Friday, April 1, 2016

A is for Elsa Andersson - Pioneer Women in Aviation: A-Z Challenge

Elsa Andersson 1897-1922
Elsa Andersson had no desire to stay in farming when she grew up. Born in 1897 to Swedish farmers, Edward Andersson and wife Alma Svensson, Elsa desired a different life. Elsa’s mother died in childbirth when Elsa was only six years old. An older brother also left the family for America to start a new life, which no doubt got Elsa to thinking about her future. She knew that life was short and she knew that life could be different if given the opportunity.

As a young woman, Elsa started looking to the sky for inspiration. She knew that Sweden’s pioneer aviator and aircraft designer Enoch Thulin ran a flight school and decided to enroll. She became the second of two women to enroll and she and Ruth Bergman worked hard as the school’s first female students. But Ruth dropped out for some reason, leaving Elsa to earn the first pilot’s license by a Swedish woman (1920). Interestingly, she was also Thulin’s last student.

Elsa was proud of her new pilot’s license (ticket #203) and eager to increase her skills. She wanted to learn parachuting, but Sweden’s only qualified skydiving instructor, Raoul Thörnblad, refused to teach women the skill. With grit and stubborn resolve, Elsa traveled to Berlin, Germany to train at Otto Heinecke’s parachute school. There she became Sweden’s first parachutist.

Elsa, 1922 (source: Tekiniska Museet)
As part of her training, Elsa did two student exhibition jumps in Sweden, one in 1921 near Kristianstad and a second jump in Helsingborg the following week. Pumped and exited to be Sweden’s first female pilot and stunt parachutist can only describe the exhilaration Elsa must have felt. Likewise, we can imagine the excitement of her family and friends who must have gathered below to watch, applauding and shouting their praise.

A third exhibition jump, scheduled in Edö outside Askersund in 1922, drew a crowd of 3000-4000 people, who had gathered on frozen Lake Alsen to watch. Unfortunately, it was Elsa’s final jump. Pilot Albin Lundberg carefully positioned the plane somewhere between 600 and 700 meters above the jump site, but upon jumping, the parachute cord tangled around Elsa’s arm. By the time the chute opened, it was too late. Elsa crashed to the ground and died on impact. She was twenty-five.

An interesting aftermath is two more jumpers died in Stockholm four years later, both due to parachute malfunctions. As a result, Swedish authorities established restrictions to protect future skydivers. The Royal Swedish Aero Club also built a three meter high obelisk (a
memorial stone) in Elsa’s memory at the crash site. 

Elsa's memorial stone. © Magnus Posse
 Online there is much discussion about the safety and dangers of skydiving. Apparently, it’s not as dangerous as one might think if done correctly. Altitude is critical though. A skydiving myth is: “the higher the altitude, the more dangerous the jump.” Quite the contrary, according to Skydiver (Feb. 5, 2009). It takes “600 to 800 feet” for a chute to open.

Other aviators:
Micky Axton (1919-2010) USA
Jacqueline Auriol (1917-2000) France
Valérie André (1922- ) France 



  1. This was a determine woman. So sad how her story ended.
    Thanks so much for sharing.

    The Old Shelter - Jazz Age Jazz

  2. Oh that's heartbreaking she died so young! So much talent and courage cut so tragically short.

    Best wishes,

  3. So inspiring to read about women with this extraordinary spirit!

    Seena from
    Thinking Aloud

  4. This is a most interesting and educational theme Sharon, Wonderful to read about such a wonderful determined woman.

  5. Fascinating story. Sad that it ended so quickly for her. Just image what she would have gone on to do.

    Ninja Minion

  6. How sad that she accomplished so much - in the 1920s! - and was killed by an accident. I can only imagine the wonderful things she would have done if she'd lived. Yay for brave, pioneering women!

  7. What a courageous young woman and a true pioneer - thank you so much for sharing her story. My son has had a go at parachuting and unfortunately for me would like to do it again (I had so hoped once would be enough!!) and I live next door to a lady who used to be a professional wing-walker so I will certainly be following all your posts :)
    Stormy’s Sidekick
    Special Teaching at Pempi’s Palace

  8. I love your theme! Thanks for stopping by my blog today so that I could follow you back here. Great story. Now, that's a famous Elsa! So sad about her fatal skydiving crash. She's a woman that forged a path for others to follow and look up to.
    Happy A-Z-ing!

