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Harriet Quimby: First Female Pilot to Fly Across English Channel

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

Harriet Quimby was an American aviator and movie screenwriter. Although she only lived to 37, she became a huge inspiration to other females in aviation.

Harriet Quimby was born May 11, 1875 in Arcadia Township, Michigan. Her family moved to San Francisco in the early 1990s where she became a journalist. By the time she reached her late 20s, she moved to New York City to work as a theater critic where she had over 250 articles published.

In 1910 she attended the Belmont Park International Aviation Tournament which peaked her interest in learning to fly. In the spring of 1911 she started taking lessons at the Moisant School of Aviation at Hempstead, Long Island. By August 1,1911, she became the first U.S. woman to earn an Aero Club of America aviator’s certificate. This was a huge accomplishment for which she was widely recognized and celebrated.

As one of the country’s new female pilots, Quimby capitalized on this by embracing her femininity. She could be found wearing trousers tucked into high lace boots, fancy blouses complete with a necklace and antique bracelet. She drew crowds wherever she went and showcased her talents around the country participating in aviation activities.

After about a month of preparation, on April 16, 1912, Quimby was the first female to pilot a monoplane across the English Channel. She traveled from Dover, England to Hardelot, France, a 59-minute flight. Although this was yet another huge accomplishment, this event didn’t receive much media attention due to the sinking of the Titanic which happened just a few days prior.

On July 1, 1912, Quimby took her last flight when she participated in the Third Annual Boston Aviation Meet in Squantum, MA. She flew out around Boston Harbor at 3,000 feet, then returned and circled the airfield. An unexpected malfunction occurred with the aircraft that resulted in her early death.

At only 37 years old, Quimby was known as an ambitious, daring, accomplished young woman and aviator. She is remembered for setting records as the first US female pilot as well as the first female to pilot across the English channel. To this day, she continues to inspire and motivate females and young pilots around the world.




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