Early Female Liberation -- Helen O’Rear, First Female to Pilot an Airplane Over New York City -- Newspaper Account (1915)

Helen O’Rear was daughter of Judge Edward C. O’Rear of Frankfurt, Kentucky. Her first marriage was to Midshipman Richard Caswell Saufley (of Kentucky) who was an early pilot in the U.S. Navy. He died in an airplane crash in Pensacola, Florida shortly after the events set out in this newspaper account. The photograph and account are from an unidentified New York Newspaper.

WOMAN TELLS HOW IT FEELS TO FLY ABOVE NEW YORK -- "Just One Long, Long Minute of Delight, " Says Mrs. Saufley, Lieutenant’s Bride. -- First of Her Sex to Risk trip Which Even Experts are Forbidden to Attempt.

According to Mrs. R. C. Saufley, wife of Lieut. Saufley, U.S.N., it is no trick at all to soar 1,200 feet above New York in an aeroplane, stop the car at will, swoop down to the waters of the harbor in a long and graceful glide, then up and away again on the wings of the wind. Just no trick at all. That is, if you have the right king of stabilizer in your air-craft.

Mrs. Saufley is the first woman in the world to fly over New York, running her car as calmly and joyously as the lady of mythology steered her team of peacocks athwart the rosy sky.

It happened in this way: Lawrence Sperry, inventor of the gyroscopic stabilizer that makes an aeroplane as steady as a church, no matter how full of flaws, variations and soft spots the air may be, has been demonstrating his machine during the last two weeks in a Curtiss flying boat, or hydro-aeroplane, from the Navy Yard in Brooklyn, He wants Uncle Sam to use his patent so that if the patient old gentleman ever has to drop bombs on his enemies he can do it with accuracy and dispatch, using both hands for the purpose, while the stabilizer keeps the aeroplane as level and unshaken as a ballroom floor. It is the very latest cry in the awful art of war.

Lieut. Saufley has been testing the apparatus, chiefly by going with Inventor Sperry on his demonstrating trips and himself running the ca. Yesterday was a fine day for a hard test, the westerly breezes blowing fitfully, now down to little or nothing, and now puffing a while at thirty or forty miles an hour. So Mr. Saufley ascended with Mr. Sperry and they ran up and down and to and fro above the City of New York and the waters about the city, and dipped and dived and flew to and fro as gaily as any Mallard ducks that ever took wing. And when they returned to the Navy Yard and Mr. Saufley stepped out, Mr. Sperry turned to Mrs. Saufley and said: "Oh, I do wish you would come along and take a look at New York from a spot 1,200 feet up in the air. It is simply superb!" So she looked inquiring at her husband, and he, with a smile handed her into the seat he had just vacated.

Doesn’t Look Flimsy, But It Really Is.

Somehow the Curtiss flying boat doesn’t look quite so flimsy as the ordinary aeroplane, because the floor of its shallow body leads at least a fastidious appearance of solidity -- a very fleeting effect, a biplane, perched upon a shallow hull. Mrs. Saufley was warmly dressed, as for the ride in a motor car, with no special or complicated costume.

And what is she like -- the first woman to steer an airship over New York?

She is very young, and very gentle, looks like a little Southern girl of eighteen, has a low sweet voice, dark eyes and black hair that loosely frames her rosy cheeks. Her husband is a tall an sinewy young man, sparing of speech, grave eyed, and hawk nosed. Mrs. Saufley did indeed ride the grim war eagle into battle; but she is the last person in the world one would associate with such a machine, she so gentile and diffident.

But she took her place in the car, nodded a brief goody to her man and took hold of the steering lever. Mr. Sperry had yielded control of the flying boat to her, though this was only her fourth trip in an aeroplane, and the air currents above new York are so variable and treacherous that the Aviation Society punishes any expert man who dares to fly there without special permission. The influence of the waters, of the high and low buildings and the heat that gushes up, all combined, and make the air over New York as full of whirlpools and eddies as the Niagara River.

Next moment she was gone. The great biplane dropped under and past the Manhattan and East River bridges and flew as far south as the Narrows. There, reversing its course, it returned, passed high above the bridges, and gently soaring in the northern sky, all but vanished above Blackweller Island. The biplane looked like a very tall, thin grey letter H, laid over on its side.

Northward it flew, then northwesterly, above the Harlem River and the Ship Canal, where at a height of 1,200 feet it swung in a wide lazy circle round and round, far above the head of Liberty herself. Then the great propeller stopped, and the biplane stood still against the blue vault of heaven, stood still as a condor floating above his native mountains.

Now the forward dropped, as the propeller once again was heard, and the machine plunged down as if it would go into the bay. But the fair hands at the spring lever moved ever so slightly, and the great bulk settled upon the surface as gracefully as a gliding swan.

A few moments more, and it rose again, headed along the Hudson, then swung away for the lower side of New York, crossed diagonally, flew over the East Park and Manhattan Bridges, and settled down in a long graceful easy spiral to its nest in the Navy Yard.

Mrs. Saufley’s eyes were brighter, and her cheeks were rosier as she stepped out on the ;prosaic land, but her breathing seemed nota bit faster, nor was there any tremor in her voice or hand, or any other sing, ever so slight, of the excitement.

"That is the most exhilarating ride I have ever taken," she said earnestly and quite simply. "What a picture New York is on a perfect afternoon. My husband tells me we were up forty minutes. It seems like forty seconds. And I never realized New York is so beautiful."

"Weren’t you scared to shut off the motor and let the aeroplane drift 1,200 feet above the bay?"

"Oh, no. I have the utmost faith in my husband’s knowledge. He told me to do it, and I knew it would be perfectly safe, as it was. I don’t think there is any sensation in the world like flying. One has no feeling of motion a great part of the time. The motor is humming, but one seems to be just magically sailing on Aladdin’s magic carpet."

"When we were swishing under the bridges, with the ferry boats and other vessels near us I was very conscious of our rapid flight. A mile a minute is fast, though one doesn’t notice it high in the air, but down close to the water with the boats at hand it seemed as if our boat was whizzing along like a great arrow. soon as we got up a thousand feet the sensation of shooting through space vanished."

"Go up again? of course I shall, every chance I get. And I do hope I shall have the chance to see New York again from a thousand feet above Liberty’s torch. It is a dream city, as beautiful as a vision."