Meet Elsie MacGill, a legend in aircraft design and production and the first female aircraft designer in the world. In 1938 she became Chief Aeronautical Engineer at Canadian Car and Foundry where she led the production and redesign of several planes including the Hawker Hurricane – the plane responsible for the most British victories in WWII. Most of the employees in the factory were women and by the wars end they had produced 1,400 aircraft, a massive feat. Elsie had forged new techniques for aeroplane production and mass production and won the Gzowski Medal for this work.
Elsie insisted on being the first one to test each and every one of her designs, a dangerous practice that gained her much respect amongst the pilots. She had a disability that virtually paralysed her from the waist down so she couldn’t ever pilot a plane herself. She would be carried into the planes by her colleagues and test the flights as a passenger recording changes and observations. By the wars end Elsie was a national hero and became known as the Hurricane Queen.
Elsie went on to become Chair of a UN aviation committee and led the drafting of the first International Airworthiness Regulations. She is the first woman to chair a UN committee. The daughter and granddaughter of feminist activist Elsie was heavily involved in the suffrage movement. Her accomplishments for women’s rights are almost as impressive as her accomplishments in the air. She campaigned for equal pay, the decriminalisation of abortion, justice for native women, and so much more. She is a legend of women’s rights and aviation.
Sources: Northern Lights Award, Wings of Canada, Collections
Part 2 Tomorrow: Sex, Bling and Gliders the story of Barbara Cartland