Being a woman, aviator ace, and war hero isn't something that many women can lie claim to. Lydia Litvyak was one of two female Russian fighter pilots who live up to this unlikely and impressive resume. An accomplished flight instructor and decorated war hero, Litvyak also died at the surprisingly young age of 21. How does a person get to be a decorated war hero this young? The first step is, of course, to start young. Litvyak's first solo flight was taken at the age of 15 after joining a flight club at the age of 14. Her military flight training was completed at Kherson. The next step in her career once she could fly and before the war between Germany and Russia broke out was her time as a flight instructor at Kalinin Air Club. She had trained some 45 pilots by the time the war started. She was originally turned down when she tried to enlist, so being the bold and focused person that she was, she fudged her flight hours and joined the all-female 586th Fighter Regiment of the Air Defense Force. She later served under men's units as well.
Litvyak is credited with 12 solo victories as well as several shared victories in her 66 mission career. She was awarded the following awards for her service to the USSR: Hero of the Soviet Union, Order of Lenin, Order of the Red Banner, Order of the Red Star, and Order of the Patriotic War First Class. She beat men in dogfights, she brought down difficult targets and was generally known to be an aggressive individual and an excellent pilot. Some of her spirited displays included victory laps buzzing the aerodome and generally infuriating her commanding officer by performing aerial acrobatics upon her return from successful missions. She was also engaged with another pilot who died during the war. For all that her flying might have indicated otherwise, she tended to be a fairly romantic and feminine personality. She loved flowers and even put them in the cockpit of the planes she flew. She fashioned scarves out of parachute fabric that she dyed and stitched together and she dyed her hair blonde using peroxide from the hospitals.
Litvyak's death is something of a mystery as the last sight of her was during an attack by German bomber plans. The last time she was scene was in a cloud of thick black smoke, after which she never reported back again. No explosion or parachute exit was seen by her comrades. While some assumed she died at the scene others believed she had been taken alive by German forces. There were even rumors that she survived the war although most believe she died shortly after her plane went down.
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Lydia Litvyak was one of only two female Russian fighter pilots to be considered fighter aces. An unlikely role for a woman, aviator was a job that seemed to come naturally to Litvyak.
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