W.67 First Officer  Helen Richey 
 flag usa  b. 21 Nov 1909, McKeesport, PA 25 Mar 1942 to 10 Jan 1943 

 

helen richey 1934 

1934

 

helen richey 1940 

HFW

 

helen richey 99s

ATA

 
ata helen richey 1932  

 

  

Learnt to fly in 1930 after her father, Dr. J B Richey, bought her an aeroplane.

Then, amongst other things,

- she and co-pilot Frances Marsalis stayed airborne for 10 days in 1932, to set the women's' flight endurance record;

ata helen richey outdoor girl 

The plane was called a 'Thrush'

- she won the premier air race at the first National Air Meet for Women, in 1934;

- she was the first woman pilot to be licensed to fly airmail.

- the world's first female commercial airline pilot, (for Central Airlines, for 8 months in 1934),  "but she was refused entry into the all-male pilots’ union. Central Airlines cut back on her flying assignments, preferring to use her for public appearances. In frustration, she resigned."

- In 1936, she and Amelia Earhart came fifth in the Bendix transcontinental air race, and 

- she set an altitude record of 18,000 ft for light aircraft in 1936.

prev exp: 1,800 hrs

Address in 1942: 2008 Jenny Lind St, McKeesport, PA


She was in the 2nd group of American women to join the ATA: (Contracts Signed March-April 1942), with Ann Watson Wood (Maine) and Bernice 'Polly' Potter (Oregon).

Postings: 15FPP, 1FPP

ata helen richey 1942 San Franciso Examiner, Aug 1942

4 accidents, 3 her fault:

- 21 Jun-42: Hurricane, stalled, damaged wingtip (pilot held responsible);

- 21 Jul-42: Spitfire, overshot and hit "various objects" (pilot held responsible);

- 14 Dec-42: Master II forced landing (pilot not responsible);

- 3 Jan-43: Wellington, failed to control takeoff swing, wingtip broken off (pilot held responsible)

"A well disciplined officer and a keen and willing worker. She is handicapped somewhat by her slight stature [she was 5ft 4in] but otherwise she has the makings of a most useful ferry pilot."

ata helen harrison helen richey 1943

"After a tiring day, the pilots find a well-cooked meal awaiting them in the Officers' Mess at the local airport. Helen Richey discusses English versus American cooking with her fellow-pilots" [although Helen Harrison doesn't seem that impressed] - Illustrated London News, March 1943

Ernie Pyle described her as an 'old friend' and interviewed her. She said she had never seen a German plane in the air, and never heard a bomb drop. "In fact, her only personal casualty was when she fell off her bicycle in the blackout and had to be carried home, covered with mud and blood"

Nevertheless, after her third 'at-fault' accident, her contract was terminated by the ATA (she said later she left because her mother was ill.)


 ata helen richey 1944     ata helen richey WASP https://twudigital.contentdm.oclc.org

Helen as a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) in 1944 (Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph)

After WWII, she was basically out of a job, and the large supply of ex-war male pilots meant that she saw no prospect of continuing with her life's passion, flying. She fell into depression.

d. 7 Jan 1947 - apparent suicide due to barbiturate overdose, at her apartment in New York

ata helen richey grave 

buried Versailles Cemetery, McKeesport

There is a permanent exhibition commemorating her life at the McKeesport History & Heritage Center:

https://www.mckeesportheritage.org/helen-richey

and also a book "Propeller Annie: The story of Helen Richey, the real first lady of the airlines" (Glenn Kerfoot, 1998)

 


 Download ATA Pilot Personal Record (.zip file):download grey

 

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