Archived Pages from 20th Century!!

Women Airforce Service Pilots

When I grow old and have a grandson,
I'll tell him how I flew and watch his eyes bug out.
And you can bet that he'll believe me,
And he'll do the same dern thing
When he grows up, no doubt.

The WASPs were the first women to fly U.S. military aircraft for the United States Army Air Force. From 1942 to 1944, they flew nearly every plane in the USAAF inventory including high-performance fighters like the P-51 and heavy bombers like the B-29 Superfortress. They ferried planes to and from factories, test flew repaired aircraft, new designs, and new flying equipment, towed targets to train men in aerial and anti-aircraft gunnery and night-time searchlight techniques, and other missions such as simulated strafing, dive-bombing, smoke-laying, and radar jamming missions, helping to prepare men for combat duty. Over 25,000 women applied to the program, 1830 were accepted into training programs, and 1074 earned their wings as WASPs. Thirty-eight were killed during the years they were in service. Most of them weren't exactly feminists; they were all just crazy enough to want to fly in an age when aircraft design still developed as much from imagination and improvisation as engineering.

Not many people today have heard of the WASPs because they were not a military organization. Efforts during the war to officially militarize the WASPs and give them benefits and privileges like all other armed service were met with strong oposition. The WASPs were deactivated on 20 December 1944, well before the end of the war was certain and they all but faded from public memory. It was not until the GI Bill Improvement Act of 1977, including a heavily contested amendment concerning the veteran status of the WASPs, that the WASPs were given their deserved recognition.

So what business does a 21 year-old college male have idolizing the efforts of women aviation pioneers fifty years ago? Not surprisingly my interest has little to do with feminism. Perhaps it's a sad indictment of my times and my generation, but what I admire most about the WASPs is that they simply did more than they really had to do. It would have been socially acceptable, expected even, for them to have simply been good sisters, wives, and girlfriends and stayed home during the war. Maybe go to work in a factory. Or if they were really outlandish, join the WAC, wear a snappy uniform and contribute to Allied victory in front of a typewriter.

Instead, these women found their place at the controls of an airplane.

Books About The WASPs

WASPs on the Web

David J. Reyes, University of Michigan,[email protected]

Last Updated: 24 June 1996.
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