Elise Raymonde Deroche was the daughter of a Parisian plumber. After becoming an actress she adopted the stage name Raymonde de Laroche. Having been introduced to aviator Charles Voisin in 1909, she convinced him to teach her how to fly. Although initially reluctant, Voisin invited her to his airfield at Chalons.
It was there, on 22 October 1909, that de Laroche flew for the first time. The aircraft she trained in had been designed for stunt displays and could only seat one person, so the instructor was obliged to run alongside the aircraft. Having mastered taxiing de Laroche later took off, flying around 300 yards (270m) before touching down again. There are conflicting accounts of this flight, with aviation journalist Harry Harper claiming in 1953 that it took place after little training whereas contemporary reports suggest that de Laroche had already had a number of lessons before going airborne.
De Laroche was awarded her pilot’s license five months later on 8 March 1910. Issued by the Aero-Club of France, her license was the first to be awarded to a woman and led to her being invited to take part in numerous international aeronautical meetings and displays where she flew as part of Voisin’s team. At the Egyptian Grand Prix later that year she came sixth, a position that she improved on when she flew again in St Petersburg.
De Laroche was never a member of the nobility. However, in an October 1909 report the contemporary British aviation magazine Flight captioned a photograph of her as ‘Baroness de la Roche’. She was even addressed as ‘baroness’ in an audience with the Russian Tsar Nicholas II after her flight in St Petersburg.