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 WASP were the first women to fly for the United States Army Air Force. From 1942 to 1944, they flew nearly every plane in the USAAF inventory from high-performance fighters such as the North American P-51 Mustang to heavy bombers such as the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. They were initially used as ferry pilots, delivering planes from aircraft factories to the air bases, but eventually the program was expanded to include just about any flying role where a WASP could free a male pilot for combat duty. A number of the WASP towed targets to train men in aerial and anti-aircraft gunnery and night-time searchlight techniques. Others helped prepare men for combat by laying smoke, flying radar jamming planes, and performing simulated strafing and dive-bombing runs on them. One WASP served as a test pilot and was one of the first pilots - of any gender - to fly the Bell P-59, the USAAF's first jet fighter.

Over 25,000 women applied to the program, 1830 were accepted into training programs, and 1074 earned their wings as WASP. Thirty-eight were killed during the years that the program was active. Most of them weren't exactly feminists; they were all just crazy enough to want to fly in an age when aircraft design was still driven as much by imagination and improvisation as engineering.

The story of the WASP is only now becoming widely known, largely due to the politics of the day. Despite the fact that they were subject to military discipline and protocols, officially the WASP were civilian flyers and the program as a whole was viewed as merely an experiment. Efforts during the war to officially militarize the WASP and give them benefits and privileges like all other armed service were met with strong opposition. The WASP 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 WASP, that they were given their deserved recognition.

What I admire most about the WASP is simply that they did more than they had to do. It would have been socially acceptable, expected even, for them to have been good sisters, daughters, wives, and girlfriends and stayed home during the war. Maybe go to work in a factory, if they wanted to be really outlandish.

Instead, these women found their place in the cockpit of an airplane.

Books About The WASP

WASP on the Web

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David J. Reyes, reyesd01 AT earthlink.net

Last Updated: 15 September 2008.
Last Tweaked: 15 September 2008.

As this is the one page I've written which may actually contribute something to the educational value of the World Wide Web, any comments or suggestions are greatly appreciated.