Today 110 years ago, on 8 March 1910, the French lady Elise Deroch became the first female pilot in the world to hold a pilot licence for airplanes.
Her licence (No. 36) was issued by the Aeroclub de France, the world’s first organization to grant pilot licences. In 1910, only pilots flying for commercial purposes were required to hold such a licence.
Little of her early life and background suggested that she would achieve pioneering aviation exploits. Born in Paris in 1882, she first became an actress and started to use the stage name “Raymonde de Laroche”.
Wilbur Wright’s demonstrations of powered flight in Paris 1908 inspired her and eventually the course of her life changed after crossing paths with the aviator Charles Voisin from the airplane factory Voisin Frères.
She told him about her dream to learn how to fly and Voisin agreed to instruct and teach her. Voisin’s plane was a single seater, so her first ever flight on 22 October 1909 was her first solo flight at the same time. On this day, she flew over a distance of 270m (some 880ft) before touching down again. One day later, her second flight already took her over 6km (3.2 NM) in rather adverse weather conditions. As it is recorded, Ms de Laroche stated after the flight that this did not bother her, as she had the machine completely under control. Then, on 08 March 1910, she received her pilot licence from the Aeroclub de France.
She participated in many air sport events in France and abroad, in Russia, Egypt and Hungary. Raymonde survived her first crash at an air show in Reims, France, in July 1910 badly injured. She recovered and was fit to fly again two years later.
During World War I women were not allowed to fly for the Airforce, so she was grounded until the end of the war in 1918.
In June 1919 Raymonde de Laroche managed to set a new women’s altitude record, reaching 15,700 feet (4,800 m) above sea level. In the same year, she achieved a new women’s distance record, flying over a distance of 323km (174 NM).
On 18 July 1919, de Laroche went on a flight as part of her plan to become the first female test pilot. Her experimental aircraft developed a problem during approach and crashed. Both her and the Copilot were killed.
Today, at Paris Le Bourget airport in France, there is a statue in commemoration of her achievements.