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American Heroes: WASPs

The Women's Airforce Service Pilots were young, beautiful, intelligent, gutsy and flew every type of aircraft used by the Army Air Forces during World War Two, logging over 60 million miles in the air. Their assignments included ferrying aircraft from one point to another throughout the USA, towing targets for gunnery practice, serving as flight instructors for male aviation candidates, and some even flew as test pilots on early jets. Their contributions freed up male pilots for combat assignments in the European and Pacific theaters.

Originating as the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, in September 1942 the U.S. Army Air Transport Command stationed 25 female pilots at the New Castle, Delaware, Army Air Base. Prior to that, another group of American women had volunteered for service immediately after Pearl Harbor but the idea was rejected by U.S. military authorities. Those women went to the U.K. to transport planes for the British Air Transport Auxiliary. Upon learning of the approval of female pilots to fly military aircraft in the states, the Women's Flying Training Detachment was formed at Howard Hughes Airport in Houston, Texas, in November. There, a class of 25 female pilots began their training. In August, 1943, the two units were combined and designated as the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS).

25,000 women applied for the positions, which required 200 hours of flight time and a commercial license. Out of those, 1,830 were accepted and 1,074 completed the training (a "washout" rate superior to that of male aviation candidates). They wore uniforms but were classified as civilians. The women who had formed the two groups, Nancy Harkness Love and Jacqueline Cochran, wanted the groups inducted into the military but not as part of the WACs. They wanted the duties of their pilots to be strictly flying. Congress would not approve the request.

They flew until December, 1944, when the Army Air Force determined that their services were no longer needed. The program was shut down and the women returned to their civilian lives.

Initially rejected by the government when they sought the same postwar benefits of GIs, it would be thirty years before they received recognition for their service. In 1977 they were designated veterans status and in 2009 were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. 37 WASPs lost their lives while flying for their country.


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