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Hélène Boucher

Hélène Boucher, an air pioneer

Hélène Boucher

Hélène Boucher, born May 23 , 1908 in Paris (14th arrondissement) and died November 30 , 1934 in Guyancourt , is a French aviator. She breaks many speed records 1 .

Hélène Antoinette Eugénie Boucher is the daughter of Léon Boucher, a Parisian architect, and Élisabeth Hélène Dureau. From her childhood, she received the nickname of Léno 2 which she will keep throughout her life. During the First World War, she left Paris with her family. In the family property of Yermenonville 1 , in Eure-et-Loir, she then collected photos of airmen and articles on airplanes. Back in the family apartment at 169 rue de Rennes in Paris, she entered the Lycée Montaigne then the Collège Sévigné , the first secular secondary school for young girls created in France 3 and where she met her lifelong friend and confidante, Dolly Van Dongen. , the daughter of the painter Kees van Dongen .

At 22, Hélène Boucher decided to become an aviator in order to avenge the death of a friend of her brother's, test pilot Jean Hubert . She became a pupil of Henri Farbos 4 , French pilot (founder of the Landes flying club in Mont-de-Marsan in 1928). She took her first flight on July 4 , 1930 , at the age of 22

Hélène Boucher
Hélène Boucher
Hélène Boucher
Hélène Boucher

Hélène Boucher: last portrait before her fatal accident,
© Rue des Archives / Varma

Hélène Boucher

She took her first piloting course in March 1931 with Henri Liaudet, and obtained her tourist pilot's license on June 21, 1931 then, after having accumulated 100 flight hours and carried out a night flight, her professional public transport pilot's license. in June 1932 (she thus became the fourth in France to win it after Adrienne Bolland , Maryse Bastié and Maryse Hilsz 3 ). She immediately bought a small second-hand plane. From July 1932, she took part in the Caen - Deauville air rally. Her badly prepared plane breaks down and she has to land urgently. The plane hangs in the branches of a tree, but Léno comes out without injuries 5 .

It continues to participate in events  : the Paris - Saigon raid at the beginning of 1933, the 12  hours of Angers in July 1933 (with Edmée Jarlaud as a passenger, she finished 14th in the general classification and is the first woman to cross the finish line 6 ) and on August 2 the first world record, that of female altitude for airplane light second category, with 5  900  meters aboard his plane Mauboussin Corsaire with Salmson 60 engine  ch 3 .

In September 1933, she embarked on aerial acrobatics . The test pilot and aerobatic champion Michel Détroyat , his instructor, declares at the end of his training  : "  In a few months she will be the best acrobat in the world  !  " 7 .

In 1934, she joined the aviators Maryse Bastié and Adrienne Bolland in the feminist fight 8 and became an activist for the French vote alongside Louise Weiss 9 .

In June 1934, Hélène Boucher signed a contract with the new Caudron-Renault company. It was François Lehideux , managing director of Renault at the time, who decided to hire him to test the handling of his devices. With this contract she obtains, in addition to a salary ensuring her financial independence, technical means allowing her to give the best of herself 10 .

On July 8, 1934, she finished second at the 12 Hours of Angers. She piloted her Caudron-Rafale alone for twelve hours in a row, while the winners, Lacombe and Trivier, took turns. By the way, she broke the world record for 1  000  km for light aircraft. 11

On August 8 , 1934 , at the controls of a Caudron-Renault monoplane of 140 CV, Hélène Boucher on the one hand removed the international speed record in all categories out of 100  km to 412  km / h and on the other hand the record of 1  000  409 km average  km / h ( Maurice Arnoux held the old record with 393  km / h). On August 11, she won the women's world record at 445  km / h 3 , 1 .

In addition, the Renault company has a contract with Hélène Boucher to promote its prestigious sports car, the Vivasport 6 cylinders 12 . It was Marcel Riffard , head of the Caudron-Renault design office and designer of the Caudron Rafale, who designed the Renault Viva Grand Sport (called “  Vivastella Grand Sport  Before 1935).

