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Raymonde de Laroche Part 1
Mar 01, '22


Raymonde de Laroche

Raymonde de Laroche (22 August 1882 – 18 July 1919) was a French pilot, thought to be the first woman to pilot a plane. She became the world's first licensed female pilot on 8 March 1910.

Raymonde de Laroche


Élisa Léontine Deroche

22 August 1882

Paris, France


18 July 1919 (aged 36)

Le Crotoy airfield, France

Occupation: Aviator

Élisa Léontine Deroche was buried at the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris, France.

She received the 36th aeroplane pilot's licence issued by the Aeroclub de France, the world's first organization to issue pilot licences. At the time, pilot licences were only required for pilots operating aircraft for commercial purposes.

Early life

Born on 22 August 1882 in Paris, France, as Elise Raymonde Deroche, Raymonde De Laroche was the daughter of a plumber. She had a fondness for sports as a child, as well as for motorcycles and automobiles when she was older. As a young woman she became an actress and used the stage name "Raymonde de Laroche". She was inspired by Wilbur Wright's 1908 demonstrations of powered flight in Paris and was personally acquainted with several aviators, including artist-turned-aviator Léon Delagrange, who was reputed to be the father of her son André. Due to all of these inspirations De Laroche was determined to take up flying for herself.

Raymonde and her son André

Baroness Raymonde de Laroche - The world's first licensed female pilot.

Raymonde de Laroche’s first flight with Wilbur Wright sparked a fatal attraction to flying.

On March 8th, 1910, Raymonde de Laroche received her pilot license No.36 from the Aero-Club of France, becoming the first woman licensed pilot.

Raymonde de Laroche’s first flight with Wilbur Wright sparked a fatal attraction to flying.

When Wilbur Wright went to France in 1908 to demonstrate the Flyer to skeptical French officials, he followed his dazzling aerial displays near Le Mans by offering to give rides to women in the crowd. Among those who took him up on that offer was the beautiful young French actress Raymonde de Laroche. It would mark the beginning of her lifelong—though tragically brief—love affair with flying.

Born Elise Raymonde Deroche on August 22, 1882, she grew into a tall, shapely woman with long dark hair and expressive brown eyes. Success on the stage combined with her flamboyant personality and keen sense of style to establish her as one of France’s fashion icons by her early 20s. She changed her name to Raymonde de Laroche, believing it had a more dramatic ring.

Laroche claimed to be a lot of things, including a painter, sculptor, balloonist, bicyclist and racecar driver. She clearly liked living on the edge and enjoyed her notoriety. But none of her previous adventures compared to riding in Wright’s aircraft, which inspired her to ask French aviator (and some believe her lover) Charles Voisin to teach her to fly.

In 1909, 23-year-old Laroche joined Voisin at the Châlons airfield, where he and his brother, Gabriel, built and flew their own planes. The Voisin was a single-seater, so a pupil had to sit alone in the plane and take direction from a trainer who shouted orders from the ground. During Laroche’s first lesson, Voisin instructed her to drive the plane along the airfield. When she reached the other side, a mechanic turned the plane around and she taxied back to the starting point. She was not, under any circumstances, supposed to lift off.

Ignoring Voisin’s strictures, after her first taxi trip around the field Laroche opened up the throttle, raced down the airstrip and rose about 15 feet in the air. As one witness, British reporter Harry Harper, wrote, the plane “skimmed through the air for a few hundred yards, and then settled gently and came taxiing back.”

Laroche’s lessons continued over the next few months, and she became more confident in her flying skills, but her training was not without mishaps. On January 4, 1910, she survived a potentially deadly crash after her plane clipped some trees at one end of the field. Her injuries were relatively minor—a broken collarbone and a few bruises—and apparently didn’t keep her down for long, as she traveled to Egypt the following month with the Voisins to compete in the Heliopolis air meet. Despite heavy rains and winds, 12 aviators competed, among them Laroche. First place went to Henry Rougier, who flew 95 miles despite the bad weather. Laroche came in eighth.

Her next mission was to face the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. On March 8, 1910, Laroche duly impressed the French officials and was granted pilot’s license No. 36—the first issued to a woman. By that time the press had nicknamed her la femme oiseau (the bird woman), but she had also given herself a royal title, baroness.

Laroche set out to travel the world, barnstorming as she went. In St. Petersburg, Russia, she demonstrated her flying skills over a small airfield where smoking chimneys not only reduced visibility but resulted in unstable air currents. After circling the field at more than 300 feet, she turned off her engine and glided down to a landing, leaving Tsar Nicholas II and other observers in awe.

Over Budapest more chimneys wreaked havoc during a competition, but Laroche took first place because no one else attempted the 68-mile course. In Normandy she was caught in a storm and crash-landed into a fence surrounding the field, skillfully avoiding the assembled spectators. Once again she got off lucky, suffering only a concussion and another broken collarbone.

Later that summer at Rheims, Laroche was the only woman pitted against male competitors at the Seconde Grande Semaine. The baroness’ luck held until the sixth day of the competition, when she crashed again, breaking her arm and both legs. When she came to, Laroche claimed that another plane had come too close, forcing her down from 200 feet. She was furious to discover that the careless pilot who caused her accident had not been disciplined.

