December 23, 1811 Sophie Blanchard, the world’s first female professional balloonist, took off in Rome, falling into a “profound sleep” and ascending to 11,000 feet. Blanchard was nervous and excitable on land but fearless in the air. After her husband’s death in a ballooning accident Sophie had taken over his exhibition business specializing in night flights and an act in which she parachuted dogs or fireworks from the balloon basket.
December 21, 1910 Motorcycle champion Helene Dutrieu won the Coupe Femina, a prize awarded each year to the woman who flew the longest in both time and distance. On this day, Dutrieu flew 103.8 miles in 2 hours, 35 minutes and was the first woman to remain airborn for more than an hour.
December 20, 1928 Viola Gentry set the first official women’s endurance record, flying 8 hours, 6 minutes, 37 seconds in an open cockpit Travelair biplane. She set off a three way aerial duel between herself, Bobbi Trout, and Elinor Smith. Elinor eventually won, flying over 26 and a half hours, a record that still stands.
December 19, 1937 Barnstorming newlyweds Peggy McKillop and Colin Kelman took off on a whirlwind honeymoon from London to France, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India, Burma, Malaya, Java, Timor, Darwin, and Moree, finally landing home in Australia on January 15, 1937.
December 18, 1941 Recordbreaking aviatrix Laura Ingall was arraigned in federal court on charges of being a German spy. Ingalls had flown 344 consecutive loops and 714 barrel rolls, and had been the first woman to fly nonstop coast to coast across the United States. Ingalls was convicted of being an unregistered foreign agent and served time in Alderson Prison.
December 17, 1887 Madame Marie Louise Driancourt was born in Lyon, France. A widow with three daughters, Driancourt earned her pilot’s license on June 15, 1911 and performed in many flying exhibitions. When her plane was completely destroyed in a crash she chose to retire from aviation.
December 16, 1936 Ivy May Pearce competed in the Brisbane to Adelaide Air Race, posting the fastest time for any woman and finishing only two seconds behind the male winner. Pearce was one of the only female aerobatic pilots in Australia. Later she became a prominent Australia fashion “guru” and owned three exclusive boutiques.
December 15, 2006 Sally Ride, the first woman to orbit the earth, was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Ride helped develop the Space Shuttle’s robotic arm and used that arm to retrieve a satellite in 1983 during a mission on board Challenger. She founded Sally Ride Science, a company that develops student science projects and curriculum, with a special focus on girls.
December 14, 1989 Captain Carol Mitchell led the first all female crew on a US Air Force combat mission. Other crew members were 1st Lt Siobhan Couturier, Captain Anita Mack, Staff Sgt. Josie Harshe, Tech. Sgt. Sigrid Carrero-Perez and Senior Airman Ci Ci Alonzo.