History Corner – WASP

In September 1942, the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) were organized, giving women the chance to fly military aircraft for the United States Army Air Forces.  On August 5, 1943, the two organizations were merged into a single organization:  The Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP. Although over 25,000 women applied to join the WASP program, only 1,074 women made the cut.  The idea was that if the women flew civilian missions, the men would be freed up for combat missions.  WASP pilots flew over 60 million miles in every type of military aircraft.

WASPs were trained to fly “the Army way” at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, TX.  Each female pilot had a pilot’s license, and once they completed four months of military flight training, they earned their wings.  They were the first women to fly American military aircraft.  While the WASP pilots were not trained for combat, they were essentially given the same instruction as the male aviation cadets.  They did not receive any gunnery training and very little aerobatic or formation flying.  However, they were put through maneuvers to make sure they could recover from any position.  The number of WASP trainees eliminated compared favorable with the number of male cadets eliminated.

After their training was complete, WASPs were stationed at 120 bases across the United States.  They flew numerous flight-related missions, including towing targets for live anti-aircraft artillery practice, strafing mission simulations, and cargo transportation .  They flew almost every type of aircraft during World War II.  WASP pilots delivered 12,650 aircraft, 78 different types, to different bases between September 1942 and December 1944.

A total of 38 WASP flyers lost their lives during the war.  All of them were accidents: 11 during training and 27 during active duty.  Sadly, when a WASP died they were transported home at the family’s expense without any military honors because, under the existing guidelines, they were not considered members of the military.  A flag was not even allowed to be placed on the coffin of a fallen WASP.  On June 21,1944, a bill was put before the House to give WASP pilots military status.  It was narrowly defeated, lobbied against by civilian male pilots who feared to lose their jobs to the women flyers.

The WASP program was disbanded on December 20, 1944.  When the program ended, 915 female pilots were serving with the AAF (Army Air Force).  The records for the WASP program were classified and sealed for 35 years.  In 1977, the records were unsealed when the Air Force released a statement to the press that they were training the first women to fly military aircraft for the United States.  In 1977, WASP pilots were granted full military status for their service.  The World War II Victory Medal was awarded to each WASP in 1984.  In 2009, the WASP program was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

I think it’s sad how long it took these women to get the recognition and honor they deserved.  I hope you appreciate what they did for women in the military today, and what they did for the country.

 

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