Next in the Amazing Woman series, I want to talk about someone who let their passions guide them to accomplishing several world first moments. Imagine, it’s the early 1900’s and we are part of the age of steam power and are starting to realize the potential of the gas engine. Massive steam ships cross the ocean. Zeppelins float across the sky.
It’s an age of discovery and today’s featured historical figure wanted to be right in the middle of it.
On to April’s Amazing Woman!
Everyone has heard of Amelia Earhart and her accomplishments in flight, but I guarantee you no one has heard of Lilian Bland. In short, Lilian Bland was the first woman to design, build, and fly her own airplane in 1910.
In this time period, hardly anyone had even seen a plane, let alone ridden in one. The Wright Brothers performed their first flight only seven years earlier in 1903. Amelia Earhart’s first solo flight across the Atlantic occurred in 1928.
Lilian’s story is nothing short of incredible. She became interested in flying after her uncle sent her a postcard of the Bleriot monoplane from Paris. With that picture, she studied the measurements and added her own thoughts to the design.
Her plane, the Mayfly, was built in her late uncle’s workshop after testing a series of models and prototypes. With each test she modified and improved the design until the plane was strong enough to lift four policemen. She reasoned that if it could lift four men, it could carry one English engine and then ordered one from A. V. Roe & Co.
A further demonstration of her passion is revealed when she wanted to test the Mayfly with it’s new engine before the petrol tank was ready so she improvised using an empty whiskey bottle and her deaf aunt’s ear trumpet.
The Mayfly’s first successful flight was on a hill in Randalstown in August of 1910. The controls consisted of a bicycle handle bar. The pilot, none other than Lilian Bland herself, sat in an open air canvas seat. This attempt resulted in an engine powered glide of about 30 feet. The Mayfly’s longest recorded flight was approximately 400 meters.
This flight made Lilian the first woman to fly an aircraft in Ireland and was also the first flight of a powered biplane in Ireland.
Seeing as flying airplanes in this time period was still extremely dangerous, Lilian’s father was extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of his daughter. He convinced her to give up flying by buying her a car. Turns out she loved cars almost as much as she loved planes and she ended up running her own car dealership by April 1911.