The number of female fighter pilots the average person can name won't get you off a single hand of counting fingers. In fact, many people can't name a single woman aviator, despite the fact that these women have been courageous parts of history. One woman whose story, once heard, tends to stick in memory is Lilia Litviak. Like many of the youth of World War II, Lilia felt called to serve her country. Of course, Lilia didn't leap in a plane for the first time when Russia began fighting Germany. Lilia had loved planes from her youth onwards. She was only fourteen years old when she joined an aviation club and she took her first solo flight at fifteen. Her love of flying then lead her to seek out military flight training as well. By the time the war with Germany broke out Lilia was already a flight instructor. She had trained some 45 pilots before ever joining up.
When she did try to enlist she was originally turned away due to a lack of in-flight hours. Being told she lacked the minimum 1,000 hours in flight certainly didn't stop this spirited young woman. She headed over to a different recruiting office, wrote down "1,000" for her in-flight hours, was accepted and sent off to boot camp. It wasn't long before Lilia was flying her first mission. Now, it is interesting to note that before this mission, not a single woman had ever been deemed a fighter ace. That all changed after her very first flight, where she scored her first kill. This was the first time a woman had ever achieved this. Lilia was not the only female pilot flying, of course, her wingman was actually a woman as well, and an accomplished flyer and the second (there were only two) woman to be named a fighter ace.
In the course of her career Lilia flew nearly seventy missions. Her exact numbers are unknown to us as the numbers we have come not from official reports but rather authors writing about her life, but we can be sure that the truth lies somewhere within the range most often mentioned. Her wins (kills) counted between twelve and fourteen in number and her shared gains somewhere between three and five. Lilia was a very well-decorated fighter bearing the Order of the Patriotic War, Order of Lenin, Order of the Red Banner and finally, granted posthumously years after she was believed to have died, Hero of the Soviet Union - the highest possible honor.
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Lilia Litviak was a spirited young woman, aviator, and war hero. She was one of only two female fighter pilots to earn the title of fighter ace and earned the honor of Hero of the Soviet Union.
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