With all the attention garnered by the new shows Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville, we thought that some should be paid to the pioneers of flight that gave rise to these dreams of exploration of the unknown. This time, it’s a French woman who became a legend in her own time.
She was among the first women to break the sound barrier. Her name was Jacqueline Auriol, and in 1953, the soul of flight was like silver through her veins. The following short subject, L’Aviatrice, was produced by ESMA (École Supérieure des Métiers Artistiques, which roughly translates as “Superior School for the Working Arts”) to commemorate the life of this remarkable woman.
Born November 5, 1917 as Jacqueline Marie-Thérèse Suzanne Douet in Challans, Vendée, the daughter of a wealthy shipbuilder, she graduated from the University of Nantes then she studied art at the École du Louvre in Paris. In 1938, she married Paul Auriol, son of Vincent Auriol (who would later become President of France). During World War II, Jacqueline Auriol, worked against the German occupation of France by helping the French Resistance.
Then in 1946 she took up flying. She got her pilot’s license in 1948 and became an accomplished stunt flier and test pilot. In 1949, disaster struck, and she was a passenger in a SCAN 30 which went down hard. She survived, but many of the bones in her face were broken and she had to spend nearly three years in hospitals having her face reconstructed over the course of 33 reconstructive operations. She couldn’t fly during that time, but she used her time well. She studied algebra, trigonometry, aerodynamics, and other subjects she needed to get an advanced pilot certification.
It was all leading somewhere. She earned a military pilot license in 1950 then qualified as one of the first female test pilots. She was among the first women to break the sound barrier and set five world speed records in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
She once explained her passion for flying by saying: “I feel so happy when I’m flying. Perhaps it is the feeling of power, the pleasure of dominating a machine as beautiful as a thoroughbred horse. Mingled with these basic joys is another less primitive feeling, that of a mission accomplished. Each time I set foot on an airfield, I sense with fresh excitement that this is where I belong.”
Jacqueline and her husband divorced in 1967 and remarried in 1987. They had two sons together. In 1983 she became a founding member of the French Académie de l’air et de l’espace. She passed from this world February 11, 2000.
All this is words, details one can look up, but sometimes one cannot reach a subject by words alone. They by themselves cannot express the ineffable light this brave and talented woman shared with the world, who dared to explore the frontiers of human flight. Watch the film, and you’ll see. We were in awe.