5 August 1943: Women Airforce Service Pilots

Test pilots were not always men. These four women, members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), were assigned as engineering test pilots, testing new aircraft and modifications. The airplane behind them is a North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell twin-engine medium bomber. From left to right, Dorothy Dodd Eppstein, Hellen Skjersaa Hansen, Doris Burmeister Nathan and Elizabeth V. Chadwick Dressler. (U.S. Air Force)

5 August 1943: The U.S. Army Air Forces’ Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) under the direction of Nancy Harkeness Love, and the Women’s Flying Training Detachment, led by Jacqueline (“Jackie”) Cochran, are combined to form the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). General Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold assigned Jackie Cochran as the Director. Nancy Love was named executive for WASP ferrying operations.

Cochran, Jacqueline (“Jackie”), Director, Women Airforce Service Pilots. (National Archives and Records Administration 4A-23096-K1210)

Cochran had previously served as a Flight Captain with the Royal Air Force Air Transport Auxiliary. After a period of six months, she had returned to the United States at the request of General Arnold, where she served on his staff. In June 1942, she became the first first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic Ocean when she ferried a Lockheed Hudson from Canada to Scotland.

Nancy Harkness Love in WASP uniform. The shoulder insignia are those of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. (Texas Woman’s University Women Airforce Service Pilots – Official Archive, BornDigital.HOMalone.3)

WASP recruits had to be between 21 and 35 years old, in good health, be a high school graduate, and have a pilot’s license with a minimum of 200 hours flight time. The WASPs received more than 25,000 applications. Of these, 1,879 were accepted. They received four months of military flight training at Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas. Their training was essentially the same primary, basic and advanced training as Army Air Forces pilots. On graduation they received a commercial pilot certificate. 1,074 graduated from training.

WASP pilots were not military personnel. They were civil service employees of the federal government. Trainees were paid $150 per month, and graduates, $250. They received a allowance of $6 per day when away from their assigned base. The women were required to pay for their quarters and meals.

Women Airforce Service Pilots dress uniform. (National Air and Space Museum)

WASP dress uniforms consisted of a jacket and skirt of Santiago Blue wool, two-ply gabardine, and a beret made of the same material. They wore a white shirt with a black tie. Insignia were gold-colored.

WASP pilots Frances Green, Margaret Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborne at the four-engine school at Lockbourne Army Airfield, Ohio, with a Boeing B-17. (U.S. Air Force)

WASPs ferried aircraft from the manufacturers’ factories to military bases, towed targets, and flew airplanes for training bombardiers and navigators. More than 100 of the women, on graduation, were sent directly to a nine-week transition training course on the Martin B-26 Marauder twin-engine medium bomber, and airplane with a reputation of being difficult to fly.

Four members of the United States Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) receive final instructions as they chart a cross-country course on the flight line of U.S. airport. Assigned to the ferrying division of the United States Army Air Transport Command, the women pilots belong to the first class of American women to complete a rigorous nine-week transitional flight training course in handling B-26 Marauder medium bombers. They have been given special assignments with the U.S. Army Air Forces as tow target pilots. (National Archives and Records Administration NARA-535781)
WASP Ruth Ellen Dailey with a Lockheed P-38 Lightning. (U.S. Air Force)
Florene Miller, one of the original members of Nancy Love’s Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, preparing a North American Aviation P-51D Mustang for a ferry flight from the factory at Inglewood, California. (U.S. Air Force)

They ferried P-38 Lightnings, P-47 Thunderbolts, P-51 Mustangs, B-17 Flying Fortresses, B-25 Mitchells, and many other types. Some were involved in testing newly-built aircraft, and few served as test pilots at Wright Field, where one, Ann Gilpin Baumgartner, flew the Bell XP-59A Airacomet. Two WASPS, Dora Jean Dougherty and Dorothea Johnson Moorman, were trained to fly the B-29 Superfortress. During the war, 38 WASPs died in service.

Lieutenant Colonel Paul W. Tibbets with WASP pilots Dorothea Johnson Moorman and Dora Jean Dougherty, at Eglin Field, June 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

As the need for combat pilots lessened in the latter part of World War II, Army Air Forces pilots began to take over the flights that had been assigned to WASPs. The Women Airforce Service Pilots were disbanded 20 December 1944.

After the U.S. Air Force became a separate military service in 1947, Jackie Cochran and Nancy Harkness Love were given commissions as lieutenant colonels, United States Air Force Reserve.

WASP pilot’s wings

© Bryan R. Swopes, 2023

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3 thoughts on “5 August 1943: Women Airforce Service Pilots

  1. You might have missed this person.

    Margaret “Maggie” Gee, whose Chinese name was Gee Mei Gue, was born on August 5, 1923 in Berkeley, California. (Although we share the same last name, she was not in any way related to me)

    Although her family lived in “Chinatown” her father did not want to raise his family in Chinatown, because like my own parents he did not want his children learning to speak Chinese first and then learning to speak English with a Chinese accent. Before Maggie was born, he moved his family to Berkley.
    Maggie’s love of airplanes started in childhood when her family took weekend trips to the airport in Oakland, Calif., where Maggie would keep her eye out for her heroine, Amelia Earhart.
    In 1941, Gee enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley to study physics, but dropped out after a few months to work in the drafting department at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Her mother Jung An Yoke also worked there, as a welder. Maggie wanted to pursue her dream of flying and help the war effort. Maggie later saved enough money to move to Minden, Nevada, where she took private flying lessons. After earning her pilot’s license within six months, Maggie applied for the Women’s Air force Service Pilots (WASP) training program. She and two co-workers bought an old used car for US$25 and drove to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, where she trained for six months to become a WASP.
    Maggie applied for the WASP flying training program at Avenger Field, Texas and was accepted into class 44-W-9.
    There, of the 107 women pilots who entered the same class with Maggie, only 55 earned their silver wings and graduated as WASP (Women Air force Service Pilots) on November 8, 1944.

    After graduation, Maggie was sent to Las Vegas Army Air Field, Nevada, and later served as a B-17 instructor pilot and later as a ferry pilot.
    Planes flown: PT-17, BT-13, AT-6, AT-10, B-17, B-26, P-39.

    When the WASP were deactivated on December 20, 1944, since the WASP were considered civilian employees, she found herself like most WASP pilots abandoned in England and had to find a job in a USO where it took here over a year to save enough money to find a way back home.

    When Maggie returned to the United States, she began her life as a physicist/researcher, working and studying at the UC Berkley and at its National Laboratory in Livermore. She then worked at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory helping to design nuclear warheads and the Poseidon missile. As of this date most of her work at Site 300 is still classified.
    There was a biography of her published in 2009 still available at some booksellers:

    Sky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee Hardcover – September 8, 2009
    by Marissa Moss (Author), Carl Angel (Illustrator)

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