Origins of the Women Airforce Service Pilots
Up until three o’clock in the afternoon of May 29, 1941, there was no organization of any kind in American military aviation to provide for either the delivery of planes or air transport of material.
By the end of that day, the Air Corps Ferrying Command, which grew into the Air Transport Command with its major component the Ferrying Division, was in existence with an assigned military personnel of two. William H. Tunner, a Major, was one of the two. By June 1944 there were 50,000 personnel, 8,500 of which were pilots and the Major was a General.
Those chosen for ferry duty in the early part of the war were the experienced pilots of the time, most from civilian life. Among them were many famous names – Barry Goldwater, Gene Autry, racing pilot Joe de Bona, and Indianapolis racer Rex Mays. Usually considered too old for the combat training much to their disappointment, they had nevertheless been welcomed into the Ferrying Division of the Army Air Corps, Ferrying Division. They performed the invaluable service of flying all military aircraft types from factories to various destinations around the world.
Enter the WASPs
By September 1941, the shortage of pilots was acute and licensed women pilots were selected for ferrying duty.
Although restricted to flights within the U. S., they satisfactorily crisscrossed the country in all directions to deliver various types of planes (i.e., primary, basic and advanced trainers, small tow-target planes and large cargo carriers).
Eventually over a thousand women were hired to fly military planes, with 303 in the Ferry Division. This dropped to less than 150 when the restrictions for women to remain in ferrying demanded qualification in fighter aircraft, because many preferred other duties such as target towing, instrument instructing, flight testing after repair and overhaul, etc.
Those remaining in the AFC ferried all types of fighters, bombers, drones, and transports to assigned destinations within the confines of North America. Besides the twin and four engine bombers such as the B-25, A-20, B-26 and B-17, these women ferried the single engine P-39, P-40, P-47, P-51 and P-63 plus the twin engine pursuits, the P-38 and the P-61.
After completion of Pursuit School for the P-39, P-40, P-47 and P-51 the pilot returned to home base (Long Beach, Palm Springs, Dallas, Wilmington or Romulus). There the types of fighters to be delivered largely depended on geography. Although capable of flying any of the four, Wilmington pilots consistently flew P-47’s from the nearby Republic factory, Romulus WASPs went to Bell for the P-39’s and P-63’s, and those from Dallas, Long Beach, and Palm Springs had P-51’s to deliver, being close to either a modification center or the North American factory.
Orders for flying the various types of pursuits and bombers usually depended upon one’s base of operation. Those in the west near the Lockheed factory, considered themselves extremely fortunate to have access to the famous P-38 “Lightning.” Some few of these pilots were able, because of seniority and luck, to ferry the Lockheed P-38 and Northrop P-61 Black Widow. Only twenty-three WASPs were so fortunate as to ferry the P-38 to destinations in WWII.
The unofficial logo for the WASPs was Fifinella designed for them by Walt Disney as a thank you for all their hard work on behalf of America.
When the order went out to the unenlightened Supply Corp to supply flight gear, they assumed (of course) that meant for men. The WASPs had great fun clowning around in those ill-fitting garments.
Drawing by Dot Swain from “We Were WASPs.
“You have shown that you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your brothers. If ever there was doubt in anyone’s mind that women could become skilled pilots, the WASPs dispelled that doubt. I want to stress how valuable the whole WASP program has been for the country.”
– Gen, H. H. “Hap” Arnold
Sweetwater, TX ♦ Dec 7, 1944
We ran across this cool painting called “Lightning Lady” — which is a tribute to the WASPs, and it looks like you can order a print from the artist, Stan Vosburg, if you like it as much as we do!
Another great painting (Artist is Gil Cohen).
During the late Autumn of 1944 on the tarmac of the Lockheed Aircraft Plant in Burbank, California, a group of four Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) are gathered around their flight leader.
The P-38 Association does not receive a commission from referring you to these artists. We just thought they were neat.
WASPs Awarded Congressional Gold Medals
38 WASPs Died while Serving our Country
To read more about these heroines, check out these WASP books.
(Many more can be found here on Amazon.)
A WASP Among Eagles: A Woman Military Test Pilot in World War
Before World War II most Americans did not believe that the average woman could fly professionally, but during the war more than a thousand women pilots proved them wrong. These were the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), who served as military flyers on the home front. In March 1944 one of them, Ann Baumgartner, was assigned to the Fighter Flight Test Branch at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. There she would make history as the only woman to test-fly experimental planes during the war and the first woman to fly a jet…
Jacqueline Cochran: Biography of a Pioneer Aviator
Although Amelia Earhart remains the best-known female pilot of the 1930s, Jacqueline Cochran stood as the more important aviation pioneer and America’s top woman pilot. Among her many accomplishments, Cochran was the first female aviator to win the Bendix Air Race, to fly a bomber, to break the speed of sound, and to participate in astronaut training. This revealing biography explores Cochran’s childhood in an impoverished Florida mill town, her early career as a pilot, and her role in creating and leading the WASPs during World War II. It also chronicles her postwar exploits, including her participation in the NASA space program…
Great Women in Aviation #1: Jackie Cochran
These short biographies in the Great Women in Aviation Series tell the stories of notable women pilots whose passion for flight inspires young and old alike to take to the skies. This 3,000 word monograph is not meant to be a comprehensive history of Jackie Cochran’s life, but it discusses her involvement for aviation. The main purpose of this biography is to inspire youth to follow their dreams of flight.
Nancy Batson Crews: Alabama’s First Lady of Flight
This is the story of an uncommon woman–high school cheerleader, campus queen, airplane pilot, wife, mother, politician, business-woman–who epitomizes the struggles and freedoms of women in 20th-century America, as they first began to believe they could live full lives and demanded to do so. World War II offered women the opportunity to contribute to the work of the country, and Nancy Batson Crews was one woman who made the most of her privileged beginnings and youthful talents and opportunities…
Most content in this section was compiled and donated by WASP Mary Lou Neale, now passed away. Click here to read more about Mary Lou, click here.