Harriett Quimby (1875 – 1912)

Although being an American aviatrix, and being the first woman to gain a flying licence in the USA, we include here as she became the first woman to fly across the English Channel.

In her famous flying outfit

After earning her license, the “Dresden China Aviatrix” or “China Doll,” as the press called her, because of her petite stature and fair skin, moved to capitalize on her new notoriety. Pilots could earn as much as $1,000 per performance, and prize money for a race could go as high as $10,000 or more. Quimby joined the Moisant International Aviators, an exhibition team, and made her professional debut, earning $1,500, in a night flight over Staten Island before a crowd of almost 20,000 spectators. As one of the country’s few female pilots, she capitalized on her femininity by wearing trousers tucked into high lace boots accentuated by a plum-colored satin blouse, necklace, and antique bracelet. She drew crowds whenever she competed in cross-country meets and races. As part of the exhibition team, she showcased her talents around the United States and even went to Mexico City at the end of 1911 to participate in aviation activities held in honor of the inauguration of President Francisco Madero.

Harriett Quimby

On April 16, 1912, Quimby took off from Dover, England, en route to Calais, France, and made the flight in 59 minutes, landing about 25 miles (40 km) from Calais on a beach in Équihen-Plage, Pas-de-Calais. She became the first woman to pilot an aircraft across the English Channel. Her accomplishment received little media attention, however, as the sinking of the RMS Titanic the day before consumed the interest of the public and filled newspapers.

On July 1, 1912, she flew in the Third Annual Boston Aviation Meet at Squantum, Massachusetts. Although she had obtained her ACA certificate to be allowed to participate in ACA events, the Boston meet was an unsanctioned contest. Quimby flew out to Boston Light in Boston Harbor at about 3,000 feet, then returned and circled the airfield. William A.P. Willard, the organizer of the event and father of the aviator Charles Willard, was a passenger in her brand-new two-seat Bleriot monoplane. At an altitude of 1,000 feet (300 m) the aircraft unexpectedly pitched forward for reasons still unknown. Both Willard and Quimby were ejected from their seats and fell to their deaths, while the plane “glided down and lodged itself in the mud”