Honoring WASPs: Women Airforce Service Pilots

I was doing my nightly read-through of news sites (a practice I haven’t actually done regularly in the past several months. whoops.), when I found this cool slide show of Women Airforce Service Pilots Through the Years. It’s a slide show so it doesn’t exactly have a wealth of information, but I thought it was cool and figured somebody else might to. In the 1940s, these women learned how to fly for the U.S. Army so they could serve their country. Today they were awarded with a Congressional gold medal for their service – pretty awesome stuff.

I have to say, though, that the picture that made this slide show amazing was this one:
Photo of three women and a man with a plane. One woman is sitting in the pilot's seat, talking to the two women crouching by the side of the plane. The man is standing next to the women, smiling broadly at the camera.

I mean, the look on that man’s face is incredible! HE IS HAPPY, DAMNIT!, TO BE NEXT TO THESE WOMEN ON A PLANE! And the women have great hair styles, so that’s awesome too.

So, does anybody know anything about the Women Airforce Service Pilots? I feel like every time I discover a group of bad-ass women, I learn about a new one shortly after. Is there a book I can read about them, or what? (If not, who wants to write it? They sound incredible.)

30 comments for “Honoring WASPs: Women Airforce Service Pilots

  1. Kate
    March 19, 2010 at 12:02 am

    http://www.amazon.com/Yankee-Doodle-Gals-Women-Pilots/dp/0792282167/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_3 <– "Yankee Doodle Gals: Women Pilots of WWII"

    http://www.amazon.com/Women-Pilots-World-War-II/dp/0874804930/ref=pd_sim_b_5 <– "Women Pilots of WWII"

    http://www.amazon.com/WASP-Among-Eagles-Woman-Military/dp/1560988703/ref=pd_sim_b_2 <— "A WASP Among Eagles: A Woman Military Test Pilot in World War II"

    helpful maybe?

  2. Flowers
    March 19, 2010 at 12:03 am

    I used to work in the archives at Texas Woman’s University. They have TONS of info on the WASPs. http://www.twu.edu/library/wasp.asp

  3. Libbet
    March 19, 2010 at 12:25 am

    Dick Gordon of The Story did a great piece on the WASPs and interviewed one of them. There’s a link partway down the archive page here: http://thestory.org/archive I can’t seem to get it to direct link, but it’s about 2/3 of the way down, under “THE ORIGINAL WASPS”

  4. Acacia
    March 19, 2010 at 1:23 am

    I am proud to say that my great-aunt was a WASP. Unfortunately, she lived far away from my family, and I was only able to visit her a handful of times, which is truly a shame, but when I was 10, I read the book she had written about being a WASP and loved it. I felt like I knew her more through her writing. She was an inspiration to me. Sadly, she just passed away this fall (here’s a link to a lovely piece on her life: http://waspfinalflight.blogspot.com/2009/08/wasp-m-winifred-wood-43-w-7.html), and I’m really disappointed that I didn’t get the chance to know her better. These women were really amazing.

    The book is called We Were WASPs by Winifred Wood.
    Here is a link to it and other books about WASPs: http://waspmuseum.org/store/wasp-books/

  5. Dr. Confused
    March 19, 2010 at 3:41 am

    They are pretty awesome. I didn’t learn about them until after I got my pilot’s license and my stepmother bought me shirt that said “Women Fly” with a picture of Nancy Harkness Love ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancy_Harkness_Love ) on it.

    They didn’t fly in combat, but they had to fly every different type of aircraft used in the war. Considering the state of stability and control of aircraft at that time (i.e. aircraft were more difficult to fly than today) that was a seriously impressive feat.

  6. March 19, 2010 at 4:00 am

    One of the characters in Marge Piercy’s novel Gone To Soldiers is a WASP.

    (The novel is a massive multi-character work of art that tells the story of WWII from the perspective of two Jewish sisters who are living in France at the start of the novel – by the end of the novel, though some of the connections are fairly distant, you find out that every viewpoint character in it – mostly women, a couple of men – is in some way connected to either or both of the sisters. It’s terrific and I wholeheartedly recommend it: and reading it was the first time I’d heard of the WASPs.)

