Pioneer female test pilot and world speed record holder.
Jacqueline Auriol did not start flying until she was thirty years old, when she did so only out of curiosity. The daughter of a wealthy timber importer and shipbuilder, she studied drawing and painting at the École du Louvre and psychotherapy at the Sorbonne. In 1938, she married Paul Auriol, the son of future French president Vincent Auriol, and together they were active as part of the French Resistance during World War II. The couple had two sons, Jean-Paul and Jean-Claude.
Encouraged by her husband, Auriol first qualified as a tourist pilot in 1948 and later studied aerobatics with Raymond Guillaume, considered by many to be one of France’s greatest stunt pilots. As her interest grew, she realized she would need a military license if she wanted access to planes used by the Groupe de Liaisons Aériennes Ministérielles (GLAM), an elite group of military pilots.
Auriol’s life changed dramatically in 1949, when a seaplane on which she was a passenger crashed into the River Seine, and she was severely injured. She underwent twenty-two operations to rebuild her face and did not permit her two children to see her for nearly two years because of her disfigurement. While in the United States for the final two operations, she earned her helicopter pilot’s license in only four weeks.
Auriol did not allow her injuries to prevent her from becoming licensed as a military pilot in 1950. She was accepted as a test pilot at the French Flight Test Center in Bretigny, France. In 1951, she reached a speed of 507 miles per hour in one of the first Vampire jets, breaking American aviator Jacqueline Cochran’s speed record. For this, the first speed record attained by a French pilot since World War II, she received the French Légion d’Honneur and the American Harmon Trophy.
Overall, Auriol held the women’s world speed record five times between 1951 and 1964. In 1953, she became the second woman to break the sound barrier and was one of the first pilots of either gender to pilot the Concorde. Auriol later worked with the French Ministère de la Coopération, locating water and mapping crop species by using remote sensing techniques. For her agricultural work, Auriol received the Ceres Medal of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
Auriol, Jacqueline. I Live To Fly. Translated by Pamela Swinglehurst. New York: Dutton, 1970. Jacqueline Auriol’s autobiography, describing her childhood, marriage, wartime activities, and her many aviation experiences. Cadogan, Mary. Women with Wings: Female Flyers in Fact and Fiction. Chicago: Academy Chicago, 1992. Profiles a wide variety of women in aviation, from eighteenth century balloonists to twentieth century astronauts. Welch, Rosanne. Encyclopedia of Women in Aviation and Space. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 1998. A reference work containing a broad overview of the role played by women in the fields of aviation and space.
Women and flight