Women took to the skies during World War II with the men, flying more than 60 million miles over the course of two years, but it wasn’t until many years later that their stories were told. Training women to be pilots would allow more men to return to the front lines, although from the beginning there was skepticism over whether women could really do the job. Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold of the US Army Air Forces said he didn’t know “whether a slip of a girl could fight the controls of a B-17 in heavy weather.” The WASPs certainly changed his mind. The 1,100 women, all civilians at the time, were trailed to fly all types of military aircraft in use during WWII. But it wasn’t until the 1970s these women earned military status.
Did you know?
- Most of the women who responded to the US government’s call for pilots already had some flying experience.
- The US government wanted women to serve as pilots so they could shift men back into combat roles during WWII.
- The cost of a pilot’s license back in the early 1940s was nearly $500.
More than 25,000 women applied to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) but only 1,074 were accepted.
- While mostly Caucasian, there were two Mexican-American pilots, two Chinese-American pilots and one Native American woman.
- After training, the women flew transport missions and tested new aircraft for later use on the front lines.
- The US wasn’t the only country to call on women pilots: The Royal British Air Force had its Air Transport Auxiliary of 168 women in Spitfires and 37 other types of planes.
- Then there were the Night Witches, Soviet women who flew small planes invisible on radar and infuriated the Nazis.
- The Night Witches dropped more than 23,000 tons of bombs over Nazi locations, including one of their headquarters in 1942.
- Despite their contributions to the war effort, including 38 deaths, the US WASP program was ended in December 1944.
- WASPs did not receive military commendations or status until the 1970s.
- WASPs were granted the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2009 with three of the surviving 300 women in attendance.
- In 2016, President Barack Obama made it possible for a WASP to be eligible for burial at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
- WASP on the Web
- Female WWII Pilots: The Original Fly Girls
- Women Airforce Service Pilots
- National WASP WWII Museum
- The female Top Guns of WWII: Inside the RAF squadron who rubbed shoulders with the men – and flew their Spitfires
- Meet the Night Witches, the Daring Female Pilots Who Bombed Nazis By Night
- WWII female pilots can now be buried at Arlington