Against the wind
Pioneer women pilots
By Abbas Atrvash
November 22, 2002
In 1908, Therese Peltier of France was the world's first woman who piloted an
aircraft. Two years later, Raymonde de Laroche of France was the first woman in the
world to receive her pilot's license. Between these years, a large number of women
were attracted to flying. The extent of the women's interest in an activity dominated
by men was enormous.
In Europe and North America women attended flying schools to show off their ability
in handling flying machines. Presently, women around the world fly aircraft and helicopters.
They fly for the airlines, in the military and in space. However, one fact remains
that all these women, have somehow, in one way or another, have encountered problems
or hasseled by their society.
In 1921, Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman, when decided
to become a pilot faced so many barriers in obtaining flight training in the United
States that she had to go to France to pursue her dream. A 1994-95 survey of International
Society of Women Airline Pilots on sexual harassment and gender discrimination reflects
amazing examples of this nature, from verbal abuses to refusal of being flown with
by men captains.
In Iran, the civilian pilot training began approximately 15 years after Iran acquired
its first aircraft for the air force. Ret. Maj. Gen. Ali A. Rafat, then a young air
force lieutenant, a pilot and flying instructor and later the managing director of
Iranian Aero Club remembers, "In 1939, Reza Shah, after returning from an official
visit to Turkey ordered the founding of the Iranian Aero Club."
He continues, "The main objective of the club was to familiarize Iranian young
men and women with aviation and train them to fly. However, among other things, carrying
the mail within Iran would later become another activity of the club. A piece of
land was acquired in an area in south west of Mehrabad airport and later on some
aircrafts were purchased specifically for flight training."
The club's board of directors consisted of the prime minister; minister of finance,
the director of Iran civil aviation organization; commander in chief of the Iranian
air force and the managing director of the club. The first club's managing director
was Mr. Yasai, followed by Dr. Issa Sadigh-Alam, Gen. Hedayat Gilanshah, Maj. Gen.
Ali A. Rafat and Gen. Nader Jahanbani. Reza Shah and members of his family were the
first to become members of the club and paid their memberships.
The first announcement for accepting flight trainees' applicants was made
by the club management, through newspapers, on 15th Aban 1318 (7 November 1939).
Some 630 young men and women registered as members and trainee applicants.
The club became extremely popular with young generation and its membership soared.
The club gradually expanded its training to a great extent and included helicopter
and glider flying, aircraft mechanics, parachute jumping and model aircraft. Branches
were opened in several Iranian cities including Abadan, Kermanshah, Mashad, Shiraz
At that time civil aviation was quite a new concept and only a number of air force
pilots and aircraft existed in Iran. Considering the novelty and fear of flying;
and in the eyes of majority, the unreliability of planes in the early days of aviation,
not many people were interested in flying. Most parents opposed the idea of flying
for their children, thus discouraged them from becoming pilots. Only a limited number
of courageous people were taken to the air.
Starting 1939, women's emancipation was just getting started and their involvement
in social activities had barely started. Flying was supposed to be a man's domain
and was not yet unproblematic for women to enter. However, despite the prevailing
situation, 22 women sailed against the wind and registered at the club.
The first three pioneers who took the initiative to lead the way were, Effat Tejartchi,
Sadiqeh Farrokhzad Dowlatshi and Ina Avshid. Effat Tejaratchi at the age of 22 with
a burning desire of flying was the first to join the club. This daring woman, passed
away in August 1999, at the age of 82. Thanks to her daughter, Nahid Fiaz Manesh,
who kindly provided some information and pictures.
Effat first enlisted with the aero club as a member; however, when she
got home, her father encouraged her to apply for the flying course. By doing so she
became the first woman to register as a pilot student. Shortly after, Sadiqeh Farokhzad
Dowlatshi, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Toronto, where she is currently
living, joined the club.
She said to me, "One day, when leaving my place of work, the Ministry of Finance,
to go home, I heard the newspaper boys in the street are shouting the headline news
about the aero club accepting young pilot applicants. I wasted no time and went directly
to the club's registration office in downtown, Tehran." She has a fascinating
story about her first encounter at the registration
office. She still gets excited when talking about those days, 63 years ago.
These three women all possessed extraordinary qualities. Thank goodness, in every
point in our history, we have had courageous, outspoken and dynamic women who have
stood for their right under any situation. These women should be given a ample of
credit for taking the initiative in a situation quite unusual of their time.
