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Hanna Reitsch

In 1932, medical student Hanna Reitsch began soaring and went on to become one of the first few people to cross the alps in a glider. As the world's first female test pilot and helicopter pilot, Hanna flew everyting the Third Reich had: from the first helicopter (the Focke-Achgelis) to the prototype of a piloted V-1 rocket. She went on to set more than 40 altitude and endurance records in motorless and powered aircraft in her lifetime.

In 1945 she flew the last plane out of Berlin hours before the fall of the city. Although politics had nothing to do with her love of flight, she was the only woman ever to be awarded the Iron Cross and Luftwaffe Diamond Clasp. One of her first feats was to fly the world's first practical helicopter inside of an exhibition hall.

Always the professional flyer, she was recruited as a test pilot and took on many unbelievably dangerous jobs, including testing a bomber rigged out to fly into the steel cables that tethered barrage balloons in hopes of cutting them, testing a V-1 flying bomb equipped with a cockpit and helping to de-bug the super-hazardous Me-163 rocket plane.

Germany was desperate to get advanced aircraft into production, and this desperation led Hanna to test some of most ill-conceived aircraft ever built. On many of the occasions when she thought she was about to die, she kept her cool and wrote down her observations of the flight, so that the datawould not be lost. In the very last days of The Third Reich, she landed an aircraft on a shell-pocked street in Berlin when most of the city had already been occupied by the Russians.

She spent two days in the "Fuhrerbunker" before returning to her aircraft and taking off under a hail of heavy gunfire. Although her politics were not popular in post war Europe, to say the least, she did not hesitate to break the "glass ceiling" of women's aviation. In fact, she smashed through it in the fastest and most advanced aircraft of her day. Allied airmen were lucky that she was too valuable as a test pilot to be risked on but a few combat missions.




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