Fiorenza De Bernardi was Italy’s first female aeroplane pilot (and the fourth in the world).
When she was just a little girl in the 1930s, Fiorenza was able to identify the different aircraft models simply by listening to the sound of their engines.
She had always lived near airports because her father, Mario De Bernardi, was a colonel in the Italian Air Force.
(As well as receiving a Gold Medal of Military Valor, he was also an aviation pioneer who won aerobatic competitions in Italy and abroad!)
Her family, who were very open-minded for that time, encouraged Fiorenza’s passion for sports and the mountains, allowing her to try everything that made her happy.
While she was still a student at the Lycée français Chateaubriand in Rome, Fiorenza took rock climbing classes, went ski mountaineering and scaled the summit of Mont Blanc.
Her desire to see the world from the skies led her to fly with her father and fall in love with flying so much that she wanted to make it her own destiny.
Her flying lessons were very intense. Her father made them more and more difficult each time, randomly covering one of the on-board instruments with his hand in order to prepare Fiorenza for every conceivable scenario, malfunction and flying condition.
In 1951, Fiorenza took off for the first time alone, unbeknown to her father.
It was then that she realised that flying was what she wanted to do as her career.
But in the 1950s being a pilot was not considered a job FOR WOMEN.
Fiorenza De Bernardi applied to many private airlines and received a string of refusals.
She eventually managed to get an interview with a small airline, Aeralpi. General Garretto, who Fiorenza refers to in many interviews as her deus ex machina, convinced Aeralpi’s president to take her on with a few simple words: “Treat her just like a man. Either it’ll work out or it won’t.”
In the 1960s and 1970s, Fiorenza flew passengers from Venice to Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, flying over her (and our!) beloved Dolomites.
She was given new assignments, new airlines, new routes and new obstacles to face.
Her male colleagues didn’t take too kindly to her, but Fiorenza didn’t care.
She used to say to anyone who wasn’t supportive of her career: “I got here and I’ll stay here for a long time!”
All her life, Fiorenza De Bernardi chose to wear a skirt as part of her uniform in order to clearly show, even from afar, that the pilot of the aeroplane was a WOMAN.