04.11.

1980: First Female Aircraft Designer

Story Highlights

  • historical event: Elsie MacGill participated in the designing of the famous Hawker Hurricane fighter planes and thus earned the nickname “Queen of the Hurricanes”. A tragedy befell her in her youth – she was afflicted with polio, just around the time of her graduation.

Elsie MacGill, the first known female aircraft designer in history, died on this day in 1980. She was a Canadian, born in Vancouver in 1905. Her parents were lawyers; in fact, her mother was one of the first female judges in Canada.

Elsie graduated mechanical engineering and then became a Master of Aeronautical Engineering, probably the first woman in history to do so. However, a tragedy befell her in her youth – she was afflicted with polio, just around the time of her graduation. There existed a possibility that she would be forced to use a wheelchair for the rest of her life, but she refused to do so, and learned to walk with the help of two metal sticks.

Despite her illness, Elsie continued her doctoral studies at the famous MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). She started working for Fairchild Aircraft Ltd., a company that produced aircraft. Later she found work in the Canadian aircraft factory CC&F. There she designed the Maple Leaf Trainer II.

During World War I (the Great War), the British selected her Canadian factory for producing their Hawker Hurricane fighters. She participated in the designing of the famous Hawker Hurricane fighter planes and thus earned the nickname “Queen of the Hurricanes”. These aircraft were responsible for around 60% of the RAF’s victories during the Battle for Britain.

Elsie MacGill lived to be 76, and died on this day in the town of Cambridge near Boston (the renowned Harvard and MIT universities are located there).

 

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