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;
The plane was called, slightly unfortunately perhaps, 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
Postings: 15FPP, 1FPP
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."
"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
Nevertheless, after her third 'at-fault' accident, her contract was terminated by the ATA (she said later she left because her mother was ill.)
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
buried Versailles Cemetery, McKeesport
There is a permanent exhibition commemorating her life at the McKeesport History & Heritage Center:
and also a book "Propeller Annie: The story of Helen Richey, the real first lady of the airlines" (Glenn Kerfoot, 1998)