Ruth Nichols was the only woman to hold
simultaneously the women's world speed, altitude, and distance records
for heavy landplanes. She soloed in a flying boat and received her
pilot's license after graduating from Wellesley College in 1924,
becoming the first woman in New York to do so. Defying her parents
wishes to follow the proper life of a young woman, in January 1928 she
flew nonstop from New York City to Miami with Harry Rogers in a
Fairchild FC-2. The publicity stunt brought Nichols fame as "The Flying
Debutante" and provided headlines for Rogers' airline too. Sherman
Fairchild took note and hired Nichols as a northeast sales manager for
Fairchild Aircraft and Engine Corporation.
She helped to found the Long
Island Aviation Country Club, an exclusive flying club and participated
in the 12,000-mile Sportsman Air Tour to promote the establishment of
clubs around the country. She was also a founder of Sportsman Pilot
magazine. Nichols set several women's records in 1931, among them a
speed record of 210.704 mph, an altitude record of 28,743 feet, and a
nonstop distance record of 1,977.6 miles. Her hopes to become the first
woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean were dashed by two crashes of a Lockheed
Vega in 1931, in which she was severely injured, and again in 1932. In
1940, Nichols founded Relief Wings, a humanitarian air service for
disaster relief that quickly became an adjunct relief service of the
Civil Air Patrol during World War II. Nichols became a lieutenant
colonel in the CAP.
After the war she organized a mission in support of
UNICEF and became an advisor to the CAP on air ambulance missions. In
1958, she flew a Delta Dagger at 1000 mph at an altitude of 51,000 feet.
Nichols' autobiography is titled Wings for Life.