After these ladies, some more enthusiastic women followed suite. A few of them who
were remembered and mentioned by Effat Tejartachi in an interview in 1973 were: Fakhrotaj
Monfaredi, Ozra Rahimi, Drakhshandeh Malakooti and Safieh Partovi. Considering the
circumstances in those days, women's interest in flying had made exciting stories
for the media and the newspapers, which gave it a wide coverage.
According to Effat Tejaratchi, the aero club management first invited the group to
Doushan Tappeh for a introductory ceremony. During the gathering, each applicant
was given a set of pilot outfits, which included a jacket, a helmet, a pair of goggles,
shoulder harness, parachute and a headphone for communication between the insturctor
At the beginig, the women found their jackets particularly amusinging, because they
had been originaly made for men, therefore it did not fit the ladies properly. However,
they gradually made their own clothings. Subsequently, an insturctor and an aircraft
was allocated to each student and they started their first familiarization flight.
The club training aircrafts were the DH-82 Tiger Moth, a popular trainer aircraft.
This aeroplane was an open-cockpit one engine biplane with one seat in each cockpit
- one for the student and one for the instructor. Both cockpits had their own instruments
and flight control devices. This aircraft could fly at a maximum speed 175 kph at
an altitude of 14,000 ft.
Since at the beginning, the club did not have any airplanes, the aircraft and instructors
were provided by the air force until a later date when the club purchased a number
of its own Rearwin aircraft. The training course was two days per week and took place
at Doushan Tappeh airport. The flights were visual and had no radio communication
with ground control, therefore, when it became necessary, special signals were used
between the crew and ground personnel or vice versa. After certain hours of flight
with instructors the student would go solo.
When Effata Tejaratchi was asked about her family's feelings toward her flying,
she said, "My father was a broadminded man and not only did he not object my
involvement in social activties, he was most encouraging," however, she continued,
"my mother was very scared for my life, to the extent that she asked me not
to tell her about my first solo flight." Interestingly, this was the reverse
with Sadiqeh Dowlatshai.
When I asked her about her parents' attitude toward flying she said, "my
mother was a very modern lady and extremely agreeable with my social activities and
flying, but my father and brother acted rather conservatively." Effat Tejaratchi
used to remeber exactly the day she was soloed. When asked why, she said because
on that day she had written the following remark, in Hafez's book, "the most
glorious day for a pilot is the day she solos."
The writer had a fascinating conversation with Sadiqeh Dowlatshi in Toronto. Close
to 80-years old, she is brisk, energetic and full of life. She participates in most
Iranian community activities, day after day. Having grown up in an artistic family,
mother and daughter both played Iranian music instruments. Mother played tar and
daughter setar. At a younger age she also once had participated in a boys and girls
mixed bicycle race.
Surprisingly, except on very rare occasions when these women had encountered some
negative reactions, most Iranian men I have met had positive attitude toward Iranian
women association with flying. For the sake of this article I put the following question
to an old friend, Capt. Amir Kasravi, a former Iran Air Boeing 747 senior captain
and asked for his honest answer. I asked him to envision many years back, when he
was a first officer.
He went to check for a flight and he realized that his captain was a woman whom he
was meeting for the first time and didn't know her or her proficiency. What would
have been his reaction? Would he feel comfortable flying with her? He answered, "I
have no problem flying with a female captain. I think that whoever takes a pilot's
seat must be proficient and that proficiency has been checked by the same group of
people that had checked mine." He later told me he had flown with a women first
officer here in Canada.
Although there are close to 5,000 (more accurately, 4,126 in 1999) women pilots (captains,
first and second officers) flying for airlines in the US only, unfortunately, we
never had women pilots flying with our national airline, Iran Air. One of the reasons
was that in the past, when Iran Air invited youngsters to join the airline to be
trained as pilots, no women applicants ever applied. It would be a great pleasure,
hopefully not in a distant future, to see women pilots in the cockpit of Iran Air
Out of the young women who joined the Iranian Air Force,
the first group of 71 were grauated in 1945 in different fields such as: electronic,
radar, medical, aircraft maintenance, air traffic controllers and communication.
However, Iranaina Air force never had any women pilots.
As the aero club activities continued, more and more pilots took advantage of flight
training. At one point over 200 women were flying at the club and many were able
to obtain their license.
Among the new generation of pilots, one interesting lady is Akram
Monfared Arya, another active Iranian woman, who
is presently living in Sweden. In 1974 while married with 5 children, she began taking
lessons on gliders at the Iranian Aero Club and became a aircraft pilot afterward.
Does this article have spelling or other mistakes? Tell
me. I'll feeeex it.