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Women Pilots of World War II

Updated on February 4, 2017

Four WASP in Full Flight Gear, B17 in Background

In World War II while the men were off fighting a war against the axis, the women were also contributing to the war effort. These were the women whose husbands and boy friends went off to war while the women worked on the assembly lines that turned out the weapons of war. Collectively, these women, were called "Rosie the Riviter."

But there was another group of young, courageous women who were called upon to fly military aircraft for the war effort. History has all but forgotten these women. They were called the WASP and that is what this article is about.

Who Were the WASP?

A general of the Army Air Force and a female aviator came up with the idea of having women pilots ferry military aircraft to their destinations. The General's name was Hap Arnold and the female Aviator was Jacqueline Cochran. Their program was called WASP (Women's Air Force Service Pilots). The program would train women who were already pilots to fly all types of military aircraft. They started recruiting and in no time 25,000 women across the country applied for the job. Out of all the applicants, 1,840 were selected to be in the program. After their flight training, it was understood that these women would become commissioned officers of the United States Army Air Corps.

Fifinella, the Official Mascot of the WASP, Designed by Walt Disney

Fifinella, the officical mascot of the WASP
Fifinella, the officical mascot of the WASP | Source

Avenger Field, Sweetwater Texas

Their flight training was to be done at Avenger Field in Sweetwater Texas, a God forsaken place where the wind blew all the time. It was hot in the summer and cold and snowing in the winter. For the most part, they were issued men's clothing except for their dress uniforms.

They had to tailor the flight overalls as they were too big. A flying Tinkerbelle like figure was designed by Walt Disney as their mascot. She was called Fifenella and stood above the headquarters building.

Their flight training consisted mainly of what any male military pilot would go through. They lived in meager housing that required some adjustments and tolerance to the conditions.

B17 Flying Fortress, Flown by WASP
B17 Flying Fortress, Flown by WASP | Source

WASP Flew Over 60 Million Miles

Their jobs and missions included weather flights, test flights, repairing aircraft, and instructing.They flew every type of plane that was a available including high performance fighter planes and long range bombers. They flew strafing, night tracking and smoke laying missions. They towed targets for air-to-air and ground-to-air gunnery practice, with gunnery recruits firing live ammunition.

They ferried planes and transported cargo, personnel and parts of the atomic bomb. They even flew aircraft that male pilots refused to fly, including the B-26 "Widow Maker" and the B-29 "Super Fortress," to prove to the male pilots they were safe to fly. They flew with an unwavering urgency and a passion for their mission: to free male pilots for combat. WASP not only passed every test, they outscored their male counterparts. They flew over 60 million miles at 120 bases.

Jaqueline Cochran

Jaqueline Cochran
Jaqueline Cochran | Source

WASP Disbanded December 20, 1944

The program was quietly and unceremoniously disbanded on December 20, 1944. They were not given their commissions as promised, but they were given letters of commendation for a job well done. The reasoning for this was that that returning male pilots needed their jobs.

Of the 38 WASP that died while serving for their country, they were not given any military honors, because their official status was civilian. But their families did receive a letter of condolence. Their bodies were shipped home in cheap pine boxes with burial and funeral expenses paid for by the families or classmates.


Avenger Field Sweetwater Texas Where the WASP took thier Training

Avenger Field, Sweetwater Texas
Avenger Field, Sweetwater Texas | Source

WASP, Wearing Men's Coveralls, Taking Flight Training

WASP Flight Training
WASP Flight Training | Source

Learning About Engines

Engines
Engines | Source

WASP Graduating Class

General Hap Arnold

General Hap Arnold
General Hap Arnold | Source

Conclusion

I wrote this article to honor and create an awareness of these courageous and noble young women who gave of themselves unselfishly and made great sacrifices to contribute to the war effort. They also paved the way for women combat pilots of today, but the WASP were never properly recognized for their deeds.

On 7 December 1944, in a speech to the last graduating class, General Arnold said,

"If ever there was any doubt in anyone's mind that women can become skillful pilots, the WASP have dispelled that doubt…You and more than 900 of your sisters have shown you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your brothers. …I salute you and all the WASP. We of the Army Air Force are proud of you. We will never forget our debt to you."

In 1975, President Jimmy Carter signed a bill making them retired military personnel.

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    • peoplepower73 profile image
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      Mike Russo 4 years ago from Placentia California

      Stacie L: You are welcome.They really were some of the unsung hero's of world war II and their contributions to the war effort went unnoticed for many years. Thanks for dropping by.

    • Stacie L profile image

      Stacie L 4 years ago

      Why have the history books excluded these brave pilots? Apparently history is very bias and only touts the white male as the only true hero. Thanks for bringing this fact to light!

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      donnah75: Wow, that's amazing. Do you recall her name? You could write an article about her. I'm looking forward to seeing an article...no pressure. I find the WASP story just fascinating. Thanks for the vote and sharing.

