*Note: This post has been updated since it was originally published to include Zara Rutherford.
Before I encountered the Joan Merriam Smith story, I had never really stopped to think about the concept of completing a world solo flight. While I had known that Amelia Earhart was famous for attempting a world flight, it was not truly a solo attempt as she was accompanied by her navigator, Fred Noonan. I wondered: when did the actual first solo flight around the world take place? How many people have completed a world solo flight? Who are the types of people that do this, and why? The more I looked into it, the more intrigued I became.
After reaching out to several organizations to try and figure out the answer to this question on my own, I was soon surprised to learn how difficult this information was to find. Luckily, I was able to eventually locate Australian-based aviation enthusiast Claude Meunier of Earthrounders, who completed his own solo flight around the world in 1996. Upon discovering Earthrounders, I was amazed to find an entire association dedicated to pilots who have completed flights around the globe! From his website, he talks about his motivation behind starting Earthrounders:
“After flying solo around the World in 1996, for a reason I have since forgotten, I became interested in finding out who else had flown solo around the World. I intended to write a book on those pilots and their flights. Later, speaking with Ron Bower in Austin TX, he suggested to create an Internet Site instead of writing a book, which I did, both in English and in French (‘soloflights.org’ and ‘volssolitaires.com’). I remembered Gaby Kennard, the only Australian woman having flown solo around the Wold, I remembered Don Taylor the first home built aircraft having done so, I also remembered the adventures of Dick Smith in his helicopter. But I was sure there were more pilots having done the same flight. So, I started a research and found a few names, some like Wiley Post who is no longer with us anymore, and I decided to try to meet as many of these pilots as I could.”Claude Meunier, Earthrounders
A Brief History of World Flight Attempts
According to Claude, there is no official register of world flights. However, he has done a very impressive job of personally cataloging a chronological listing of all known flights around the world, which I encourage you to check out here. According to the list, the first known world flight was sponsored by the U.S. Army Air Service in 1924 when eight pilots and mechanics took off from Seattle, Washington in four airplanes to attempt a circumnavigation of the globe. They completed the journey 175 days later on September 28, after making 74 stops and covering about 27,550 miles. Can you imagine?
In terms of known solo flights around the world, however, it wasn’t until 1933 that Wiley Post completed the first solo flight around the globe. Post’s flight set a record of seven days, 18 hours, and 49 minutes, bettering his previous around-the-world record of eight days, also set in the Winnie Mae in 1931, with navigator Harold Gatty.
The Female Earthrounders
Of the 127 known solo flights Claude’s tracked, however, only 11 have been made by women. Furthermore, only THREE women completed solo flights before the introduction of the Global Positioning System (GPS) in 1973. The full list of women who have completed solo flights around the globe includes:
- Geraldine Mock (1964)
- Joan Merriam Smith (1964)
- Sheila Scott (1966, 1969, and 1971)
- Judith Chisholm (1980)
- Gaby Kennard (1989)
- Jennifer Murray (2000)
- Polly Vacher (2001 and 2004)
- CarolAnn Garratt (2003 and 2011-12)
- Julie Wang (2016)
- Shaesta Waiz (2017)
- Zara Rutherford (2021)
(To learn more about each of these 11 women listed above, please visit the dedicated “Female Earthrounders” page here.) In closing, below follow a couple of videos for you to enjoy summarizing the first three solo flights made around the world by women. Truly inspiring, and worth the watch.
One thought on “A Brief History of Known World Solo Flights and the 11 Women Who Have Completed Them”
Amazing! Had no idea how many people have single-handedly circumnavigated the globe!