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.