  7. T. Laurel Sulfate
    March 19, 2010 at 4:09 am
  8. Nell
    March 19, 2010 at 5:42 am

    They were awesome, and what they did could be dangerous. For example – they towed the targets for target shooting practice. There was also real opposition to them in some quarters, and some planes were tampered with (sugar in gas tanks, for example), and just flying in general was less safe than today.

    A handful of them died in the service, but because they were civilians, the military didn’t pay the costs of shipping their bodies home. Some base commanders took up collections/used petty cash. Other’s did not, and their bodies showed up at their families’ homes in a box, COD.

    A lexus/nexus search should bring a lot of news articles from the 1970s as well, because that is when they finally got ‘veteran’ status through an act of Congress.

    I met a few several years ago at a local WWII museum — and they were awesome ladies.

  9. Lori
    March 19, 2010 at 7:44 am
  10. starla
    March 19, 2010 at 8:38 am

    My great-grandmother was a WASP and taught my grandfather how to fly. The WASPs were recently awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington, which is better late than never.

  11. megara
    March 19, 2010 at 9:28 am

    When I was in DC last summer, the museum at Arlington had an exhibit on this, honoring the WASPs. Might be worth checking out for those in the DC area.

  12. Evamaria
    March 19, 2010 at 9:44 am

    I heard of the WASPs for the first time a few months ago, when Cold Case did an episode centering on the murder of a WASP pilot. Title: WASP, if you want to check it out.

  13. JLeigh
    March 19, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Another cool group of women during that era were the WAVES, these women were actually IN the Navy. My grandmother was one. I wish I had talked to her more about it while she was still here. It looks like pretty awesome stuff.
    Here’s the Wikipedia link on them:

  14. La BellaDonna
    March 19, 2010 at 10:14 am

    There was a show, a few years ago (not too many, I think), on … PBS? – check your TV listings in May, because it was shown on Memorial Day Weekend, and it was FABULOUS. It had a lot of interviews with former pilots. They were used to test the new airplanes, you see, because _they_ were considered disposable; the male fighter pilots were too valuable to risk on untried aircraft. And the women were well aware of that attitude; see “burial costs not covered”, above.

    I remember one very nice older woman who was a receptionist at Exxide; she was very good at her job, and very kind to me – but what REALLY impressed me was finding out that she had been an Air Ferry Pilot during WWII!! She’d worked in Britain, and it impressed me so much; I was so sorry not to have found out sooner, because I would dearly have loved to hear her story.

    37 WASPs were killed and 36 were injured, out of the 1,074 who completed the program; they flew over 9,000,000 miles between 1942 and 1944.

    A little googling will find a LOT of information available.

    Starla, I’m glad they were FINALLY recognized. When Britain produced its medal for those people who participated in the Battle of Trafalgar, and a number of women applied for it, on the grounds that they had fought in the battle, they were denied. Didn’t matter that they’d actively participated, and some had been injured; they were denied, because they were female.

  15. anna
    March 19, 2010 at 10:47 am

    I recommend this book for a history of the WASPs:


    It’s called Clipped Wings : The Rise and Fall of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS) of World War II

    It’s a shame these women aren’t taught about in most history books and classes.

  16. March 19, 2010 at 11:47 am

    The recent PBS special was fantastic, I first learned about the women who ferried planes through a documentary called “Fly Girls”, which I stumbled upon through Netflix recommendations.

  17. March 19, 2010 at 11:47 am

    I’m a teen librarian, so most of my book recommendations end up being young adult books, but I would very strongly recommend Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith to ANYONE, adult or teen. It’s about a young black girl whose crop-dusting father taught her to fly and who’s been looking for any opportunity since to keep flying. She’s already been turned away from flight school because she’s a woman when she decides to try to become a WASP after her brother leaves to fight. The problem is, she knows that she’ll be turned away because she’s not white (although there were a few Asian women in the WASPs, there’s no record of any black women being accepted). Since she’s light-skinned, she makes the difficult choice to “pass” in order to get into the WASPs and then has to deal with both discrimination against women pilots and with the fear of being hated and abandoned by her new friends if her secret is discovered. Plus she struggles with the fact that passing essentially means she has to abandon her family (when her mom comes to visit, she has to pretend that she’s the family housekeeper) and lie about who she is. It’s an excellent read and as far as I know is pretty accurate historically.

