Between the two world wars, flying was an adventure, a relatively dangerous profession of those who dared to brave the skies. It attracted daring and committed men, but for most women, a career as an aviator was unthinkable. However, a Slovenian woman named Kristina Gorišek broke the glass ceiling and opened new possibilities for female pilots of the future.
Born in the small central Slovenian village of Mekinje in 1906, Gorišek – also known as "Brezovška Tinca" - grew up in a large family. She was one of eleven siblings, which wasn't unusual for rural Slovenia at the time. What was unusual, however, was that the family was relatively well-off and could afford to educate their children, even the girls.
Kristina Gorišek went on to high school in Ljubljana and in the Austrian town of Klagenfurt. Always a restless spirit, she eventually moved to the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade. There, she got a job working as a telephone operator, but one day an advertisement for a flight school caught her attention: Instantly, she decided to become a pilot. Her determination was intense and even though she faced prejudice, she successfully completed her flight training. She had to wear aviator’s apparel made for men – the smallest size -, because no suitable clothing for women was available at the time.
Gorišek was even briefly banned from her base airport, because the airport manager’s wife wanted to become the first woman pilot herself and was jealous of the Slovenian upstart. But Gorišek persevered and in 1932, she made her first solo flight, becoming the first woman pilot not just in Yugoslavia but in the entire Balkan peninsula. At the time, there were only about two dozen women pilots in all of Europe.
Over the next few years she showed off her flying skills at numerous airshows and won a major award for her daring performances. She soon became a celebrity; newspapers were eager to cover her latest feats, and she wrote many articles about aviation herself. She even participated in the grand opening of Ljubljana’s first airport, arriving there by plane.
In 1936, she got a job working for the airport in Zagreb. That's where she met a man named Drago Novaković. The two married and, after World War II, moved to the United Kingdom. She had to give up flying in her new homeland because her husband feared for her safety. For many years, the two ran and bed-and-breakfast in Lincolnshire.
Kristina Gorišek Novaković died in 1996, just short of her 90th birthday. Thanks to her passion and dedication, she opened new possibilities for the women of Slovenia – and proved that they can succeed even in fields once reserved for men.