WHO WAS THE FIRST FEMALE PILOT?
I have written here about a lot of amazing women, who did things that I would never have the nerve to do, even in modern equipment and with modern weather reporting and navigation. I am glad that I have been able to introduce them to you, my readers. But, do you know the answer to the question, who was the first female pilot?
I have written about Elisabeth Thible, who was the first woman to fly. She took a daring ride in a balloon in 1784, but she was a passenger. I have also written about Aida de Acosta, who was the first woman to solo in a powered aircraft, in 1903, but she was not the first woman to solo in an aircraft. So who was the first female pilot?
One hundred and five years earlier, a young woman became the first to solo an aircraft, and little is known about her. It seems her name is Jeanne Genevieve Garnerin, nee LaBrosse. She was born in 1775, but I have not been able to find her specific birth date, or anything about her youth.
She was a young French lady, and was in the crowd watching as Andre Jacques Garnerin flew his hydrogen balloon in Paris on October 22, 1797. He also parachuted out of the balloon, descending in front of the crowd. She was fascinated by the idea of flight and set about to meet him. Garnerin held the position of Official Aeronaut of France, and was unofficially known as the Aeronaut of Public Festivals. He must have been quite a showman.
After meeting Garnerin, she talked him into giving her instructions. Her first flight with him was on November 10, 1798. After Elisabeth Thible’s flight, the Chief of Police of Paris remarked that, “women could not possibly stand the strain of ascending in balloons and that, for their own sake, they should be protected from the temptation to fly.” That statement, however, did not stop them. Citoyenne Henri had also flown with Garnerin on July 8, 1798, so LaBrosse was not the first woman to fly. However, she was the first woman to fly a balloon solo, in 1798, making her the first female pilot in history. I was not able to find a specific date, just 1798.
She is not the first licensed woman pilot because licensing did not rear its ugly head until the 20th Century, after the Wright Brothers invented the airplane. Up until that time, those daring enough to take to the skies did so on their own.
Garnerin also developed the frameless parachute, which he enjoyed demonstrating. To make it even more impressive, he enlisted LaBrosse. She became the first woman to make a parachute descent (in the gondola) on October 12, 1799.
On October 11, 1802, Jeanne filed a patent application for her husband’s invention, “A device called a parachute, intended to slow the fall of the basket after the balloon bursts. Its vital organs are a cap of cloth supporting the basket and a circle of wood beneath and outside of the parachute and used to hold it open while climbing: it must perform its task at the moment of separation from the balloon, by maintaining a column of air.“ Previously, Louis-Sebastien Lenormand had invented a rigid type parachute.
At some point, LaBrosse and Garnerin married. They continued making demonstration flights and parachute descents throughout Europe. She was especially popular in Italy, where she was known as the “Prima Aeroporista (First Parachutist).” She made her 22nd and 23rd descents in Italy to a delighted crowd as she waved the French and Italian flags from the gondola.
The couple toured England in 1802, where Andres-Jacques made the first flight from Grosvenor Square, then descended into a field near St. Pancras. The Brits loved him and wrote a ballad:
Bold Garnerin went up
Which increased his Repute
And came safe to earth
In his Grand Parachute!
Jeanne accompanied him on his 3rd flight over London and parachuted from 8,000 ft. When the war between France and Great Britain broke out in 1803, they had to return to France, but continued making demonstration flights.
It is difficult to know for sure, but I believe all the parachute descents were made from a tethered balloon. I think this because most, if not all, the descents were made in front of a crowd.
While it is very interesting for learn about these early women pilots, finding actual facts and dates is not easy. That is partly because their families, in many cases, were ashamed of what they had done, and stopped publicity. In the 1700s, proper young ladies would not do anything so foolish!
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by, Captain Nancy Aldrich, aviation writer