August 22, 1882
French aviation pioneer Raymonde de Laroche was born in Paris. While originally known as Élise Raymonde Deroche, she adopted Raymonde de Laroche as her name by the time she turned 20 and had begun an acting career. She enjoyed playing sports as a child, but as a young adult, she acquired an even greater enthusiasm for automobiles and motorcycles as well as acting.
Over time, de Laroche also developed a strong interest in airborne transportation. This interest was due in large part to Wilbur Wright’s public demonstration flights in Paris in 1908. In the fall of 1909, de Laroche convinced aviator Charles Voisin to give her flying lessons. He obliged, and de Laroche was soon piloting an airplane in the skies above France.
On March 8, 1910, de Laroche made history as the first woman in the world to receive an airplane pilot’s license. After de Laroche had completed a number of successful flights that were witnessed by officials of the Aero Club of France, the organization issued her license number 36 of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (International Aeronautics Federation). She went on to earn ever-growing international fame for her courage and skills as a pilot.
This career was not without its share of major setbacks, however. Only four months after obtaining her license, de Laroche was severely injured after the plane she was piloting crashed at an airshow in the French city of Reims. After a long convalescence, she was healthy enough to resume flying in 1912. But, a tragedy involving another mode of travel took place that same year when de Laroche and Voisin were in the same automobile crash; she recovered, but he died from his injuries.
Notwithstanding these calamities, de Laroche continued to achieve notable successes in aviation. In 1913, the Aero Club of France awarded her the Femina Cup for women pilots after she completed a non-stop long-distance flight of more than four hours in duration. Her airborne career was more or less put on hold during World War I since flying was deemed too dangerous for women in a military setting. After the war, though, de Laroche established several more flight records for women. One of these records entailed reaching an altitude of 15,700 feet (4,800 meters), while another was for a distance of 201 miles (323 kilometers).
Not long after these post-war triumphs, tragedy befell de Laroche one final time. On July 18, 1919, she was at the airfield at the commune of Le Crotoy in northern France as part of her efforts to become the world’s first female test pilot. After trying out an experimental plane, de Laroche and her co-pilot were preparing to land when the aircraft went into a sudden dive and crashed. (It is not known whether it was de Laroche or the co-pilot operating the plane at the time.) Both de Laroche and the co-pilot were killed.
A century later, the life and accomplishments of de Laroche continue to be commemorated. A statue of her stands at Paris-Le Bourget Airport, for example. In addition, Women of Aviation Worldwide Week has been held annually since 2010 during the week that marks the anniversary of when she received her pilot’s license.
For more information on Raymonde de Laroche, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymonde_de_Laroche.