. The group was disbanded in 1944, however, after being told their services were no longer needed.
Women in Aviation: A Focus on the Present
While the industry still has a significant way to go, there has been an encouraging rise in the number of female aviators in recent years. According to Women in Aviation Statistics from the Pilot Institute, there were just 46,463 female pilots in 2018. That number rose to 72,428 in 2022. While this represents a significant increase, women pilots are still under 10% of the total current pilots.
Even though there have been some marked improvements, what exactly is holding women back from becoming pilots or pursuing other careers in aviation? To answer this question, we interviewed Lindsay Hernandez, a female flight instructor and aviation teacher for Rising Aviation High School in Addison, TX.
Like many people who have a love for aviation, Lindsay grew up around planes since her grandfather had one.
“I always knew I never wanted a traditional job. My grandfather used to own a small plane that I got to fly in high school and it was the coolest experience! I used to look at pilots and think they were geniuses and that I wasn’t capable of flying a plane. It seemed so unattainable. But then I thought if they could do it, why couldn’t I? That’s when I realized I wanted to pursue aviation.”
Barriers Encountered by Females Pursuing an Aviation Career
Wanting to become a pilot and actually making it happen are two different things, however. Like others in the aviation industry, Lindsay faced some challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, she had difficulty finding open positions for Certified Flight Instructors.
These weren’t the only hurdles she faced, however. When asked what she would’ve done differently along the way, Lindsay responded:
“I would look for a mentor. I didn’t have anyone in my life to educate me on what type of schools there are and ways to do it cheaper. I loved my training experience but it wasn’t cheap. Becoming a pilot is so expensive I wish I would’ve explored ways to do it cheaper or have someone explain to me what other options are out there.”
Other women in aviation concur that the cost of training can be a challenge, one that sometimes prevents more females from entering the field. A training environment that’s not female-friendly and battling the perception that aviation is a man’s field are other barriers women sometimes face when pursuing an aviation career.
In addition, many women want to take time to raise a family. This can be rewarding but also affect their career choices as Lindsay explains her own situation:
“Having kids definitely slowed me down even though it was so worth it. My original plan was to be at the airlines by now but I’ve learned to just follow my own timeline and do what works best for me.”
If you find the right job, however, it IS possible to have a rewarding career while raising a family. Lindsay says:
“Now I’m an aviation teacher at Rising Aviation High School. It’s the perfect blend of being around airplanes but also getting a lot of time at home with my family.”
Is going through all the extra effort worth it if you love aviation? Absolutely! Not only can you have a rewarding career, but you can enjoy wonderful experiences like this one that Lindsay shared:
“The most special moment in aviation I’ve had was getting to fly with my grandfather on my last birthday. He took me up in my first small plane when I was young and my birthday flight was the first time we flew with me as the pilot. After our flight his health declined and he passed a month later. It was really special getting to do something we both loved and was a really cool full circle moment.”
Women in Aviation: Looking to the Future
National holidays, such as Women’s Equality Day, and specialized organizations, like Women in Aviation International (WAI), have done a lot to increase awareness and promote equality for women. But what specifically can be done to help more women pursue careers in aviation and other traditionally male-dominated fields?
We asked Lindsay Hernandez this very question and her response was this:
“I think seeing more women in aviation will encourage more women to pursue it. When you see another woman doing it you think, “Hey, I can do that too.” I think the more female aviators who can put themselves out there will help spread the word that this isn’t just a career for men anymore.”
So, what’s the advice for females wanting to pursue an aviation career? Lindsay says:
“First I would say to not let any doubts hold you back and to work hard. Some women get caught up with trying to prove themselves and be better than the boys but it shouldn’t be about that. The best way to represent women well in this industry is to put in the work and do your best. And I’m going to say it twice- don’t let any doubts hold you back!”
Aviation High School for Dallas Area Teens
At Rising Aviation High School, we believe that everyone should be able to pursue their dream career, regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, or other potentially discriminating factor. Our engaging aviation-based STEM academic program helps Dallas area teens with a love for aviation do just that!
Students at our private high school in Addison, TX have the opportunity to earn an accredited high school diploma with a STEM endorsement. Through an academic program focused significantly on the aviation industry and its related careers, students are exposed to a wide variety of technologies, disciplines, and hands-on experiences. In addition, they learn valuable teamwork, leadership, and personal skills that will serve them in ANY career and in all walks of life.
We also offer Fixed Wing and Drone Pilot programs so teens in the Dallas-Fort Worth- Addison area can get a pilot’s license alongside their high school studies. To learn more about our teen pilot camps, aviation high school, or teen pilot programs, contact us today!