16 September 1910: Bessica Faith Curtis Medlar Raiche, M.D., having had no training, made a solo flight in an airplane that she and her husband, François C. Raiche, had built at their home in Mineola, New York.
Two weeks earlier, 2 September 1910, Blanche Stuart Scott had also made a solo flight in an airplane while under instruction of Glenn Hammond Curtiss at his school at Hammondsport, New York. Scott was practicing taxiing to familiarize herself with the airplane and its controls. Curtiss had rigged the throttle to prevent it advancing far enough for the airplane to takeoff. However, possibly because of a wind gust, the airplane did become airborne and Blanche Scott is considered to have been the first American woman to fly solo in an airplane.
The Aeronautical Society of America credits Bessica Raiche with the first intentional solo flight, however. The society awarded her a gold medal, studded with diamonds, and inscribed The First Woman Aviator in America.
Bessica Medlar was a many-talented woman. She received a Doctor of Medicine degree (M.D.) from Tufts University in 1903. She was a practicing dentist, a linguist and an artist. She had traveled to France to study painting, and while there, had seen Orville Wright demonstrate his Wright Flyer.
Later, back at home, she and her husband built an airplane based on the Wrights’ design. Using lighter-weight materials, though—bamboo, silk and piano wire—they assembled the components in their home before taking them outside to put together. The biplane had a length of 28 feet, 6 inches (8.687 meters) and a wingspan of 33 feet (10.058 meters). It was powered by an engine built by C.M. Crout which produced approximately 30 horsepower.
Because Dr. Raiche was lighter, it was decided that she would attempt the first flights. The airplane was transported from their home to Hempstead Plains for the attempt. During the day she made five flights. The last one covered approximately one mile (1.6 kilometers). The airplane nosed over in a depression and Dr. Raiche was thrown out. She was uninjured and the airplane was only slightly damaged.
Forming the French-American Aeroplane Company, Mr. and Mrs. Raiche built several more airplanes.
Bessica Faith Curtis Medlar was born in Wisconsin, 23 April 1875, the first of two daughters of James Burch Medlar, a photographer, and Elizabeth Ann Curtis Medlar. She graduated from Rockford High School, Rockford, Illinois, in 1894. She spent the next four years studying art in France. One her return in 1900, she entered Tufts Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. She graduated in 1903. Dr. Medlar worked at the Staten Island Children’s Hospital, New York, before opening her own medical practice.
Dr. Medlar married François C. Raiche, Esq., an attorney, in 1904. They had one child, Catherine Elizabeth.
Moving to the West Coast of the United States, Dr. Raiche opened her medical practice near Newport Beach, California, in 1912. She was a well-respected physician who specialized in obstetrics and gynecology. She served as chairperson of the Orange County Medical Association.
The Raiches divorced in 1925.
Dr. Raiche died at her home on Balboa Island, 9 April 1932, at the age of 56 years. She was buried at Fairhaven Memorial Park, Santa Ana, California.
© 2018, Bryan R. Swopesby