Whirly Girls

About the Collection

The Woman's Collection at Texas Woman's University is home to a growing research collection based on the records of the Whirly-Girls International and the personal papers of individual women helicopter pilots. The collection includes:

  • Organizational files
  • Personal letters
  • Photographs
  • Newspaper clippings
  • Books
  • Newsletters
  • Oral histories
  • Scrapbooks
  • Other Memorabilia

Visit the Gateway to Women's History to view Whirly-Girls International materials online.

Hanna Reitsch, WG #1
"I thought of the lark, so light and small of wing, hovering over the summer fields... " Hanna Reitsch, The Sky My Kingdom: Memoirs of the Famous German WWII Test-Pilot


Woman Among First to Fly Helicopters

In September 1937, Professor Heinrich Focke, inventor of the first practical design for a maneuverable helicopter, invited German aviatrix Hanna Reitsch to test fly the Focke Achgelis or FW 61. She became the first woman to fly a helicopter. "Although she had not dared to suggest it, Hanna accepted with alacrity when she was [offered the opportunity to fly the helicopter]..." Flying for the Fatherland: The Century's Greatest Pilot, Judy Lomax

Jean Ross Howard Phelan, WG #13
"...Bell's chief engineer translated my letter to Hanna Reitsch [into] German and told her she should join." Jean Ross Howard-Phelan, WG #13, TWU Oral History Project, February 1996


Founding of the Whirly-Girls

Almost twenty years after Reitsch's first flight, Washington D.C., pilot Jean Ross Howard-Phelan founded the Whirly-Girls, an international organization of women helicopter pilots. In 1955, she invited twelve women from France, Germany and the United States, who were pioneers in helicopter aviation to become charter members of the Whirly-Girls. Upon joining, each pilot receives a lifetime membership number according to when she receives a helicopter rating. 

Today, membership includes corporate and commercial pilots, flight instructors, military pilots, heliport designers, flight surgeons, attorneys, paralegals, cattle ranchers and students.

If you would like to donate materials or funds to support the Whirly-Girl Collection, please contact:
The Woman's Collection
P.O. Box 425528
Denton, TX 76204-5528

Phone: 940-898-3751
Fax: 940-898-3745
E-mail: kjohnson27@mail.twu.edu