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November 30, 2011
Before Aviation History Month slips into the wild blue yonder, it would be an oversight if we didn't talk about an amazing chapter in aviation history.
In 1941, the New York Herald Tribune published a letter from a woman who was tired of sitting at home worrying about the war:
"If I were only a man, there would be a place for me," she wrote.
Many women shared similar feelings of frustration, eager to play an active role in the conflict, but held back because of tradition and resentment.
Out of this frustration, WASP was born.
Otherwise known as Women Airforce Service Pilots.
They were civilian women pilots employed to fly military aircraft under the direction of the United States Army Air Forces during World War II, and could do everything their male counterparts could do.
Except fight in combat.
They flew every airplane in the USAAF’s inventory, including half of all pursuit planes delivered during the war.
When male pilots were reluctant to fly the new B-29 Superfortress because of mechanical difficulties experienced during testing, two WASPs took one on a tour of air bases to show the men how safe the plane was.
Women towed targets for aerial gunnery practice, simulated strafing, served as flight instructors, and ran check flights for recently repaired aircraft.
A WASP became the first woman to fly the YP-59 jet.
In total, women logged 60 million miles in the air.
Thirty-eight WASPs were killed performing their duties.
By the end of 1944, with the war in Europe ending soon, men lobbied hard for duties the WASP’s were doing.
End of WASPS.
But not before their leader Jacqueline Cochran argued for a one-day militarization, which would at least give her women veteran status and access to GI Bill benefits.
She was denied.
WASPs were granted veteran status in 1977, and given the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.
Too late for some.
But not too late to pay our respects to these brave women who fought the good fight in the only way they could.
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