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Women Air Force Service Pilots

Women Air Force Service Pilots

Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP)

Famous aviator Jacqueline "Jackie" Cochran realized when America entered the war there would be a shortage of qualified pilots across the country. Her idea was to hire women pilots to perform all of non-combat aviation jobs to free up male pilots for combat. 

The British had women pilots in their Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) and Cochran along with twenty-five other pilots traveled to England to join them. They flew Spitfires, Typhoons, Hurricanes, Mitchells, and Blenheims from the factories to RAF bases all over England. Even though this was a non-combat role, the chance of being shot down or bombed by the enemy still existed for these pilots.

In 1942 Cochran returned to the United States and was asked to lead the Women's Flying Training Detachment to recruit women pilots for ferrying duties. Another group, the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) lead by Nancy Harkness Love, was composed of women who already had commercial licenses and over five hundred flying hours. Eventually both organizations were merged into the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).

When the program began in 1942 each prospective trainee was required to have at least two hundred hours of logged flight time and a commercial pilot's license. They also had to be American citizens between 21 and 25 years of age, and have a high school education. The training program began at the municipal airport in Houston, Texas, but that training area was too limited and the facilities were moved to Avenger Field in Sweetwater. 

Although the women were considered Civil Service employees, Cochran made sure they were trained the same as military aviation cadets. She hoped that one day the WASP would be incorporated into the Air Corps and wanted them to be ready. They wore military style clothing, ate in mess halls, lived in military barracks, and lived by military law. From 1942 through 1944 the WASP program had 25,000 applicants and trained 1,830 students, out of which 1,074 earned their wings.

After graduation from Avenger Field the pilots were assigned to the Air Transport Command for ferrying aircraft from production plants to bases around the country. Others went on to fly personnel transports and performed target towing duties. Some test piloted experimental aircraft. Dorothea Johnson and Dora Dougherty were stationed at Eglin Army Air Base, Florida, when they met Lt. Col Paul W. Tibbets, Jr. He took both pilots over to Anniston, Alabama, and trained them to fly the B-29 Superfortress.

The WASP flew every type of aircraft the US Army Air Forces had, logging over 60 million miles. Their safety record was even better than their male counterparts.

In 1944 Jackie Cochran pushed to have the WASP incorporated into the military. The women had proved they were up to the job of flying. But the war was winding down and Congress decided they did not need the surplus pilots and deactivated the WASP.

Thirty-eight WASP lost their lives in service to the United States during World War II. Since their country refused to recognize them as veterans, they were buried without military honors. Many times their fellow pilots even had to take up collections to have their fallen comrades' bodies shipped back home for burial. Those WASP who died in service to their country were: 

Jane Champlin

Susan P. Clarke

Margie L. Davis

Katherine Dussaq

Marjorie D. Edwards

Elizabeth Erickson

Cornelia Clark Fort

Frances F. Grimes

Mary Hartson

Mary H. Howson

Edith Keene

Kathryn B. Lawrence

Hazel Ying Lee 

Paula Loop

Peggy Martin

Lea Ola McDonald

Virginia Moffatt

Beverly Moses

Dorothy Nichols

Jeanne L. Norbeck

Margaret C. Oldenburg

Mabel V. Rawlinson

Gleanna Roberts

Marie M. Robinson

Betty Mae Scott

Dorothy Scott

Margaret J. Seip

Helen Jo Severson

Ethel Marie Sharon 

Evelyn Sharp 

Gertrude T. Silver  

Betty P. Stine 

Marion Toevs

Mary E. Trebing 

Mary L. Webster  

Bonnie Jean Welz 

Betty Taylor Wood

Alice E. Lovejoy


Photos & details of the 38 who died

In 1976, after the Air Force announced that it was training the "first women to fly for the military," the surviving WASP went to work to correct the error of fact. With the help of Colonel Bruce Arnold (General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold's son) and Senator Barry Goldwater (who had flown with WASP aviators in the Ferry Command during the war), the WASP went before Congress to ask for militarization. 

Despite strong opposition from various powerful individuals and organizations, the measure passed through Congress. In 1977 President Jimmy Carter signed the bill making the WASP part of the Air Force. They received no back pay or death insurance, but they did finally get the one thing they had fought so hard for: recognition that the WASP had answered America's call when she needed them. They too had fought and died for their country.

This exhibit features the artifacts and memorabilia of Utah WASP Alberta Hunt Nicholson (1914-2002). Her Santiago Blue service dress uniform and flight uniform are shown, along with other personal items. The exhibit was made possible by the generous financial support of the Dr. Ezekiel and Edna Wattis Dumke Foundation and Pacificorp. Permission to use the image of the WASP mascot "Fifinella" in the exhibit was graciously provided by The Walt Disney Company.