Helen Dick grew up in Pocatello, Idaho, the youngest of three children in a railroad family where her father was an engineer with the Union Pacific. As was the custom in those days, the family would often go to the local airport on a weekend to watch the airplanes fly. Helen dreamed of the freedom of flight and flying like a bird.
But education came first. Helen attended Idaho State College for two years and then went to the University of California – Berkeley where she received a B.S. in Foreign Trade. After graduation, she returned to Idaho.
It was 1940 and World War II was approaching.
The government started the Civilian Pilot Training program in order to introduce pilots to aviation and possible later military service. Ten percent of the spaces were allotted for women and Helen joined. She took ground school courses and flew a Piper J-3 Cub. She was hooked. She received her private certificate for airplanes in 1940.
She had accumulated about 75 hours of flying time when she was accepted by the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) for the class of 43-W-8.
As the war was drawing to a close, she joined the SPARs, the women's branch of the U.S. Coast Guard.
She was assigned to San Francisco where she served in the separation center helping to transition members of the military to civilian life.
After the SPAR service, she moved briefly to Los Angeles and then to San Diego, her home for the rest of her life. She worked briefly for Convair and then took a position with the U.S. Customs and later the Coast Guard where she could utilize her educational background.
Her heart remained in the air but her flying was limited to rental airplanes.
Then she met fellow WASP Dorothea Shultz who persuaded her she could get free flying time by joining the Associated Glider Clubs of Southern California and becoming a tow pilot. Helen was convinced – the chance for free or at least inexpensive flying was a benefit she could not resist.
Soon she was very active in the club not just as a tow pilot but also as the club secretary. Then the members began telling her she had to fly gliders. Being a typical power pilot at the time, Helen resisted. Eventually she gave in to the pressure and her life was forever changed as she discovered the joy of soaring.
She went on to earn all her badges through the Diamond but her main love was soaring for records – an activity in which she had great success. Most of her flights were north from the desert of Southern California along the mountains of the Owens Valley and often times towards the northeast from the north end of the Owens Valley into the Great Basin. She and her soaring partner pioneered the northern part of this route that has only been soared extensively by other pilots in recent years.
When Helen was soaring weekends, the radio chatter indicated other sailplane pilots were wondering where she was and trying to follow her. They knew her successes and would try to learn from her crosscountry soaring strategies.
Helen's greatest joy was soaring along the Sierra, across the Owens Valley and on to the Inyo and White Mountains on the eastern side of the valley. She lived the dream of her youth – the freedom of flight and the joy of flying like a bird.
Helen passed away peacefully December 15, 2012 after a long illness. She lived a long and good life full of accomplishments and characterized by service beyond herself. She will be missed by her many friends.