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Helene Dutrieux

The first lady aviatrix (1877-1961).Hélène Dutrieux was born in Tournai. Her brother was a professional cyclist and ran a circus, and Hélène developed a music-hall act as a trick-cyclist. She married a Frenchman and moved to Paris, where she became a semi-professional cyclist, holding the world women’s speed record from 1897-99 and the European women’s speed record in 1898. King Leopold II of the Belgians awarded her the Grande Croix avec diamants de l’Ordre de Saint-André in recognition of her success. She developed an interest in motorcycles, and was the first woman to ride a “wall of death” and to do a full summersault on a motorbike. As soon as flying lessons became available to non-soldiers, she enthusiastically took them and flew solo for the first time in 1908, being among the first women in the world to obtain a pilot’s licence. She was the first woman pilot to fly with a passenger in 1910 and was the first winner of the Femina Cup (women’s altitude and endurance flying record). She won the Cup again in 1911 and was awarded the Croix de la Légion d’Honneur in 1913., the first female pilot to receive this honour. After retiring from active sport, she became the Vice-President of the women’s section of the Aero-Club de France and set up the Hélène Dutrieux-Mortier Cup, with a prize of 200,000 francs for the longest distance flown by a woman without landing.

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