Hélène Boucher The record chaser

Helene Boucher female pioneer

In the early days of aviation, it was all about flying further, faster and higher than everyone else. Frenchwoman Hélène Boucher was one of the best.

1908 was a landmark year for aviation: the Wright brothers unveiled their ‘Flyer’ to the world, setting numerous endurance records that truly heralded the arrival of motorised flight; and in November, Hélène Boucher was born in Paris. In her short lifetime, she too would write aviation history.

Flying further, faster and higher than everyone else was what the early days of aviation were all about. Having fallen in love with the euphoria of flight at an early age, the architect’s daughter bought a Havilland Gipsy Moth when she was 23 and set about learning how to perform aerobatics.  

Further, faster, higher

French aviatrix Hélène Boucher set many records in aviation history

It didn’t take long before Michel Détroyat, a renowned aerobatic pilot, discovered Boucher’s great talent and encouraged her to become a stunt pilot. Their displays together proved a huge hit with audiences, but it wasn’t enough for Boucher, who soon turned her attention to new adventures.

In 1932, having exchanged her Gipsy Moth for an Avro Avian, she set out on a journey towards the Far East. She made it as far as Damascus, but ran out of money and was forced to turn back.

Undaunted by this setback, Boucher was determined to set records. On 2 August 1933, she climbed to a height of 5,000 metres in a Mauboussin-Peyret Zodiac, setting a new women’s world record. A year later, flying a Caudron Rafale, she set a record for light aircraft, travelling 1,000 kilometres at an average speed of 250.086 km/h.

That same year, the young Frenchwoman set an international speed record over 1,000 kilometres at an average speed of 409.184 km/h. She also set a speed record over 100 kilometres at an average speed of 412.371 km/h, and set the women’s speed world record by reaching 445.184 km/h.

Fitting tribute

Boucher’s greatest achievements made her famous well beyond the world of aviation.

Boucher’s greatest achievements made her famous well beyond the world of aviation. She was even recruited by Renault to promote its new Viva Grand Sport automobile.

However, the 26-year-old’s spectacular career ended abruptly on 30 November 1934 when her Caudron C.430 Rafale crashed near Versailles. Boucher’s achievements were far from unrecognised: after her death, she was named a Knight of the Legion of Honour and was the first woman to lie in state at the prestigious Les Invalides.

Peter Pletschacher