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—Sikorsky 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.

Not long thereafter she was in the pilot’s seat and earned her rotary-wing ticket with Jimmy Viner, then Sikorsky’s chief pilot, as examiner and Tommy Thompson as her instructor. Thompson was one of three test pilots for Sikorsky at that time, and he continued his legacy as a pioneer in rotorcraft as the company built, mostly by hand, six helicopters every month.

Sikorsky reports having had four women among its 206 test pilots, including Melissa Mathiasen, who today is one of 48 Sikorsky test pilots. Men still far outpace women in the pilot ranks, but the Whirly Girls, an organization of female helicopter pilots, recently issued membership number 2,046.

And while there is debate about who was the first female to hold a rotary-wing license (Hanna Reitsch took the controls of a Focke-Achgelis Fa 61 helo in 1937), Swenson made the mark as the first to solo in the U.S. She does not recall ever having had a hard landing but says flying a helicopter was “contrary to everything I had learned in my [fixed-wing)] flying lessons.”

After leaving Sikorsky, Swenson served with the American Embassy in Moscow in 1951-53. She married and had five children, returning to Sikorsky only once to take part in a new aircraft flight with Bill Cordell.