  18. JetGirl
    March 19, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    Try “WASPs: Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II” by Vera S. Williams. Great book with lots of great photos.
    I’m a private pilot, and belonged for a while to a chapter of the 99s International Women Pilots that had several WASPs and WAFS in it. They were awesome. No-nonsense, fearless — one, Barbara Erickson London — said to me “the plane doesn’t care whether a man or a woman is in the cockpit.” She is absolutely right. And by the way, that kind of looks like her in the cockpit of your picture. Though I can’t be sure.

  19. starla
    March 19, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    One book that does a fantastic job of covering the WASPs is called The Originals; I forget the name of the author, though.

    Still a bit of a shame that they won the Congressional Gold Medal (civilian award) instead of military recognition.

    One reason why they might not be as well known as they might have is that much of the information about them was classified until 1971. I’m glad that some of these pilots survived long enough to be recognized in person, though.

  20. Marly
    March 19, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    I have a friend that wrote her master’s thesis on it at Baylor University, it should be on file there. There is also a small museum dedicated to the WASPs in Waco. The museum keeps getting their budget cut and moved to smaller and smaller buildings, so sadly it may not be around much longer.

  21. Mike
    March 19, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    The Soviet military had female pilots as well. In WWII, they participated in thousands of combat missions.


  22. March 19, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    Seconding the Dick Gordon suggestion. I listened to that podcast and found myself crying in the parking lot at Hobby Lobby. Good stuff.

  23. March 19, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    Wow – I’m so glad I posted about this or I would have never known about all these great books and stories.

  24. March 19, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    There hasn’t been a lot of information about the WASPs until recently, fsb, b/c until the 70s their records were sealed, classified as “Secret”, pretty much until Carter signed a bill granting them WWII veteran status.

    The Air Force actually has a nice little (though not glamorous) website about them with a factsheet and some click through material that I recommend.


  25. Lex
    March 21, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    Someone’s mentioned the women of the Soviet Air Forces and I can second that – the German army nicknamed them the Night Witches (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_Witches) for how they would swoop down on an enemy’s camp and then idle the engines at the last moment to glide and make sure no one heard them coming. They didn’t get honoured properly after the war, IMHO, because women were expected to return to being ‘women’ when they were no longer required to fight for their country. They were glamourous gals too, even though only men’s size uniforms were available – http://01varvara.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/captain-maria-smirnova-of-the-night-witches.jpg

  26. Sara
    March 21, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    The Cold Case episode about them was great!

  27. Dawn
    March 21, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    The first WASPs didn’t learn to fly for the military. They knew how to fly and were drafted. They were given an executive order that told them to report to a base and they had no choice. Some were glad to go and some were unhappy to go, but they were conscripts.

  28. March 22, 2010 at 10:47 am

    The Jewish Women’s Archive has some resources on this, regarding the Jewish women pilots in the WASPs. Take a look!

  29. Kristina H.
    March 22, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    Love this article & shout out to the WASPs. I attended the EAA Air Show last year in Osh Kosh and a few of the WASPs were there. (I was there promoting DownWind Magazine, check out my links below) We had a group photo of all the female pilots & aviators and the WASPs were right in front…they are an awesome group of ladies! The show featured an entire segment of performances by strictly female pilots & aviators. Did anyone else go? I’d love to hear from some more female pilots; we are few and far between. :)


  30. Blue Jean
    March 28, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Dang. Everybody has mentioned so many great books and articles already. If you see George RR Martin’s new anthology “Warriors” at your local library, be sure to check out “The Girls from Avenger “by Carrie Vaughn, which centers on the WASPS and the sexism they faced from their male colleagues.

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