Ann Shaw Carter: Helicopter Pilot 1922-2005

Ann Shaw Kirk Portrait

Ann Shaw's "Classbook" photo from her WASP training. 1944. Courtesy WASP Archive, Texas Woman's University, Denton, Texas

Ann Shaw Carter in Helicopter

Ann Shaw Carter in the Bell Helicopter she flew for the Metropolitan Aviation Corporation in New York, 1947. Courtesy Woman's Collection, Texas Woman's University, Denton Texas

Whirly Girls Visiting Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation

Whirly-Girls visit Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, 1959. Carter is 4th from the right. Courtesy Woman's Collection, Texas Woman's University, Denton, Texas

Fairfield native Ann Shaw Carter was the first woman in the United States to obtain a helicopter pilot’s license and fly a commercial helicopter.

During World War II, she learned aircraft assembly in a Bridgeport trade school, worked the night shift as a riveter at the Chance-Vought factory, and saved up her money to pay for flying lessons. Her family disapproved, seeing aviation as a questionable career for a woman.

She signed on with the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) and went to Texas to train to ferry military aircraft across the country for the U.S. Army. She was in the last group of women to graduate from the training program before the WASP was disbanded at the end of 1944. At the ceremony, General Arnold said, “If ever there was any doubt in anyone’s mind that women can become skillful pilots, the WASP have dispelled that doubt. “

Upon returning home, Carter received her helicopter license in 1947, becoming the nation’s first female commercial helicopter pilot. She was hired as a pilot for the Metropolitan Aviation Corporation, one of the first passenger helicopter services in the country, and flew sightseeing flights around New York City and charter trips to nearby communities. She was one of the first members of the Whirly Girls, an international organization of women helicopter pilots, where she was known as “Whirly Girl #2.”

Carter contracted polio in the late 1950’s, and had to retire from flying. She devoted herself to involvement in the Fairfield community, especially focusing on preserving the town’s beauty through open spaces, planning, and conservation. Her efforts to preserve open space included donating two acres of land to the Audubon Society in 1999, as well as serving on town commissions. She was recognized for her service to Fairfield with several community awards and by the Whirly Girls for contributing to the advancement and recognition of women in helicopter aviation.