Hilda Beatrice Hewlett was born on February 17, 1864 in Vauxhall, London, England. She was one of nine children to Anglican Vicar George W. Herbert and his wife Louisa Hopgood. In her early life, Hilda pursued her artistic talents by attending the National Art Training School located in South Kensington. It was not until the first English flying meeting in 1909 that Hilda became interested in aviation. Partnering with Frenchman Gustave Blondeau who also shared a passion for flight, the two traveled to France to study aeronautics at the Mourmelon-le-Grand aerodome. The partners returned to England with an Henri Farman biplane, “The Blue Bird” and in 1910 opened one of the first flying schools in Britain, the Hewlett and Blondeau Flying School.
In August 1911, Hilda became the first British woman to earn a pilot’s license. Upon completion of her license, she quickly got to work in the aviation industry. She first taught her son to fly in which he later went on to have a distinguished flying career during World War I. Meanwhile, Gustave and Hilda continued their partnership to build the Hewlett and Blondeau Limited firm for the purpose of manufacturing airplanes. By 1914 the company had approximately 700 employees and produced over ten different types of aircraft.
As World War I escalated, Hilda contributed to the ever growing demands to help support the war effort. She conducted a training course for women aircraft workers who would qualify not just for the Hewlett and Blondeau factory, but for other aircraft manufacturing companies as well. In addition, the company supplied 800 military aircraft for service throughout the war.
After the war, Hilda and Gustave sold the company and parted ways. Unfortunately research did not come up as to the reason why they decided to separate although the conclusion was that the split was on “polite” terms. Following the sale, Hilda decided to leave Britain with the “urge to escape from the three C’s,” which she defined as “crowds, convention, and civilization” of which she felt ”became strong”. Hilda changed her environment by moving to Tauranga,New Zealand and lived there until her death on August 21, 1943.
A side note about Hilda. She married Maurice Henry Hewlett in 1888; however, the two separated in 1914. It can be assumed that he did not approve of her life pursuits and was recorded stating, “Women will never be as successful in aviation as men. They have not the right kind of nerve.” Hilda proved critics such as her husband and paved the way for future women in Europe in aviation.
For further reading and sources: