Margot Duhalde, Chile's first female military pilot, dies aged 97

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

On Monday, Margot Duhalde, Chile's first female military pilot, died at the age of 97, the Chilean government said. Duhalde volunteered for the Free French Forces, and served with the British Royal Air Force and British Air Transport Auxiliary during the second World War.

Duhalde, who learnt to fly an airplane at the age of sixteen, got her license to fly aircraft in 1938. She had left her home in Rio Bueno to undertake pilot's training at the Chilean Air Club in the capital city of Santiago.

In 1940, Duhalde volunteered for the Free French Forces in Santiago. She worked with the British Royal Air Force where she helped the mechanics and looked after the sick. She then joined the Air Transport Auxiliary of Britain and flew aircraft between British airfields during World War II.

In 1946, a year after the war ended, Duhalde was titled Knight of France's Legion of Honour. She returned to her homeland in 1947 and was made an honorary colonel by the Fuerza Aérea de Chile ((es))Spanish language: ‍Chilean Air Force (FACh). She served as a commercial pilot and instructor as well as air traffic controller. She was Chile's first female air traffic controller.

In an interview with Canal 13 last year, Duhalde said, "the men were convinced that they were the only ones who could do things. They were raised like that, it's not their fault either. [...] Women have always looked at us less and now, recently, they are realizing that we are equal or even better" ((es))Spanish language: ‍los hombres estaban convencidos de que ellos eran los únicos que podían hacer las cosas. Los criaron así, no es culpa de ellos tampoco. [...] A nosotras las mujeres siempre nos miraron en menos y ahora, recientemente, se están dando cuenta que somos iguales o incluso mejores. She was the only female from Chile to volunteer to join the Free French Force.

In an official statement, the government said, "We are grateful for the huge contribution she made to Chilean aviation and recognise the courage she had to fulfil her life's dream, breaking stereotypes and showing the way to other women."

Chilean president Michelle Bachelet tweeted, "Pioneer of our aviation, first female fighter pilot in the Chilean Air Force [CAF], combatant against Nazism in the French and British air forces in World War II. Margot Duhalde demonstrated in a world of men that nothing is impossible for women. My condolences to her family." ((es))Spanish language: ‍Pionera de nuestra aviación, primera piloto de guerra mujer en la FACH [Fuerza Aérea de Chile], combatiente contra el nazismo en las fuerzas aéreas francesa y británica en la II Guerra Mundial. Margot Duhalde demostró en un mundo de hombres que no hay imposibles para las mujeres. Mi pésame a su familia.

Duhalde retired at the age of 81. In 2007, she flew a plane for the last time.