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Knowledge Center Items Spotlighting the Women of Ballooning

Up, Up and Away: Spotlighting the Women of Ballooning

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As part of Women’s History Month, Women of Aviation Worldwide Week celebrates the role females have played in the industry. RPS Balloon, the largest hot air balloon insurance broker in the United States, would like to take this opportunity to honor the women who have made their mark in ballooning.

Frenchwoman Sophie Blanchard was the world’s first female aeronaut, according to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. “She is remembered not only for her incredible achievements and bravery in early ballooning, but also for her dramatic and tragic death—becoming the first woman to die in an aviation-related accident,” cites Ancient Origins, a compiler of historical events.

Jeanne-Genevieve Labrosse Garnerin, also French, became the first woman to fly solo on November 10, 1798, and one year later, she was the first woman to parachute from an altitude of 2,953 feet. Jeanne-Genevieve’s niece, Elisa Garnerin, would later become a celebrated solo balloonist and parachutist as well, with 39 recorded descents. 

In the U.S. and England, Lizzie Ilhing Wise, “Madame” Carlotta (Mary) Meyers, Leila Adair, Leona Dare, Jenny Van Tassel, and Margaret Graham would all become famous for their exploits in the sky. Together, they would pave the way for the pioneer female aviators and astronauts of the 20th and 21st centuries.  

For example, Mary Meyers on Independence Day in 1880 became the first American woman to fly solo in a lighter-than-air balloon, according to Transportation History. From 1880 to 1891, she took to the skies hundreds of times in balloon demonstrations in front of large crowds.

During these demonstrations, Transportation History said it’s estimated she brought more than 100,000 passengers up into the air with her. In 1888, she established an altitude record for a passenger balloon when she soared four miles high during a flight in Franklin, Pennsylvania. Mary also set the record for the most one-woman piloted balloon trips which took place during the 19th century.

More recently, Jetta Schantz flew into the record books setting nine National and nine World records for Distance (292 miles) in 1993, according to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. She repeated her performance in 1994, setting nine National and nine World records for Altitude (32,657 feet), and in 1996 set nine National and nine World records for Duration (15 hours, 11 minutes). To date, the Smithsonian has Jetta listed as having broken 27 National and 27 World aviation records. Jetta’s records in all three categories were in the AX7 to AX 15.

The National Aeronautic Association (NAA) recognized Jetta’s altitude flight as one of aviation's "Ten Most Memorable Flights" of 1994. She also received the same recognition from the NAA for duration flight in 1996.

Additionally, Jetta was honored to receive "The Montgolfiere Diplome," the highest international award in ballooning, presented by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) and the International Ballooning Commission, and the "Shields-Trauger Memorial Award," the top national award presented by the Balloon Federation of America.

Kim Wooge Magee in 2019 set new distance and altitude records for a female pilot. She and her husband, also a balloonist, run “The Balloon Training Academy,” whose mission is to improve safety and increase the number of pilots.

We give kudos to the women who have made tremendous strides in ballooning, and are excited for the future as we watch new world records being set by a whole new generation of women in ballooning.

As part of our commitment to the ballooning industry, RPS Balloon is a key sponsor of the 2020 U.S. Women’s Nationals, a competition event that draws women from all over the country. The event will be taking place in Brookfield, Missouri, September 4-7.


Sources:  Ancient Origins, Smithsonian Institute National Air and Space Museum, The Gazette, Transportation History, FAI, Wiltshire Times

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