This Day in History – March 8th, 1910

Raymonde_de_LaRoche_HeadIn October 1909, Raymonde de Laroche appealed to her friend, aviator and aeroplane builder Charles Voisin, to instruct her in how to fly. On October 22nd, 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; there is evidence that 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”.

Mme._la_Baronne_de_Laroche,_aviatrice,_au_poste_de_direction_d'un_biplan_Voisin_(c._1910)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. 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.”

Raymonde_de_Laroche_in_her_Voisin_biplane,_Reims_air_show_-_191007On March 8th 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 July 8th 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 September 26th, 1912 she and Charles Voisin were involved in a car crash. Voisin was killed, and she was severely injured.

On November 25th, 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.

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