• Who was María Bernaldo de Quirós? The story of a pioneering aviator

Have you ever heard of María Bernaldo de Quirós? She was a key figure in aviation, especially for women. María was the first woman to receive a civilian pilot’s license in Spain.

Would you like to learn her story? Join us as we delve into the life and career of this iconic female figure in aeronautics.

The early years of María Bernaldo de Quirós

Her full name was María de la Salud Bernaldo de Quirós y Bustillo, and as we mentioned, she was the first woman to obtain a civilian pilot’s license in our country. But, who was she?

María was the daughter of the Marquesses of Altares, one of the most influential families in Asturias and Ciudad Rodrigo. Her childhood was typical of young people from the high society of the early 20th century.

Career of Spain’s first female pilot

You might wonder, how did María Bernaldo de Quirós, a young woman from an aristocratic family, come to study aviation? Well, it was purely by chance… and curiosity.

First steps for María

María Bernaldo de Quirós’s interest in airplanes began in 1928 when she witnessed a forced landing up close and had the opportunity to speak with Captain Antonio Rueda. There, she realized that she was passionate about aviation. She then moved to Madrid to start as a student at the Real Aeroclub de Madrid.

And already in 1928, María achieved a historical milestone by becoming the first woman in Spain to obtain a civilian pilot’s license from the National Aeronautical School. Her first solo flight, on September 7, 1928, was with a D.H 60 Moth biplane, a light wooden two-seater.

Achievements and recognitions in aviation

After earning her title, she was invited to a party organized by Motoavión magazine, and soon after, the manufacturer of the biplane she flew, de Havilland Aircraft Company, sold her a de Havilland D.H 60 Moth at half price.

With her biplane, she toured Spain and participated in several air festivals. Undoubtedly, she earned the nickname “Miss Golondrina” for her elegance and skill in the air.

Furthermore, in 1929, more than 100 pilots, both civilian and military, asked General Kindelán to recognize María Bernaldo de Quirós as an honorary military pilot. What happened? The general refused because she was a woman.

But that slowed down the prime of her career: she was interviewed on many occasions, and made impossible landings such as at the Lasarte racecourse, or on the beach of San Lorenzo in Gijón, La Coruña or Vigo.

So, as you can see, her career as an aviator was short but intense, and marked a before and after in the perception of women’s capabilities in technical and scientific fields.

Personal life of María Bernaldo de Quirós

And what about her private life? Well, María Bernaldo de Quirós married twice, the first time in 1917, when she was just 19 years old, to her cousin Ramón Bernaldo de Quirós y Argüelles, with whom she had two children who died very young, and who also died shortly afterwards.

María remarried José Manuel Sánchez-Arjona, a young man from a Sevillian family who would later become a politician and be known as “The Good Mayor”. For a time, María devoted herself to being “First Lady” and to charity work. But by then she had already been bitten by the aviation bug and knew some of the great aviators of the time.

Just a few years later, she was divorced. And guess what? As well as being the first woman to become a qualified pilot, she was also one of the first to be covered by the Republic’s divorce laws.

After the divorce, María Bernaldo began to study at the Aeroclub. As we have already mentioned, it was there that she met Díaz de Lecea, who became her instructor and with whom she maintained a relationship for many years. After 1934, María no longer flew in public and her trace was lost until 1983, the year of her death.

The legacy of María Bernaldo de Quirós

The legacy of María Bernaldo de Quirós is profound and lasting. Beyond her personal achievements in the field of aviation, María left an indelible mark on the history of gender equality in Spain.

She opened doors and cleared the way for future generations of women pilots to follow their vocation, like Bettina Kadner, Spain’s first female commander.

Of course, the city where she lived for many years, Ciudad Rodrigo, wanted to honor this icon by naming a street after her. And not only that, but Iberia also wanted to immortalize her story, naming one of its A320-Neo after her.

Did you know the story of María Bernaldo de Quirós?

Indeed, although the career of María Bernaldo de Quirós was short, it is one of the most impactful, as she was a pioneer at a time when women’s roles in the sector were very limited.

Fortunately, thanks to pioneers like Amelia Earhart and María Bernaldo, many young women today decide to dedicate their lives to aviation.

Did you know the story of María Bernaldo de Quirós? If you liked it, on our news blog you can find countless articles to immerse yourself in this beautiful sector. We look forward to seeing you!

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