Hélène Boucher (23 May 1908 - 30 November 1934) was a well-known French pilot in the early 1930s, when she set several women's world speed records, including one which was also a world record for either sex. She was killed in an accident in 1934.
Hélène Boucher was the daughter of a Parisian architect; after an ordinary schooling she experienced flight at Orly and then became the first pupil at the flying school run by Henri Fabos at Mont-de-Marsan. She rapidly obtained her brevet (no. 182) aged 23, bought a de Havilland Gypsy Moth and learned to navigate and perform aerobatics. Her great ability was recognised by Michel Detroyat who advised her to focus on aerobatics, his own speciality. Their performances drew in crowds to flight shows, for example at Villacoublay. and her skills gained her public transport brevet in June 1932. After attending a few aviation meetings, she sold the Moth and bought an Avro Avian, planning a flight to the Far East; in the event she got as far as Damascus and returned via North Africa, limited by financial difficulties.
In 1933 she flew with Miss Jacob in the Angers 12-hour race in one of the lowest-powered machines there, a 45 kW (60 hp) Salmson-engined Mauboussin-Zodiac 17; completing 1,645 km (1,022 mi) at an average speed of 137 km/h (85 mph) and came 14th. They were the only female team competing and received the prize of 3,000 francs set aside for an all-women team as well as 3,000 francs for position. The following year, on a contract with the Caudron company and in a faster Caudron Rafale she competed again, coming second.
During 1933 and 1934 she set several world records for women, set out below; exceptionally, she held the international (male or female) record for speed over 1,000 km (621 mi) in 1934. Most of these records were flown in Renault-powered Caudron aircraft, and in June 1934 the Renault company also took her temporarily under contract in order to promote their new Viva Grand Sport.
On 30 November 1934 she died aged 26 flying a Caudron C.430 Rafale near Versailles when the machine crashed into the woods of Guyancourt. Posthumously, she was immediately made a knight of the Légion d'honneur and was the first woman to lie in state at Les Invalides, where her funeral obsequies were held. She is buried in Yermenonville cemetery. Parts of the press and others held Detroyat to be responsible for her death, spurring a "young, innocent girl" to such a "dangerous sport".
After her death several memorials of different kinds were set up.
A brand new, art-deco styled, Girls High School (Lycée Hélène Boucher) built in 1935 in Paris (75 cours de Vincennes) was named after her as she was considered a model for future generations of "modernistic", forward thinking girls.
There is a stone in the Guyancourt woods where the crash happened, a tomb monument at Yermenonville and various squares and street names remember her. 1935 saw the first running of a competition for female pilots, the Boucher Cup.
On 2 August 1933 in a Mauboussin-Peyret Zodiac, she achieved a record height for a woman of 5,900 m (19,357 ft)
In 1934 in a Caudron C.450 she set two more records.
International speed over 1,000 km (621 mi) of 409.184 km/h (254.255 mph) on 8 August 1934 (also the Women's record over this distance) and on the same day speed over 100 km (62 mi) of 412.371 km/h (256.235 mph).
She set a woman's speed record of 445.028 km/h (276.528 mph) on 11 August
On 8 July in a Caudron Rafale, the "Light aircraft (Category 1)", speed over 1,000 km (621 mi) of 250.086 km/h (155.396 mph).Antoine Rédier: Hélène Boucher, jeune fille de France, Flammarion in 1935 with a preface by Victor Denain.