Friday, July 29, 2011
Women Pilots: Raymonde de laRoche
Raymonde de Laroche (22 August 1882 – 18 July 1919), born Elise Raymonde Deroche, was a French aviatrix and the first woman in the world to receive an aeroplane pilot's licence.
Born on 22 August 1882 in Paris, Elise Raymonde Deroche was the daughter of a plumber. She had a fondness for sports as a child, as well as for motorcycles and automobiles when she was older. As a young woman she became an actress and used the stage name "Raymonde de Laroche". Inspired by Wilbur Wright's 1908 demonstrations of powered flight in Paris and being personally acquainted with several aviators, including artist-turned-aviator Léon Delagrange, who was reputed to be the father of her son André, de Laroche determined to take up flying for herself.
In October 1909, de Laroche appealed to her friend, aviator and aeroplane builder Charles Voisin, to instruct her in how to fly. On 22 October 1909, de Laroche went to the Voisin brothers' base of operations at Chalons, 90 miles (140 km) east of Paris. Voisin's aircraft could only seat one person, so she operated the plane by herself while he stood on the ground and gave instructions. After she mastered taxiing around the airfield, she lifted off and flew 300 yards (270 m).
De Laroche's flight is often cited as the first by a woman in a powered heavier-than-air craft. [However there is some evidence to suggest two other women, P. Van Pottelsberghe and Thérèse Peltier had flown the previous year with Henri Farman and Delagrange respectively.]
Decades later, aviation journalist Harry Harper wrote that until de Laroche made her celebrated flight on the Voisin she had never flown except once, for a short hop, as a passenger; when she first took the controls Charles Voisin expressly forbade her to attempt a flight; and after taxiing twice across the airfield she took off, flying "ten or fifteen feet high" and handling the controls with "cool, quick precision".
Although Gabriel Voisin wrote "... my brother [was] entirely under her thumb", the story of de Laroche as a headstrong woman making the flight after scant preparation and against Charles Voisin's orders almost certainly romanticises what actually took place.
Flight magazine, a week after the flight, reported: "For some time the Baroness has been taking lessons from M. Chateau, the Voisin instructor, at Chalons, and on Friday of last week she was able to take the wheel for the first time. This initial voyage into the air was only a very short one, and terra firma was regained after 300 yards (270 m)."
Flight was also responsible for bestowing the title "Baroness" upon de Laroche, as she was not of noble birth.:9 Flight added that on the following day she circled the flying field twice, "the turnings being made with consummate ease. During this flight of about four miles (6 km) there was a strong gusty wind blowing, but after the first two turnings the Baroness said that it did not bother her, as she had the machine completely under control."
On 8 March 1910, de Laroche became the first woman in the world to receive a pilot licence when the Aero-Club of France issued her licence #36 of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (International Aeronautics Federation or F.A.I.).
De Laroche participated in aviation meetings at Heliopolis in Egypt as well as Saint Petersburg, Budapest and Rouen. During the show in St. Petersburg, she was personally congratulated by Tsar Nicholas II. There, she was presented once again as "Baroness" de Laroche. Thereafter, the title became commonly used.
In July 1910 de Laroche was participating in the week long airshow at Reims in France. On 8 July her aeroplane crashed and she suffered such severe injuries that her recovery was in doubt but two years later she was fit again and had returned to flying. On 26 September 1912 she and Charles Voisin were involved in an automobile accident. Voisin was killed, and she was severely injured.
On 25 November 1913 de Laroche won the Aero-Club of France's Femina Cup for a non-stop long-distance flight of over 4 hours duration.
During World War I, as flying was considered too dangerous for women, she served as a military driver, chauffeuring officers from the rear zones to the front under fire.
In June 1919 de Laroche set two women's altitude records, one at 15,700 feet (4,800 m); and also the women's distance record, at 201 miles (323 km).
Death and legacy
On 18 July 1919 de Laroche, who was a talented engineer, went to the airfield at Le Crotoy as part of her plan to become the first professional woman test pilot. She co-piloted an experimental aircraft (whether she flew this plane or was simply a passenger at the time is not known) but on its landing approach the aeroplane went into a dive and crashed, killing both the pilot and de Laroche.
There is a statue of de Laroche at Le Bourget Airport in France.
From 6 March to 12 March 2010, to celebrate the Centennial of Licensed Women Pilots, women pilots from eight countries on three continents used 20 types of aircraft to establish a new world record: 225 girls and women introduced to piloting by a woman pilot in one week.
Raymonde de Laroche in a Voisin biplane, Reims airshow, 1910
Before Amelia, Eileen F. LeBow, 2002