Women Crush Wednesday: For a brand often associated with motorcycles, we talk about aviation a lot. Our pilot-buddy Liam flies some awesome vintage planes and we get out to shoot with him any chance we get. The pics are awesome and we enjoy telling his story. But in a way, we're perpetuating this idea that aviation is a man's thing. The truth is female pilots have had, and continue to have, a massive role in the on-going history of aviation.
In 1929, just two yeas after pilot licensing began in the US, there were 9,098 men licensed to fly and just 117 women. Women who flew were often characterized as “girl pilots,” and newspapers focused on the colour of their hair or how they balanced aviation with housekeeping.
Later that year, 20 women competed in the first ever Women’s Air Derby. Despite being a truly badass air-race across the continent, press coverage and event regulations were rife withsexism. Pilots were not permitted to use any aircraft deemed "too powerful for a woman." Opal Kunz was barred from even flying her own 300 HP Travel Air. Under the finish line grandstand, six of these pilots laid the groundwork for a club of female aviators that would become known as the Ninety-Nines.
The Ninety-Nines were instrumental in ensuring female pilots had a crucial role to play when WWII broke out in 1941. They had more opportunities than ever before to fly powerful aircrafts, lay smoke screens, and take part in intelligence gathering. All of this they did exceptionally well, setting a new safety record in military aviation. Planes were less likely to crash if they had a woman at the helm.
Also during WWII, the all-female 588th Night Bomber Regiment dropped more than 23,000 tons of bombs on Nazi targets. They became a crucial Soviet asset in winning World War II (making the Soviet Union the first nation to officially allow women to engage in combat. Previously, women could help transfer planes and ammunition, after which the men took over).
They flew under the cover of darkness in bare-bones plywood biplanes. They braved bullets and frostbite in the air, while battling skepticism and sexual harassment on the ground. They were feared and hated so much by the Nazis that any German airman who downed a "Night Witch" was automatically awarded the prestigious Iron Cross medal.
To all the women who have risked their lives, and their status in a male dominated society, we salute you.
The Ninety-Nines are still active today, with thousands of members in 44 countries around the world. For more info on the organization, check out their website here
In the picture above, four female pilots leave their 4-engine B-17 Bomber at Lockbourne Army Air Field during the World War II. Painted on the nose of the bomber is its name: "Pistol Packing Mama".