helen richey

Amelia Earhart and Helen Richey

Helen Richey (1909-1947) was Amelia Earhart’s copilot on one flight across the Atlantic. During WWII she commanded a group of women pilots for the British Air Transport Auxiliary, flying bombs between factories and airbases. She died by suicide at age 38.

(This is when i think to myself pleasebegaypleasebegaypleasebegaypleasebegaypleasebegay.

Either way, she was a badass.)

helen richey (1909 – 1947) was a pioneering female aviator … she was the first woman to be hired as a pilot by a commercial airline in the united states … the first woman sworn in to pilot air mail and was one of the first female flight instructors


I’ve recently become very interested in Helen Richey, one of the most impressive, tragic, and– it seems– obscure names in aviation history. At the tender age of twenty, Richey launched a successful career as an aerobatic pilot, before becoming, in 1934, the first female pilot to be employed by a commercial airline in the U.S.  The discrimination she faced within Central Airlines (limited to flying in good weather; banned from the union by her male co-workers; utilized primarily as a PR gimmick) led her to resign ten months later.  From there, she achieved distinction as the first female instructor licensed by the Civil Aeronautics Authority (1941); commanded the American division of the British Air Transport Auxiliary (1942); and earned the rank of Major while flying for the WASPs in World War II.  She also was an acquaintance of Amelia Earhart’s, with whom she completed the Bendix Trophy Race in 1936.  On January 7th, 1947, Richey was found dead of an apparent suicide, having had her profession usurped by male pilots returning from the war.

If that all has left you terribly sad and protective, and if you now want more fuel for being sad and protective, I would suggest that you look at the San Diego Air & Space Museum’s Helen Richey Collection, in which she is ultra-endearing and rocks tweed jodhpurs like none other.  


Helen Richey (1909 – 1947) was a pioneering female aviator and the first woman to be hired as a pilot by a commercial airline in the United States.

Richey was born in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Her father, Joseph B. Richey, was superintendent of schools in McKeesport from 1902 to 1935. During her teens, Richey was one of the few girls in McKeesport who wore pants. She learned how to fly a plane at age 20 and her father bought her a plane when she obtained her pilot’s license.

In 1932 Richey partnered with another female pilot, Frances Marsalis, to set an endurance record by staying airborne for nearly 10 days, with midair refueling. In 1934 Richey won the premier air race at the first National Air Meet for women in Dayton, Pennsylvania. Also in 1934, Central Airlines, a Greensburg, Pennsylvania–based carrier that eventually became part of United Airlines, hired Richey as a pilot; she eventually was forced to step down from the cockpit by the all-male pilots union.

After leaving Central Airlines, Richey continued to perform at air shows. In 1936 she teamed with Amelia Earhart in a transcontinental air race, the Bendix Trophy Race. Richey and Earhart came in fifth, beating some all-male teams.

During the Second World War, Richey flew with the British Air Transportation Authority.