April 16, 1912: Harriet Quimby becomes the first woman to fly across the English Channel. She left Dover, England at 5:30 AM and was to fly to Calais, except that the cloud cover obscured her vision and after a 59 minute flight, she landed at Hardelot, France. Quimby was the first woman to get a pilot’s license in the United States when the Aero Club of America issued her license in 1910.
Harriet was born to a farming family in 1875. They lived in Coldwater, Michigan until early 1900 when the family moved to San Francisco. In the 1900 census, Harriet listed her employment as “actress.” Harriet moved to New York City in 1903 and worked as a writer for a newspaper called Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly. She was their theater critic as well as a photo-journalist who traveled the globe for writing assignments. She had over 250 articles published during her nine year tenure with the paper.
Harriet became interested in speed while writing about auto racing. She then went to the Aviation Tournament at Long Island, New York in 1910 and met a pilot. She was hooked and began taking lessons. She was not only concerned with flying, but the beautiful and talented woman also wrote 5 screenplays, all romances, that were filmed in 1911 as silent film shorts.
On July 1, 1912 she was flying in the Third Annual Boston Aviation meet with William Willard as a passenger. She had a new 2-seater Bleriot monoplane. The plane suddenly pitched forward when she was at 1,500 feet altitude and Willard fell from the plane. It is surmised, although unproven, that he leaned forward to speak with his pilot and threw the plane’s balance askew. After he fell, Quimby momentarily gained control, but without the ballast weight she could not maintain an even flight pattern. When she flew the plane without a passenger, she added weight to the second seat. She, too, fell from the plane. She died at the age of 37.
“Aviation is proof that given, the will, we have the capacity to achieve the impossible.” – Edward Vernon Rickenbacker
“I owned the world that hour as I rode over it. free of the earth, free of the mountains, free of the clouds, but how inseparably I was bound to them.” – Charles Lindbergh
“If you want to grow old as a pilot, you’ve got to know when to push it, and when to back off.” – Chuck Yeager
“You know, being a test pilot isn’t always the healthiest business in the world.” – Alan B. Shepard, Jr.