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Women in Aviation Design

Emma Lillian Todd

Women have played a major role in aviation history. In fact, it was as early as 1906 that women first became interested in aviation design. Emma Lillian Todd was one of the first early airplane designers. She started to work on plans for building her own aircraft in 1906. She first worked on plans for designing airships before then designing airplanes. The airplane was made from Spruce wood, the upper parts of the wing were covered by muslin. The plane was a two-seater with a Rinek motor.

Famous Designers

In 1910 Lillian Bland, an English woman, designed a glider called the Bland Mayfly. She was strongly influenced by her uncle who introduced her to aviation, which she pursued with avid enthusiasm. She actually had a house with a workshop in which she constructed her airplanes. The first plane she managed to build was a model biplane. She then proceeded to build the full-scale glider. She made the glider from the wood of bamboo and spruce and used canvas. She used a 20-horsepower engine to power the aircraft. The glider did fly but could not attain sufficient height or distance to stay up for very long and she realized that a bigger engine and plane would need to be built to really achieve sustained flight. Lilian Bland was actually the first female pilot from Ireland. Melli Beese was an aviator from Germany who designed her own airplane in 1912.

Elsie MacGill was born in 1905 in Vancouver, Canada; and was the first woman in Canada to study and be awarded a Bachelor’s degree in engineering. She was then employed as an aeronautical engineer in Canada and worked as an Assistant Aeronautical Engineer at Fairchild Aircraft. She was then hired to be the Chief Aeronautical Engineer at Canadian Car and Foundry, where she designed an aircraft. This aircraft was the Maple Leaf Trainer II, which she not only designed, but also tested. MacGill took on more responsibility at the company once aircraft were being designed for the war effort. She was put in charge of production and was responsible for designing and developing solutions to problems that were encountered with the aircraft. Some of her solutions were the development of a method for fitting skis to planes for landing on snow, and development of deicing controls for use in icing conditions.

During the War

During World War II many women entered the aviation industry as workers. This was because most of the men had gone to war and thus there were not enough employees. The number of women working in aviation increased from 1% in 1941 to 65% in 1943. Women even did the mechanical work such as putting pieces of the plane together using rivets. They also did the electrical work and labored on the landing gear.

Women have played a substantial role in the aviation industry from being pilots, to airline stewardesses to designers. The impact of women is undeniable and over the years more and more women have entered the aviation field.