Tag Archives: early flying facts

Amazing Female Aviators in the Early 20th Century ~ Hilda Beatrice Hewlett

Hilda Hewlett is my favourite of the early 20th Century aviators I discovered whilst researching, not only because she was English but I was also surprised to find out that she opened a factory making planes for the war effort (WW1) near to where I live in Leagrave, Bedfordshire.

When I have time I hope to research Hilda’s story in more depth and I will share it with you but here’s her story in brief:

Hilda Beatrice Hewlett 1864 – 1943

Background and inspiration to fly ~ Born into a wealthy but large family, she was educated at Kensington Art School in wood carving, metalwork and sewing, all skills she used later in life. She married Maurice Hewlett, a successful novelist and poet, and through him Hilda became interested in motorcars, becoming a passenger and mechanic to a female racing driver, Miss Hind.

In 1909 she became a friend of an engineer Gustave Blondeau, through whom she gained an interested in aviation and began to save up to buy an aeroplane. She travelled to France where she worked alongside the men building her aeroplane, where she called herself Mrs Grace Bird.

Aviation achievements ~ They returned with the aeroplane, called The Blue Bird, and set up a flying school at Brooklands where Hilda learned to fly. At 47 years old Hilda is the first English woman to gain a pilot’s licence in 1911. Alongside their flying school, where incidentally Tommy Sopwith also learnt to fly, they began making aeroplanes.

Notable difference ~ In 1912 she moved to Leagrave in Bedfordshire where she set up her own aeroplane factory where women were trained to build planes for The Great War. By 1918 they employed 300 men and 300 women. (Even her sewing skills came into use here in sewing the fabric on the wings of the planes.) Later, she was the first woman passenger to make the 11 day through flight from England and New Zealand and she was also involved in a commercial airline.

Death ~ Hilda Hewlett died at 79yrs.

If you know of any other early female pioneers in flying then please drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you or write me an email diana@dianamaryjackson.co.uk


Filed under Early Flight, Frivolous Flying Facts, Research, Role of Women, The Great War, WW1

Amazing Female Aviators in the Early 20th Century ~ Katherine Stinson

Katherine Stinson caught my eye as a remarkable woman, not only because of her aviation achievements but also because she lived to a ‘ripe old age’ of 106 years, unusual even today but certainly ‘against the odds’ for aviators in the early 20th Century, either male or female. I was tempted to put her story on my other blog, ‘www.selectionsofreflections.wordpress.com‘ where I am collecting true stories. (If you’d like to tell yours then please email me on diana@dianamaryjackson.co.uk)

I am also sharing many tales of my dear friend Norman Campbell who died at the age of 103 years, still learning and determined to get the best of life. Norman would have liked to hear about these ladies since he greatly admired Amy Johnson and Amelia Earhart, to whom he felt a kindred spirit in their quest for adventure back in the 1930’s.

Here is Katherine’s story:

Katherine Stinson 1891 – 1997 ‘The Flying Schoolgirl’

Background and inspiration to fly ~ Katherine Stinson originally took up flying to save up to travel to Europe to study music, but she was a naturally gifted flier and soon became quite famous for her daring feats. She gained her pilots licence in 1912 and a year later participated at exhibition flights.

Aviation achievements ~ It is claimed by some that Katherine was the first woman to perform a loop and to fly solo at night, but she was certainly the first woman to be authorised to carry mail and to do pre flight inspections on her aeroplane.

Notable difference ~ Her other claim to fame was that she invented night skywriting, amazing her audiences worldwide. Not being allowed to participate as a pilot in WW1 Katherine, as many of her counterparts, raised money for the Red Cross through exhibiting her daring feats.

Death ~ Unlike many of her fellow female fliers Katherine defied an early death and lived to an amazing age of 106!

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Filed under Early Flight, Frivolous Flying Facts, Memoirs, Research, WW1

May 1912 Amazing Flying Facts

On our way home from Cornwall I was enthusiastic to visit the Fleet Air Arm Museum at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset. As I explained in my talk last Monday, I never imagined I’d become a ‘flying boat’ anorak, but I was so excited to see models of the first ever aircraft carriers during World War One.

Did you know that the first pilot in the world to take off from a moving ship was in May 1912, which is why this post is scheduled to go out a day later than usual?

Forget about the jets which zoom of aircraft carriers today, (if we had any,) and try to imagine the flimsy air machines from back in those days. Yes, it was an amazing feat of daring on the part of the pilot and advanced engineering skills on the part of the designer, don’t  you think?

Commander Samson flew a Short pusher amphibian bi plane, that’s one that floats on the water as well as fly to the uninitiated, from the battleship HMS Hibernia just off the coast of Portland, Dorset. This happened during the Naval Review in May 1912 and must have been quite a spectacular sight to all who witnessed the event. In fact, so impressed was King George V that Commander Sampson dined with him on board his royal yacht the Victoria and Albert.

Returning to the museum, I was also pleased to see the Supermarine Walrus, restored to its original glory, though I’m not sure whether it is airworthy. Does anyone know? This was designed by the famous RJ Mitchel, who, of course, designed the Spitfire and it was built in 1939 in Woolston, Southampton.  


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Filed under Early Flight, Flying Boats and Sea Planes, Frivolous Flying Facts, Supermarine