The youngest ever licensed pilot, Elinor Smith set multiple world records. When attempting to break a record, the aviatrix lost consciousness at 26,000 ft (7,900 m). The plane plummeted,
but she woke up at the last moment.
At the age of 10 Elinor Smith started going to flying lessons, aged 15 she mastered her first solo flight. Just a year later, in 1928, she received her license from the Federal Aviation Administration. This made the 16-year-old the youngest certified pilot in the world. Some months later the young woman from Long Island (New York) caused yet more furore, when she flew under all four bridges in New York. And all because a male acquaintance, who tried and failed said she couldn’t. She was the first and only pilot to ever accomplish this feat.
After battling exhaustion, cold, turbulence and equipment problems, Elinor Smith broke the women’s solo endurance record, flying an open-cockpit-plane for 13 hours and 16 minutes on 30th January 1929: at that time the wonder child of aviation was just 17.
But Smith went on to push the limits even further. In November 1929, she was in the air for 42 hours thanks to the innovation of in-flight refuelling. When she was voted Woman Pilot of the Year in 1930, she flew higher than anyone else and set a record of 27,418 ft (8,357 m). Back on the ground, Elinor Smith wrote a letter: “Happy to advise you of new altitude record just accomplished again exclusively with Longines watches. Watches functioned perfectly at all times.”
In March 1931, Smith soared even higher to 32,576 ft (9,929 m), setting a new women’s world record, though she nearly died during the first attempt. At 26,000 ft (7,900 m) the engine stopped, she lost consciousness and the plane started plummeting towards the ground. Time was nearly running out, but Smith woke up at about 6,000 ft (1,800 m) and managed to land in Long Island. In 1932, as the first female test pilot in the industry, she achieved a speed record for women, reaching 229 mph (369 km/h). Elinor Smith refused to be constrained by her youth or her gender, pushing boundaries as far as she could to show other young women what was possible.
Elinor Smith broke the women’s solo endurance record
when she was still a teenager (Farmingdale,
New York, April 1929).