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Gateway to Women's History

Jean Ross Howard Phelan, Whirly-Girl #13, founded the Whirly-Girls in 1955. In hopes of developing an organization where female pilots could share information and camaraderie, she was one of 13 charter members representing women helicopter pilots from France, Germany and the United States. As of 2013, there are over 1700 registered members representing 44 countries. The Whirly-Girls is an official affiliate member of Helicopter Association International.

Who are the Whirly-Girls?

Whirly-Girls International is a non-profit, educational and charitable organization dedicated to advancing women in helicopter aviation. The Whirly-Girls Scholarship Fund, Inc., was incorporated in 1974 to oversee and administer the scholarship funds raised by the Whirly-Girls and their auxiliaries. The fund is a federally tax-exempt 501(c)(3) public charity and administers many separate scholarships currently valued at more than $45,000.

Organizational Goals:

  • Promotion of women in the helicopter industry through scholarship awards, mentoring, public appearances, press releases, magazine articles and informational displays in aviation museums
  • Exchange of information among women in helicopter aviation
  • Promotion of community acceptance of rotorcraft through increasing public awareness of rotorcraft utility and versatility

Origin of the Whirly-Girls Logo

In the early 50's, the U. S. army used an innovative way to recruit needed pilots: a Helicopter Square Dance Team. Operating four Bell 47’s (Army H-13’s), two helicopters were dressed as boys—wearing straw hats with pipes in their painted on mouths/faces—and two were girls—with blond wigs (dyed floor mops), and faces like Betty Boop (for those of you old enough to remember that cartoon favorite).

The faces were painted on oil cloth and scotch taped inside the bubble. The skirts covering the skids were made of target practice cloth. With a “Caller” on the mic and the band playing “Turkey In The Straw,” the Team would go through fast dance maneuvers, rotors whirling: “Ladies Do-Si-Do” – “Allemande Left” – as Air Show crowds and TV audiences watched, fascinated (See Dancing Helicopter Models).

When Charter member WG #9 Marilyn Riviere and I first saw the Team in action, we instantly agreed to adopt the lady helicopter as the Whirly-Girls Logo. Next, we applied for and got a Trade Mark so we could use it on items to sell for our Scholarship Fund. The rest is history.

Speaking of history, Ned Gilliand (Harry E. Gilliand), one of the former Girl Square Dancer’s pilots and later Captain of our U.S. Team at the third World Helicopter Championships in the then U.S.S.R., published history, titled “Dancing Rotors” – our Logo is identified and included! By Jean Ross Howard Phelan

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