Woman believed to be county's first female pilot

March 06, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Editor's note: The Washington County Commission for Women is trying to document women in the county who were pioneers in their career fields. In honor of Women's History Month, The Herald-Mail is presenting, each Sunday in March, a sample of women that the commission is considering as "firsts" for a book. This is the first of a four-part series.

WASHINGTON COUNTY - On a motorcycle ride, Helen Cox C. Bikle saw Washington County's airport. With her spirit lifted, she later learned to fly.

Bikle, a Hagerstown native, received an air transport pilot's license in 1926, said her granddaughter, Susanne Bikle, who lives on the fringe of Smithsburg.

Helen Cox C. Bikle - who was 89 when she died in 1992 - is believed to be the county's first female air transport pilot and one of the first 23 in the nation.


She also was a charter member of The Ninety-Nines, a women's flight group. The group's history says that 99 of America's 117 female pilots were charter members when the group formed in 1929.

Amelia Earhart, whom Bikle knew, was another charter member, Susanne Bikle said.

She said she remembers her grandmother watching a television show about Earhart, decades after Earhart disappeared during an around-the-world flight.

Helen Cox C. Bikle shook her head and said, "I don't know what the fuss is about."

Susanne Bikle said her grandmother added, "Well, she never could navigate."

Helen Cox C. Bikle flew open-cockpit biplanes, her granddaughter said.

For a 1977 Herald-Mail story, Helen Cox C. Bikle said she was qualified to fly a small land plane, a four-passenger Stenson and an Aeronca, a small seaplane, and logged 2,000 hours in three years of flying.

She flew a mail delivery plane for a private company under contract with the U.S. Postal Service, Susanne Bikle said.

She was a test pilot for Kreider-Reisner and a demonstration pilot and saleswoman for Curtiss-Wright.

She ran a flight school in Miami. She flew in air races. She worked at airports in Pittsburgh and on Long Island.

Susanne Bikle said her grandmother taught Richard Henson to fly and knew war correspondent Ernie Pyle.

For the 1977 feature story, Helen Cox C. Bikle said about flying, "I felt wonderful, just like I was in a different world. I didn't worry about anything, whether I had money or not. It was so scarce in those days, but all I thought of was the blue sky around me."

Helen Cox C. Bikle was born in 1902 in Hagerstown. Her father, Nesbit Cox, owned Star Candy Co. in Hagerstown.

She graduated from Hagerstown High School and Towson State Normal School and taught at a few schools, including one in Maugansville.

It was during her teaching days that she became enthralled with flying and got her license.

Besides delivering mail, she tested planes and was a base operator at Washington County's airport, Susanne Bikle said.

"She was definitely ahead of her time," Susanne Bikle said.

Helen Cox C. Bikle later moved to Florida to open a flight school. But the Depression's effects forced her to return to Washington County.

She put her flying aside.

She became a social worker and returned to teaching. She retired from Smithsburg Junior High School in 1972, according to her obituary.

She also helped run the family's orchard. Susanne Bikle said they grew apples, peaches, pears and cherries.

When her flying days were done, Helen Cox C. Bikle didn't speak much about them.

"That was a portion of her life that belonged to another place and another time," Susanne Bikle said. "Then, she moved on."

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