The fatal accident

On November 30, 1934, Hélène Boucher was killed during a training flight on Guyancourt aerodrome at the controls of a Caudron C.430 Rafale 13 . The press mentions a loss of speed on landing and a possible forgetting that the controls are reversed  : the plane grabs the treetops above the forest of the Croix du Bois in Magny-les-Hameaux and crashes near the road to the Butte aux Chênes in Brouessy , not far from the family home of the aviator Henri Farman (a small stele indicates the location of accident 14 ). The pilots Raymond Delmotte , Fouquet and Goury, who witnessed the accident, were the first to arrive on the scene. Hélène Boucher, seriously injured, was evacuated to the Versailles hospital. She died in ambulance 15 on the coast from Satory to Guyancourt .

Before being buried in the cemetery of Yermenonville , commune of Eure-et-Loir where she spent her youth, a national tribute is paid to her at the Saint-Louis-des-Invalides cathedral in Paris 1 . His coffin is on display for two days. She is the first woman to receive such an honor.


  • In 1934 , she won the Prix Monique Berlioux from the Académie des sports , as the woman with the most remarkable sports performance of the past year 1 .

  • Hélène Boucher is posthumously decorated with the Legion of Honor 16 with the following citation  :

"  Aviator pilot  : 3 years of professional practice.  "

"  A high-class pilot, put his ardent faith and thoughtful daring at the service of French aviation.  "

"  Has given his full potential during his brief career.  "

"  Victorious in many competitions, brought six records to France, in particular the international speed record in all categories on 1  000  km with 409  km / h.  "

"  Gave her life to the cause she had valiantly defended.  "

"  Has been cited at the order of the nation.  "

  • In the years following her death (at least in 1935 and 1936), a female aviation competition was named after her.  : the Hélène Boucher cup (won by Maryse Hilsz the first two years) 17 .

  • In 1972, the French Post issued a stamp bearing the effigy of Hélène Boucher and Maryse Hilsz (Monique Berlioux Prize from the Académie des sports in 1936).

  • Many public facilities, roads, educational establishments bear his name Notes 1 .

  • A sculpture by Hélène Boucher (created by the artist Camille Toutée Bonhomme) was inaugurated on November 30, 2014 in Voisins-le-Bretonneux .

Hélène Boucher

"Flying is the only thing that makes me feel like I'm alive"

Hélène Boucher Caudron Rafale

Aviation History - 30  November 1934. On this 30  November 1934, death mows down the young aviator Hélène Boucher, who was the victim of a plane crash, during a training flight at Guyancourt aerodrome. Hélène Boucher, holder of a pilot's license since June  1932, crashed at Croix-du-Bois, while she was installed at the controls of a Caudron C.460 Rafale.

November 30, 1934 in the sky: Crash of the Caudron C.460 Rafale by Hélène Boucher

The accident occurred while she was in the landing phase, the aircraft lost speed, followed by the start of a rollover, before impact with the ground. The aviator was unable to regain control of the aircraft.


Thus ended Hélène Boucher's career in aviation, it was certainly brief, but all the same filled with great successes: summer 1933, women's world altitude record, i.e. 5,900 meters, women's speed record on 100 kilometers, or 412,306 kilometers per hour, speed record over 1,000 kilometers, or 409,200 kilometers per hour and women's base speed record, or 445,028 kilometers per hour.

Hélène Boucher Caudron Rafale

Caudron C460 Rafale

L'Air revue mensuelle
L'Air revue mensuelle
L'Air revue mensuelle
L'Air revue mensuelle
helene boucher au bourget 1929
Plaque Hélène Boucher

Commemorative plaque, 169 rue de Rennes, Paris 6th district. 

Yermenonville sépulture Hélène Boucher

Burial of Hélène Boucher, Yermenonville cemetery, Eure-et-Loir, France.

Timbre Hélène Boucher
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