The final featured woman for our Women in Flight Series is Italian aviation legacy, Fiorenza de Bernardi. At 93 years old, Fiorenza continues to be a role model for women all over the world, and she hasn’t limited her reach to just the aviation industry — when asked if she has any advice for young girls today, Fiorenza replies without hesitation, “If you really want something, do it. Don’t stop until you have got it.” Let’s discover her inspiring story…
Fiorenza de Bernardi was born on May 22nd 1928 in Florence, Italy. She was the daughter of Colonel Mario de Bernardi, a legendary pilot in the Italian Air Force. Following her father’s service in World War I, he was in high demand at aerobatic championships. Of course, Fiorenza always accompanied her father and naturally, her love of flying only grew stronger each day.
At 23 years old, Fiorenza learned how to fly. She was the first female pilot in Italy and the fourth female pilot in the world at the time. The majority of her early flights were within the country, mostly routes from Milan to Cortina and Venice to Cortina, as she recounts in an interview for GE Aviation Blog. She then attended trainings in Moscow, Russia, flying the Yak-40 and continued her training all over the world. She’s competed in air shows in Australia, India, Afghanistan and Kuala Lampur. As many say, Fiorenza de Bernardi was simply born to fly.
In the early 1960s, Fiorenza became the first Italian woman to obtain her glacier and mountain pilot certificate. In 1967, Aeralpi hired her to fly the Twin Otter and she became the first official female pilot for the airline. Two short years later, in 1969, she became the first woman airline captain. Fiorenza was unstoppable, celebrating accomplishment after accomplishment! She gives immense credits to her parents, stating that she “owes [her] parents the privilege of having given [her] the freedom to make [her] own choices, to do what [she] wanted to do”.
In 1985, Fiorenza unfortunately suffered traumatic injuries following a car accident and officially retired after 18 years of flying. Although she physically stopped flying, this didn’t stop her from advocating for women in aviation. She founded the Italian Women Pilots Association, now known as the Women’s Air Association in 1979, and continues to hold conferences around the world to support women’s involvement in aviation.
Besides her continued support for women in aviation, Fiorenza is also a huge animal-lover. Having no children, she frequently makes the drive from Rome (where she currently lives) to an animal shelter on the coast to lend a helping hand. To this day, Fiorenza is an open-minded, engaging and extraordinary woman. She continues to be modest about her accomplishments, explaining that she “simply chose to pursue something [she] loved”.
Written by: Sacha Vincent-Toskin