5 facts about the nation's first female Air Force pilots

Kaylah Jackson
September 07, 2018 - 8:52 pm

U.S. Air Force photo

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Women Air Force Service Pilots were the first women to fly American aircraft. While stationed at 120 Army bases across the United States, WASPs filled roles that were open due to male pilots fighting overseas in World War II. Here are five interesting facts about the nation’s first female pilots.

Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) were officially organized on August 5, 1943. WASP was a combination of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD). The WAFS were a group of 25 women pilots who were tasked to deliver plans from factories to military bases. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, women gained interested in serving as pilots in the Army Air Corps. Jacqueline Cochran, a well-known aviator tried to convince the general of the Army Air Corps to allow women serve as pilots but was met with obstacles. She instead recruited women to serve in the British Air Transport Auxiliary. Upon returning to the states from a trip to England, she was able to convince the general of the Army Air Corps to have the WFTD support other duties of the Army Air Corps by checking flights, instructing male pilot cadets and towing targets for anti-aircraft gunnery practice.

Until 2016, WASPs couldn’t be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Though WASPs served in many of the vacancies for male pilots in World War II, they were considered a “paramilitary, civilian organization.” The bill, which was signed into law in 2016, amended legislation “to provide for the inurnment in Arlington National Cemetery of the cremated remains of certain persons whose service has been determined to be active service.” 

U.S. Air Force photo

Over 1,000 WASPs were trained and flew over 60,000,000 miles. The women were trained in Sweetwater, Texas, where the official National WASP Museum is located.

WASPs were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. In 2010, WASPs were nationally recognized for their “revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces” during World War II. The WASPs were granted full military status in 1977 and officially recognized as veterans after then-President Jimmy Carter when he signed the G.I. Bill Improvement Act.

U.S. Air Force Photo

A documentary about the WASPs is currently in production. As part of The Commemorative Air Force’s Rise Above Program, which teaches young people stories of courage about rising above adversity, the film CAF RISE ABOVE: WASP will highlight the journey of Women Air Force Service Pilots through history. Kara White (Martinelli), who is producing CAF RISE ABOVE: WASP through Hemlock Films says these women are her personal heroes. "To tell that story and to use that story to show little girls and boys that women can be strong, brave leaders," says White is a great opportunity. 

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