Did Helen Keller Fly A Plane On Her Own? How?

Ken Hyde

By Ken Hyde

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Though blind and deaf at just 19 months old, Helen Keller refused to let these losses hold her back. She reached incredible milestones that even those of us (with perfect health conditions!) might find challenging.

Yet, despite her achievements, some remain skeptical about the story of Hellen Keller flying a plane without being able to see or hear. Let my team put an end to this debate.

Who Is The Deafblind Activist Helen Keller?

Helen Keller worked for the U.S. Foundation for the Blind for 45 years (1924 – 1968). 

During this time, she traveled extensively within America and to 35 other countries worldwide; these frequent travels solidified her as a famous advocate for people with vision loss or impaired vision. Over time, she also expanded her advocacy to champion world peace, labor rights, and the rights of disabled women.

Helen Keller worked for the U.S. Foundation

Aside from her advocacy work, Keller was a respected author. She wrote approximately twelve books and hundreds of speeches and essays covering various topics.

Despite her physical challenges, Keller was always committed to showing the world what less fortunate people like her could achieve. Hence, she was excited to try new adventurous activities like diving or sledding down snowy slopes. 

And then, there’s the story that Helen Keller flies a plane, which continues to be the center of many debates.

Did Helen Keller Fly An Airplane?

Yes, Helen Keller did fly a plane! When? It happened in 1946 when she flew to Paris from Rome, and she was at the flight controls for almost half an hour of that entire flight journey! 

Helen Keller Fly An Airplane

How Did Helen Keller Fly A Plane

Along with her translator, Polly Thomson, Keller had been traveling to India, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa as the representative of the U.S. Foundation for the Overseas Blind. Once their plane started crossing the Mediterranean, Helen Keller decided to step out of her comfort zone. 

Thomson communicated the pilots’ flight instructions to Keller through hand signing. She calmly and confidently handled the controls from the co-pilot’s seat, which amazed all the passengers and the airplane crew.

Why Did She Do It? 

Unbeknownst to some, this daring act wasn’t entirely out of character for Keller. As a child, she had already fearlessly dived into the sea with a tight rope tied around her waist, and she loved the thrill of tobogganing down steep slopes in New England.

So, for Keller, this flying experience wasn’t just about trying something new; it was a way to show the world the boundless talents of deaf-blind people. 

During those 20 minutes, Keller felt an incredible sense of physical freedom, and she believed that if her piloting an aircraft could help fight against social stigma for blind people, then it was entirely worth it.

Is It Just A Fictional, Bewildering Story? Current Debates

Despite numerous articles about Helen Keller’s piloting experience (including older interviews, newspaper clippings, and records from the U.S. Foundation for the Blind), conspiracy theories on several social media platforms, particularly TikTok, have labeled her accomplishment a hoax.

A viral social media post sought to undermine Keller’s achievement. According to @krunk19, a self-claiming expert from TikTok, Keller’s feat was not only unremarkable but also impossible. 

Even with @krunk19’s questionable credibility, the post still sparked doubt among many. Some people even suggested Keller faked her physical disability, which explained why she could perform regular tasks just like any able-bodied person. 

But let us reassure you: despite these baseless claims circulating on social media, Keller, a deafblind activist, indeed piloted a four-engine plane under the guidance and observation of her trusted companion, Thomson, and the plane crew.

And remember that although the media described this flight as extraordinary back then (and it was!), Keller is not the only deafblind person to have taken to the skies. 

In 2012, Katie Inman — a teenager like Keller who mainly communicated through sign language — also flew an airplane in Florida. Her flight instructor initially helped her with landing and takeoff, but Katie took complete control once the plane reached a stable altitude of 2,600 feet (around 792 meters).

So, you see, these kinds of stories aren’t as “wild” as some might think and shouldn’t be dismissed as mere fiction!

@grace.mitscherlich #helenkeller #hellenkellerflewaplane #hellenkeller ♬ Blade Runner 2049 – Synthwave Goose

Can You Get A Pilot License If You Are Deaf or Blind?

For Deaf People

Great news: A deaf person can obtain a pilot’s license (though with some limitations, of course). The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the U.S. allows people with hearing disabilities to acquire several pilot certificates as follows: 

  • Student pilot certificate
  • Recreational pilot certificate
  • Private pilot certificate
  • Commercial pilot certificate (limited basis) for specific operations that don’t require heavy radio communication

Various resources are also accessible to deaf people who want to pursue their pilot careers, such as the Deaf Pilots Association. 

And if you’re still concerned about the means of communication, there are many ways to compensate for your physical limitations. Examples are visual cues on instrument panels and alternative communication methods with air traffic control (written clearances).

For Blind/Sightless People

Unfortunately, blind people are not qualified for a pilot’s license in most countries, as the U.S. Vision requirements are critical to acquiring a medical certificate (mandatory for any pilot license).


Hellen Keller’s skyward journey proves that even physical disabilities cannot hold humans from freedom. No TikTok theorist can take that achievement from her! 

Still, we must say that being both deaf and blind would have limited her chances of becoming a licensed pilot — if she wanted to be one, of course. But we all know that was not the case; she was already an accomplished author!

See more: What planes does tom cruise own?

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Ken W Hyde

Ken W Hyde

Ken W Hyde is the founder of The Wright Experience™. He is passionate about antique airplanes and has restored many of the Wright brothers' planes, including the 1918 Curtiss Jenny and the 1903 Wright Flyer. He is also a pilot and mechanic who has worked for Capital Airlines, Bendix Corporation, and American Airlines.

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