WASPs contribute their talents during WWII

  • Published
  • By Cynthia Randall
  • 412th Test Wing
The 95th Mission Support Group is scheduled to host a luncheon for seven Women Airforce Service Pilots on Tuesday, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the Conference Center's Looking Glass Room. 

The theme for the month is "Generations of Women Moving History Forward." 

The WASP members have contributed a lot during the World War II era. In the midst of World War II, the call went out: women with flight experience were needed to fly for the military. All over the country, young women postponed their weddings, put their educations on hold and quit their jobs to respond. 

From 1942 to 1944, more than 1,000 women were trained to ferry aircraft, test planes, instruct male pilots and even tow targets for anti-aircraft artillery practice. Despite serving with grit and determination, women pilots often encountered disbelief and resentment. Thirty-eight would give their lives. 

The idea for the women's pilot corps came from Jacqueline Cochran, America's foremost female aviator and an ambitious businesswoman with her own cosmetics company. By 1941, Ms. Cochran held 17 world records. That year, she became the first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic Ocean. After recruiting 24 American women to fly for the British Air Transport, Cochran convinced Gen. Hap Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces, to start an American training program. Lured by the opportunity to fly for their country, about 25,000 women applied. 

"We have no hopes of replacing men pilots," wrote Cornelia Fort. "But we can each release a man to combat, to faster ships, to overseas work." 

The 1,830, who were accepted, received pilot training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, the only all-female Air Force base in history, which became known as "Cochran's Convent." They received the same training as male pilots, then moved on to ferry aircraft from factories and airfields to points of embarkation. As the program proved successful, WASP assignments expanded beyond ferrying. 

Ann Baumgartner Carl was the only female test pilot at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, flying alongside the Air Force's finest. In 1943, she became the first woman to pilot the new jet fighter, the Bell YP-59A Airacomet. 

Through their ability and courage, the women won over many skeptics, but WASPs did not have military status. When a WASP died, her family received no benefits, no flag, and no gold star to hang in the window. The government made no provision for returning the body back home because the women had no official military status. The other women pilots would contribute money for transportation and burial. 

In 1944, as the European war drew to a close and male pilots began returning from combat - now subject to being drafted into the infantry - male civilian pilots launched a campaign to claim the jobs held by WASPs. Public sentiment turned against women pilots as the home front returned to 1940s normalcy. Ms. Cochran refused a compromise offer to merge her WASP program with the Women's Army Corps. In December, the WASP program was disbanded. It would be more than thirty years before women would fly again for the US military.