May 18th's heroine: Jackie Cochran, who on this day in 1953 became the first women to break the sound barrier.
Most people have heard of Amelia Earhart - the first person (note person not woman) to fly across the atlantic from Honolulu to Oakland.
Jackie Cochran was another pioneering aviator who, as well as holding a bushel of woman's records was also the first ever pilot to acheive an instruments only ("blind") landing. She still holds more records than any pilot, living or dead, male or female.
Inspired by the British pilot Pauline Gower and her "First Eight", Cochran helped run the ATA. She then returned to the States to run the Women’s Flying Training Detachment, a "women's air army". At the same time, pilot Nancy Harkness Love ran a civillian women's auxilliary, the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, to ferry bombers between the factories and the front lines.
The sad coda: by the middle of the 20th century, attitudes were once again becoming reactionary. Cochran's WASP program was wound up and her application to join NASA's spaceflight program as an astronaut was blocked on political grounds. She eventually became one of the Mercury 13 - a group of 13 women tested for their aptitude for spaceflight:
In the end, thirteen women passed the same physical examinations that the Lovelace Foundation had developed for NASA’s astronaut selection process (although the original number of male candidates was much larger, fewer men passed the tests).(Wikipedia)
The attitudes of male astronauts lead to the dropping of the Mercury 13 however: Jerrie Truhill recalls that
The male astronauts referred to the women as "98 pounds of recreational equipment,"Source.
Two years later, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space.
Today's heroines are the women pioneers of aviation, who pushed back the barriers of flight as well as the barriers of society. Future heroines: the female space pioneers fighting the same battles half a century on.