Class of 2009 – Women’s Air Service Pilots (WASP)
The biographical information below was compiled by Alan Renga, Assistant Archivist, for the 2009 International Hall of Fame Gala. For more information on the Museum’s Library and Archives, click here.
They were a key factor in the Allies winning World War Two. They helped create a more equal American military. They are the Women’s Air Service Pilots.
As World War Two loomed on the horizon, the famous aviatrix Jackie Cochran wrote Eleanor Roosevelt suggesting that an all woman unit be added to the Army Air Corps to ferry aircraft. A similar proposal was put forth by Nancy Harkness Love…but both were rejected. That is, until the attack on Pearl Harbor showed how badly combat pilots were needed. To free up male pilots for combat roles, the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) were independently created in 1942. In July of 1943 the two groups were united, creating the Women’s Air Service Pilots (WASP) with Jackie Cochran as director of women pilots. She would eventually receive the Distinguished Service Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross for her efforts.
After the merger, the WASP training facility was moved to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, TX. After completing months of military flight training, 1,078 of them earned their wings. After training, they were assigned to bases across the US. In addition to their ferry tasks, they towed targets for live anti-aircraft artillery practice, simulated strafing missions, and transported cargo. Although they were under military authority, the WASPs were considered Civil Service employees and were paid less than the standard pilots pay. The female gremlin Fifinella, conceived by Roald Dahl and drawn by Walt Disney, was used as the official WASP mascot and appeared on their shoulder patch.
WASP pilots commanded almost every type of aircraft flown by the USAAF during World War II, including the famed B-17 and P-51. Between September 1942 and December 1944 (when the unit was disbanded), “Fifinella” delivered over 12,000 aircraft. Thirty-eight WASP fliers lost their lives while serving their country during the war. Although the immense contribution these women made would be downplayed after the war, recently their deeds have received the credit due them. It is now clear that not only was their service a key factor in winning the Second World War, the Women’s Air Service Pilots efforts would be a key factor in the eventual integration of women into the Air Force and other military branches. On July 1, 2009 President Barack Obama and the United States Congress awarded the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal.
For their courage in the face of adversity and doubt, the San Diego Air & Space Museum takes great pride in inducting The Women Air Service Pilots into its International Aerospace Hall of Fame.