  9. Sharon, I love stories of pioneers. Very inspiring and makes me want to go out and something great today!

    I’m exploring different types of dreams and their meanings during the #AtoZChallenge at Stephen Tremp’s Breakthrough Blogs

  10. What a determination Elsa had!
    But heartbreaking to see that such tragedy occurred :(

    Great post! Looking forward for more of your posts in the challenge :)
    The Piscean Me | Twitter

  11. I didn't know about Elsa; very fascinating short career she had. Tragic end to it of course, but I bet in her short 22 years, she lived an abundant life! My husband's dad's job in the Army was to fold parachutes (or whatever the official term for it is). It was a job, of course, he took very seriously since people's lives did depend on it.

    thanks for visiting!


  12. What a fascinating, but sad story. My mom did her first parachute jump for her 60th birthday.

  13. Wow, that story ended kind of suddenly... O.o
    I had a professor who is also a skydiver and skydiving researcher. She told us a lot of interesting things about how it works.
    Great start to the challenge! Happy A to Z! :)

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary

  14. The women of today have no idea what their gender went through. Even in the fifties, sixties, and seventies the discrimination was clear.

    Thank you for a great post. I didn't know about Elsa. Quite cool.

    CD Coffelt, Unicorn Bell,

  15. It's always amazing to me to learn about women who stand out at a time when there were so few opportunities. Looking forward to learning more.

  16. Fantastic post Sharon thanks! Though very sad - I remember when my sons did parachute jumping when at high school, and I'm really glad I didn't know about it beforehand (they were at boarding school) - my elder one said afterwards how the parachute nearly failed ..

  17. What a terrible way to die. At least they honored her and her efforts with a marker.

  18. I think I told you my great uncle's sister was one of the women who ferried airplanes during the war. She's still alive in England the last I heard. So this is going to be a very interesting theme to follow. Elsa was absolutely beautiful.

  19. It was such a new sport when Elsa jumped, it's sad they didn't understand how to minimized the risks sooner. I great start to a fantastic A to Z theme.

    Robin @ WriteOnSisters

  20. Very interesting. I know I'm going to learn a lot during this A to Z! Thanks for sharing.

  21. What a wonderful theme! I'm just visiting this A to Z, not participating, but I'm sharing blogs I like. Yours will definitely be on my "share" list :)

    Rebecca at

  22. What an interesting story--thanks for introducing us to Elsa. And I look forward to upcoming stories on pioneer women in aviation. It will all be new to me, but fascinating! I'll be back to read more :-)

  23. G'day Sharon. I'll be visiting regularly, but I may not have much to say other than 'very interesting.' Good luck in the 2016 A-Z

  24. Sharon, I like the idea of pioneering women. Lots of interesting information here.

  25. She did die too young but at least she died doing something she loved. She knew what she was getting into especially since she was a woman in a man's world.

  26. Interesting read.
    My Post Today Build and Develop Google+ Page for Your Blog - Blog Promotion
    Good to visit your site as a part of my A to Z visits. My theme Blog Promotion
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    Welcome to A to Z April Blogging Challenge 2016 - Co-Participant - Nrao - NRao Blogs
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  27. Boy, 25 seems so very young. What a way to go! Great post, Sharon. I didn't know about this young lady.

    Cherdo on the Flipside
    "Favorite Characters, Favorite Lines" on the A-to-Z Challenge 2016

  28. Hi Sharon, I'm visiting from the A to Z Challenge!

    Wow. You have done your research. This is the 'famous' female pilot about which I have heard, and they both died far too young. Thank goodness that did not stop others!

    LuAnn (approx #369 on the list) @ Back Porchervations.
    (and one of co-host AJ Lauer's #wHooligans)

  29. Fascinating--she looks very modern in that photo, like a movie star. I often wonder what moves certain people to step so far beyond what is expected of them in life.

  30. Thank you everyone for your comments!! Wasn't she beautiful? Sad her life ended so soon, but she followed a dream and I think that's admirable. She paved the way for others and made parachuting safer for others in the future.

  31. Loved reading this! Thank you!! I loved learning about her! Such an admirable woman!


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