We should not let 2012 recede into history without drawing attention to a significant but sadly neglected anniversary. One hundred years ago, a milestone in aviation history was largely overlooked in the media because it coincided with the sinking of the Titanic. We should now pay due homage to the achievements of a remarkable and courageous woman, lest they be forgotten forever.
Harriet Quimby was an early American aviator, who, in 1911, became the first woman to gain a pilot’s license in the United States. She bought a Bleriot monoplane and had it shipped to Dover, England, with the intention of becoming the first woman to fly the English Channel. On Tuesday April 16, 1912, she took off across the Channel from Dover. Her target was Calais, but she landed about 25 miles further north on a sandy fishing beach in Hardelot-Plage, Pas-de-Calais, where she was met by villagers who had heard about her attempted flight. Understandably in the circumstances, the world did not erupt in celebration, fanfare and media acclaim. Her story had submerged along with the Titanic, but Harriet Quimby had indeed become the first woman to pilot an aircraft across the English Channel.
Quimby died later that same year. On July 1, 1912, she flew in the Third Annual Boston Aviation Meet at Squantum, Massachusetts. Accompanied by William Willard, the event organiser, she flew out to Boston Harbor in her brand-new two-seater Bleriot monoplane. They returned, circled the airfield and then suddenly, at an altitude of 1,500 feet, the aircraft inexplicably pitched forwards. Both Willard and Quimby were ejected from their seats and fell to their deaths.
Harriet Quimby paved the way for other female aviation pioneers like Amelia Earhart and Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman. She should not be forgotten.