Biographical / Historical
Helen Richey (1909 - 1947) was an aviation pioneer who made headlines as a stunt pilot, a racing champion, a holder of speed and altitude records, a flight instructor, an Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) and Womens Air Service Pilot (WASP) during WWII, the first women to pilot a commercial airliner on a regular scheduled run, and as the first woman to ever fly the United States mail. In April of 1930, Richey enrolled as a student pilot at Bettis Field's Curtiss-Wright flying school and on June 28, 1930, she earned her pilot's license. In December 1930, Richey was granted a limited commercial pilot's license bythe Department of Commerce. During the 1930s, Richey set a number of records and placed in several races, including as a co-pilot to Amelia Earhart in the 1936 Bendix Race. In 1934 Richey applied for a pilot's job with Central Airlines. She was hired and flew Central's route between Washington and Detroit. However, the Bureau of Air Commerce warned Centeral management to keep her on the ground in bad weather and the pilot's union rejected her application for membership. Due to these restrictions, Richey resigned from Central in October 1935. The Bureau of Air Commerce then offered Helen a new job as an air marking pilot for the government. She stayed with the air marking service until 1937 when the job was completed. In 1940 Richey was the first woman to earn an instructor's license and she was appointed an instructor for air cadets at Pittsburgh - Butler Airport. In 1942, she joined the American wing of the British Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), where she ferried aicraft and needed materials thoughout the British Isles. Richey headed the ATA's American Group from 1942 until April 1943, when she returned to the States and joined the WASPs. Unable to find aviation employment after the WASPs disbanded in 1944, she committed suicide in 1947.