influential women in drones

11 of the most influential women in drones not just this year — but all time

These women weren’t just crucial to propelling the drone industry forward over the past year — they’ve been doing it for years (and sometimes decades). The 11 influential women in drones listed below stem from an announcement made today by female leadership organization Women and Drones, which today listed their second crop of inductees into its “Women in Emerging Aviation Technologies Hall of Fame.”

Those 11 influential women named today are:

  • Loretta Alkalay
  • Barbara Bollard
  • Jackie Dujmovic
  • Desiree Ekstein
  • Laurie Grindle
  • Sonet Kock
  • Mercy Makau
  • Jenn Player
  • Dr. Debbie Saunders
  • Annalisa Russell-Simth
  • Abigail Smith

The women join the inaugural class of Hall of Fame inductees, which were named in December 8 and formally honored at 2023 CES, where Women and Drones concurrently held its 2023 Emerging Aviation Technologies Thought Leaders’ Summit. The inaugural, 12 Hall of Fame for Women in Emerging Aviation Technologies inductees are:

  • Anita Sengupta: Founder/CEO of Hydroplane Ltd, Aerospace Engineer, Commercial Pilot, Space Program Veteran
  • Erin Roesler: Director of Operations for the Northern Plains UAS Test Site
  • Fiona Lake: Founder of Australia’s Rural Drone Academy
  • Huy Tran: Director of Aeronautics at the NASA Ames Research Center
  • Jennifer Pidgen: COO at Sundance Media Group and UAS book Co-Author
  • Lisa Ellman: Executive Director of the Commercial Drone Alliance and Partner at Hogan Lovells
  • Marilyn Pearson: Global Regulatory Lead for AAM/eVTOL/UAS, Pilot/Instructor Commercial Crewed and Uncrewed Aircraft
  • Miriam McNabb: Editor of
  • Robin Murphy: Director of the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering
  • Sabrina Saunders-Hodge: Director of Research Engineering and Analysis Division, FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office
  • Sally French: Founder of (yes, that’s me)
  • Tracy Lamb: CEO of Quantum AI, Commercial Pilot/Instructor Crewed and Uncrewed Aircraft

The 11 new names being recognized today will be formally honored at the 7th Annual Women in Emerging Aviation Technologies Awards ceremony, which is set to be held at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023. That location is a historic, wow-wothy venue and is home to the world’s largest and most significant collection of aviation and space artifacts, including the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, the Bell X-1 (which broke the sound barrier), the starship Enterprise model (used in the Star Trek TV show), and the Wright brothers’ Wright Flyer airplane.

They were selected as representatives of experienced and accomplished professionals who span all aspects of the UAS and Air Mobility industries.

“The women being recognized and honored by Women in Emerging Technologies are the future of aviation and will inspire and drive our workforce toward scientific advancements and innovative technologies that will transform aviation modalities,” said Marilyn Pearson, who was one of the inaugural inductees to the Hall of Fame.

Learn more about the influential women being honored in the second class of the Women in Emerging Aviation Technologies Hall of Fame:

Loretta Alkalay: Loretta is an aviation attorney and Adjunct Professor at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology, who also serves as a regulatory consultant. She’s long specialized in issues related to compliance with federal aviation regulations including drone rules.

Barbara Bollard: Professor Bollard lives in Australia, where she’s a leader in drone remote sensing and is most famous for her pioneering research in Antarctica and extreme desert environments, where she’s used drones to improve data collection and analysis in challenging terrains.

Jackie Dujmovic: Jackie is founder and CEO of Hover UAV, which is based in Australia. There, she works as a commercial UAS Pilot and accomplished Chief Remote Pilot, establishing robust communication and
procedural frameworks with regulators across local, national, and international spheres.

Desiree Ekstein: Desiree is the founder of On The Go Video. Among her greatest contributions to the drone industry are dedicated to promoting safety and education as a Lead FAASTeam Representative and AUVSI TOP Level 3 pilot. She is also involved in the “Girls Take Flight” initiative which encourages young women to explore careers in the science and technology fields.

Laurie Grindle: Laurie works as the Deputy Center Director at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, where she helps manage the NASA field center, including its strategy, business processes, and institutional management. She has also served in multiple leadership roles overseeing Unmanned Air Vehicles and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew vehicle abort test booster.

Sonet Kock: Sonet is Founder and Managing Director of AviComply (Pty) Ltd, a leading South African consulting firm specializing in aviation compliance. She is known for her expertise and extensive experience in Aviation Regulatory Compliance.

Mercy Makau: As President and Founder of the Young Aviator Club of Africa (as well as Chairperson of
Drone Club Kenya), Makau is considered a passionate change maker in her country and the larger continent.
Jenn Player: In her role as Senior Director of Global Aviation Regulatory Affairs at Skydio, Jenn collaborates with customers, regulators, and standards development organizations to advance drone operations. In fact, Jenn’s early work to integrate drones into the National Airspace System has been credited with enabling the first long-range BVLOS civil flight in the continental U.S.

Dr. Debbie Saunders: Dr. Saunders founded Wildlife Drones, an Australian company that is transforming biodiversity conservation by developing innovative technological solutions, including the world’s most advanced drone-based radio-telemetry sensor that empowers endangered and invasive species managers globally to simultaneously track the movements of many animals from a drone in real-time.

Annalisa Russell-Smith: Annalisa serves as Chief Strategy Officer at Flyby Technology, which flew the COVID virus between laboratories and chemotherapy to isolated communities. Among her trailblazing titles includes being the first civilian female in the United Kingdom to become a Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) pilot.

Abigail Smith: Abigail is the Executive Director (A), of the FAA’s UAS Security Office, which serves as the focal point for drone and air mobility (AAM) security in U.S. airspace. Within this role, Smith leads the FAA’s efforts to safely integrate detection and mitigation systems for drones and AAM operations into the National Airspace System.

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