Top-Ranked Aerobatic Pilot Retires from SWA

Debby Rihn-Harvey retires after 27 years at major airline.

Debby Rihn-Harvey SWA Retirement
Southwest Capt. Debby Rihn-Harvey completed the last flight of her 27-year airline career last week with her stepdaughter Chris Dale in the right seat.Elizabeth Garcia

Debby Rihn-Harvey, one of the most successful aerobatic competitors of all time, completed her career as captain of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 last week. With an airplane mostly filled with her friends and family, Rihn-Harvey flew her last leg, SWA Flight 3060, on Thursday from the Valley International Airport (KHRL) in Harlingen, Texas, to the William P. Hobby Airport (KHOU) in Houston. Fellow USA Unlimited Aerobatic Team member Tim Just, who was a passenger on the flight, described Rihn-Harvey’s final SWA landing as perfect.

Rihn-Harvey, who was born in 1951, learned to fly with her father and soloed at age 16. She started working for Southwest in 1989, the 11th female pilot to take the controls of an SWA Boeing 737.

Debby Rihn-Harvey SWA Retirement
Debby Rihn Harvey gets a water salute in a Southwest Boeing 737.Courtesy Yvonne Stanley

However, her aerobatic accomplishments began even before her commercial airline career. She qualified for the USA Unlimited Aerobatic Team in 1983 and, with a total of 31 years, she is the longest-standing U.S. Aerobatic Team member, male or female, and has participated in 15 World Championships, more than any other pilot. Rihn-Harvey has won a long list of medals and awards, has been inducted into several aviation halls of fame, and has racked up more than 34,000 hours of flight time.

While her commercial flying career is now over, Rihn-Harvey will continue to be highly involved in the world of aviation. She is on the Board of Directors for the International Aerobatic Club (IAC) and will continue to fly airshows. She also owns Harvey & Rihn Aviation in La Porte, Texas, a flight school that offers upset recovery and aerobatics training where she will continue to serve as a designated pilot examiner. In addition, Rihn-Harvey serves as a mentor, particularly for women aviators, and is starting a flying club to "promote the joy of aviation," she said. "I have gained so much from [aviation] that I want to have others feel the joy it can bring."