Before Amelia Earhart, there was Tour de Force Hélène Dutrieu

2/22/2017

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As far as women in aviation go, there is one name that usually springs to mind quite quickly. Amelia Earhart was indeed a groundbreaking pilot, but while she was still a child in 1904, powerhouse 16-year-old Hélène Dutrieu was already a world-champion cyclist - about to get her license as an airplane pilot. Once she did, there was no stopping her.

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The daughter of a Belgian Army officer, Dutrieu took her first solo flight in 1909. She was the first woman to pilot a plane with a passenger in 1910. She became the first winner of the Coupe Femina - a non-stop flight of 130 miles in 2 hours 35 minutes. She earned the nickname "girl hawk" and beat 14 male pilots to win the King's Cup in Florence, Italy - all in style, donning high fashion pilot suits.

Dutrieu, who in her lifetime had more dangerous occupations than you could count on one hand, also managed to incite scandal when the press found out she flew a plane without wearing a corset under those suits.

In 1913, Dutrieu became the first woman aviator awarded membership in the French Legion of Honour, the highest French order for military and civil merits, established by Napoléon Bonaparte.

Apart from her numerous aviation merits, Dutrieu's bravery and skill set made her a name in stunt cycling and motorcycling, auto racing, and later on, she was a WWI ambulance driver. Dutrieu was put in charge of all the ambulances at her base hospital, and later became the director of her own military hospital, the Campagne à Val-de Grâce in Paris.

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After the war was over, Dutrieu entered the journalism field and became vice president of the women’s section of the Aéro-Club de France. In 1956 she created the Coupe Hélène Dutrieu-Mortier, her own distance air race for Belgian women pilots.

Hélène Dutrieu died in Paris in June 1961- at the age of 83. Remember her alongside Earhart as a pioneer in aviation - and many other fields once dominated by men.












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