By now, most everyone has seen commercials featuring Mildred “Millie” Dresselhaus, known as the “Queen of Carbon Science,” who died in 2017 after a long career that included numerous academic and scientific firsts.
But she is not the only woman who serves as an inspiration to young women wanting to claim firsts in science, and specifically in aerospace and defense. Priscilla “Pat” Handy Swenson celebrates her 94th birthday this year, just one year younger than her first employer—Aircraft. Swenson graduated from high school at age 16, earned her fixed-wing license and then was turned down by the Women’s Air Corps for being 0.5 in. too short.
Instead, she joined Vought Sikorsky, a division of United Aircraft Manufacturing, as a personnel assistant. She was later transferred as an assistant to chief draftsman Roy Coates. Coates recognized her drive, and soon she was in the front seat of a Sikorsky helicopter, recording noise, vibration and harshness observations that she analyzed and provided to Coates as adjustments were made to the rotor blades and controls.