This time her crash stirred up controversy. Women had no place in the world of aviation, or so went the conventional wisdom of the day. Women could not handle emergencies and were not as capable as men. Only a man could handle a flying machine—besides, flying was totally unladylike.

Laroche would have none of it. Sporting her trademark white sweater, she was back in the pilot’s seat two years later. This time she had her eye on a prize of 2,000 francs offered by Pierre Lafitte, owner of Fémina magazine and sponsor of the Coup de Fémina flying competition for women. The prize would go to the woman who flew the longest distance solo by December 31, 1912.

As it happened, another kind of crash kept Laroche from competing that year. She and Charles Voisin were driving near Lyons on September 25 when they collided with another car. Voisin died at the scene, while Laroche suffered serious injuries. Despite her grief at Voisin’s death, she was more determined than ever to return to the air.

By 1913, Laroche had tried flying a Sommer, similar to the Voisin, then switched to another biplane—a Farman, which she felt was easier to handle. Following another auto accident, Laroche took to the skies later that year hoping for a second chance at winning the Coup de Fémina. On November 25, she flew a total of 200 miles in four hours before a gas line problem forced her down. She claimed the prize at year’s end.

The onset of World War I brought civilian flying to a halt in 1914. Women like the baroness who offered their flying skills to the war effort were turned down. Laroche instead drove an automobile for the French. But as soon as the war ended in 1918, she set her sights on becoming the first female test pilot. She broke the women’s altitude record on June 7, 1919, climbing to almost 13,000 feet in a Caudron G.3. Three days later, however, American Ruth Law bested that record by flying to 14,700 feet. Not to be outdone, Laroche reached an astonishing 15,748 feet on June 12.

On July 18, 1919, she visited Le Crotoy airfield, where a test pilot offered her a ride in an experimental Caudron. As they started to land, the plane went into a spinning dive, plummeting to earth. The 33- year-old baroness was pronounced dead at the scene, and the pilot succumbed on his way to the hospital.

In an era when female fliers were rare, Raymonde de Laroche welcomed the challenge of earning her place in the cockpit. A statue honoring her stands at Paris’ Le Bourget Airport.


Originally published in the July 2008 issue of Aviation History.

The Baroness of Flight | Historynet



National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution

Early Flight (107)

In 1909, while the Baroness Raymonde de la Roche was dining with Charles Voisin, he suggested that she learn to fly an airplane. Her new ambition took her to the French flying grounds at Chalons where she was taught by Voisin himself. On March 8, 1910 she received the first pilot's license awarded to a woman. She entered the 1910 Reims meet as the only female participant and was seriously injured in a crash. After a lengthy recovery, she went on to win the Femina Cup for a nonstop flight of four hours. In 1919, the Baroness set a women's altitude record of 4,785 meters (15,700 feet). In the summer of 1919, de la Roche, who was also a talented engineer, reported to the airfield at Le Crotoy to copilot a new aircraft in hopes of becoming the first female test pilot. Unfortunately, the aircraft went into a dive on its landing approach and both the Baroness and the pilot were killed. A statue of de la Roche stands at Le Bourget airport in France.

(information compiled by D. Cochrane and P. Ramirez)

Raymonde de Laroche statue honoring her stands at Paris’ Le Bourget Airport.

October 22, 1909 “Baroness” Raymonde de Laroche became the first woman to pilot a heavier than air machine. The daughter of a plumber, de Laroche was permanently tagged with the title of baroness by an article in a French tabloid. She was accomplished balloonist when aviator Charles Voison convinced her to pilot his new invention, a fixed wing airplane. De Laroche’s statue stands at Le Bourget airport outside Paris.

Élisa Léontine Deroche was born 22 August 1882 at nº 61, Rue de la Verrerie, in the 4e arrondissement, Paris, France. She was the daughter of Charles François Deroche, a plumber, and Christine Calydon Gaillard Deroche. In her early life she had hoped to be a singer, dancer and actress. Mlle. Deroche used the stage name, “Raymonde de Laroche.”

Mlle. Deroche married M. Louis Léopold Thadome in Paris, 4 August 1900. They divorced 28 June 1909.

She had a romantic relationship with sculptor Ferdinand Léon Delagrange, who was also one of the earliest aviators, and it was he who inspired her to become a pilot herself. They had a son, André, born in 1909. Delagrange was killed in an airplane accident in 1910. They never married.

After four months of training under M. Chateu, an instructor for Voison, at Chalons, she made her first solo flight on Friday, 22 October 1909. On 8 March 1910, Élisa Léontine Deroche was the first woman to become a licensed pilot when she was issued Pilot License #36 by the Aéro-Club de France.

Frequency and Resonance


Raymonde de Laroche Archives - This Day in Aviation


The Société des Avions Caudron was a French aircraft company founded in 1909 as the Association Aéroplanes Caudron Frères by brothers Gaston Caudron (1882–1915) and René Caudron (1884–1959). It was one of the earliest aircraft manufacturers in France and produced planes for the military in both World War I and World War II. From 1933 onwards, it was a subsidiary of Renault.


Mar 01, '22
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