Continuing our Women in Flight Series, this week we present to you a true pioneer. Elisa de Laroche, better known as Raymonde de Laroche. Born in Paris in 1882, she was actually an actress before becoming a pilot and was the first woman to ever obtain a pilot’s license.
From a young age, de Laroche had a wide variety of interests, including sports, cars and motorcycles. However, she decided to pursue a career in the arts, specifically in theatre. It is here that she created her pseudonym, Raymonde de Laroche. Throughout her acting career, she always had a keen interest in planes. Some of her role models included the Wright brothers and Léon Delagrange. One day, she met Charles Voisin, a pioneer in the aeronautic industry, who became a dear friend and mentor. Voisin was the first person to help de Laroche pursue flying and help her obtain her pilot’s license.
Raymonde de Laroche was described as a headstrong woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer. In fact, during her first flight lesson with Voisin in 1909, she disobeyed his orders to stay on the ground and decided to take off. During this first lesson, she flew about 300 meters with impressive stability and smoothness. Less than a year later, on March 8th 1910, she became the first woman to obtain her pilot license, obtaining the 36th license from the Aero-Club of France. She set the stage for many other female pilots, such as Mary Marvingt, Jeanne Herveux and Hélène Dutrieu, who obtained their own licenses in the years to follow.
In July 1910, just a few months after getting her license, de Laroche’s plane crashed during a demonstration and she suffered extensive injuries. Her recovery was long and difficult, and she was unable to fly again until two years later. Then, in September 1912, her and Charles Voisin were in a horrific car accident, leading to serious injuries for her and unfortunately, Voisin’s death.
Despite all these tragic events, de Laroche has many triumphs to celebrate. In 1913, she won the Femina Cup from the Aero-Club of France for completing a flight that was over four hours in duration. Although flying during World War I was considered too dangerous, this didn’t stop de Laroche from using her transportation talents for the greater good. She worked as a military driver, bringing soldiers and officers to the front lines. Finally in 1919, when flying for women was deemed safe again, she beat several flying records, both for distance in the air and altitude achieved.
Unfortunately, in the same year, Raymonde de Laroche was killed in a flying accident with another pilot at age 37. As they were landing, the plane took a nose-dive and both pilots were killed instantly.
Despite her short life, it was a great one, which inspired many other women to pursue their flying dreams. Every year, the Women of Aviation Worldwide Week is held during the week of March 8th, which celebrates the anniversary of Raymonde de Laroche’s pilot license. Next time you fly into Paris via Le Bourget airport, keep an eye out for de Laroche’s famous statue.
Written by: Sacha Vincent-Toskin