    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you for writing this article. My grandfather's sister was a WASP pilot. I never knew about her or what she did until a few years ago. I still have a lot more research that I want to do. Voted up and sharing.

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      suzettenaples: Thanks for reading this. I read several of their books and they were even discriminated upon by the male mechanics that worked on their airplanes. I would sure like to write a screenplay about this. I think it would make a great movie. I've never written a screenplay, but some day, I might try. I don't think they received any rank, but they were awared the Congressional Gold Medal by congress. I think President Carter did many things for the this country, but because of the hostage situation in Iran, I think it ruined him politically. Thanks for your comments, Piasano

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 5 years ago from Taos, NM

      What a wonderful article! I am so glad you wrote this piece. I never knew about these women, and it is so good to know about this. I am disturbed they were never given their commissions. That is awful and I don't care what the reason was, that is blatant discrimination. How terrible. Thank heavens, President Carter made them retired military personnel. I wonder what rank? I do think President Carter has done more for this country than any other modern day president. Thank heavens he tried to wrong a right. Thanks so much for sharing this story and information. I never knew about these WWII women and I worked for the DOD.

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      tsmog: I'm glad this was so moving for you. I have read several books written by them. They have a website, I think the link is on my hub page. If you haven't aleady done so, I recommend going there. You may be able to look up her (McClelland's) name. Thanks for dropping by.

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      LaThing: Thank you so much for reading this article. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I think most people have never heard of them. It's sad because they contributed so much to the war effort and sacraficed so much.

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 5 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Thank you LaThing for sharing this. And thank you peoplepower73 for writing this honorable hub. There were some who were like mom's or were mom's actually that were in WWII. These women were heroine to many of them. I remember stories of WAC, WASP, and WAVES as much as I do of the traditional services. I studied women in Drag Racing for years. I almost shed a tear reading this article thinking of a principal I got to know when a lad. Seems she knew intimately of this always saying things to me like I wasn't a bumble bee I was a WASP. McClelland I think was her name.

    • LaThing profile image

      LaThing 5 years ago from From a World Within, USA

      This is a fascinating article! Didn't know much about these ladies..... Wow! Great old pictures, loved reading it!

      Sharing and voting up!

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      CASE1WORKER: They were some of the unsung heroes of WWII and were never properly recognized. Thanks for dropping by.

    • CASE1WORKER profile image

      CASE1WORKER 5 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      This was new to me: thanks voted up and interesting

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      Vellur: Thanks for reading it. It's too bad that history almost forgot these unsung hero's of the war.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 5 years ago from Dubai

      This is a great tribute to all the brave women who gave up their lives in duty. Sad that they were never honored properly.

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      Thank you suzie. I just wanted to make people aware of these women who history has almost forgotten.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 5 years ago from Asheville, NC

      What a great Hub. Thank you so much for bringing attention to these brave women. Rated up and I'm a fan.

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      Thank you so much for your comments. I recognized your last name from the research that I've done. I saw your YouTube presentaton on the Women's Memorial. I must say, I'm deeply honored to have you comment on my article and I will incorporate all of your comments. My thanks to your Mother for her efforts during the war.

    • profile image

      Nancy Parrish 5 years ago

      Thank you for your efforts to honor the WASP. It is always heartening to see the torch continue to burn brightly! I also appreciate the photo credit for Wings Across America and link to WASP on the WEB.

      With respect, just a quick suggestion for accuracy: if you could you please remove the word "Auxillary" from the first line of your third paragraph?

      The other quick note, the WASP were actually disbanded before the end of World War II (Dec. 20, 1944).

      Meantime, your book list is excellent! Let me suggest one more that has not been listed on Amazon yet. WASP IN THEIR OWN WORDS is the most comprehensive book on the WASP ever written. It is listed on Flygirls.org.

      THANKS!

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      Yes, I agree with you, we haven't had a common cause since then, where everybody pulled together. I think what those women did was a true form of patriotism.

    • BrightMeadow profile image

      BrightMeadow 5 years ago from a room of one's own

      This is very interesting. I just finished a fictional book in which the main character became a WASP. Even though the main character was fictional, the book pulled in some real characters too, like Jaqueline Cochran. I think WWII is one of the periods in history when women really came into their own. You had woman who were taking jobs at home previously held by men and you had them joining the WASPs. I think once those barriers were broken for women it was hard for them to ever go back. What a shame they didn't receive the recognition they deserved.

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      Your are welcome. Please share this with all. People need to know how these women were taken advantage of

    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 5 years ago from Paris via California

      That's extraordinary! I'm ordering clipped wings now. Thanks for making us aware of this.

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      You are welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I don't think they did get the GI bill, because they were never considered being in the military. It's quite a shame. I'll see you on your profile in a minute.

    • profile image

      Mtbailz 5 years ago

      This was a fascinating hub. I had studied World War Two in College without hearing a word of these women. It's a shame they were never truly honored for their deeds. I'm sure they also didn't receive the benefits of the GI Bill either. Thanks for bringing this story to light for me.