WASPs or Women Airforce Service Pilots were female pilots who handled non-combat missions during the end of World War II. More than a thousand women completed training and 38 women gave their lives to their country flying military aircraft. It was a time like the United States had not seen in more than a century. Men were off fighting a war and women were doing everything they could, including flying airplanes and operating machinery. It was not only a beautiful time in the history of unity in the United States, but it was also a beautiful time for women’s rights. The WASPs were just one example of this, albeit a great one.
The idea for the WASPs was born on September 28, 1939. Jacqueline Cochran, a famous aviatrix, wrote to the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt that day. She told the First Lady that she thought it would be a good idea to train women to fly military airplanes for non-combat missions, thus freeing male pilots for combat flights. In May of the following year, another aviatrix, Nancy Love, suggested a similar idea to one Colonel Olds. Nothing came of either suggestion, at first.
In 1941, the U.S. began supplying aircraft to its allies, who were fighting in World War II. The problem is that there were not enough pilots to supply the number of planes needed. Jacqueline Cochran offered to fly aircraft to Britain. She was taken up on that offer and on June 17, 1941, she became the first women to pilot a military flight. She was a success and returned to the states to talk more about her plans for what would become the WASPs.
After months of planning and several setbacks, Jacqueline Cochran was given permission to form a women’s military pilot unit in England. Of course, they were still civilians. They had been hired by the military. Well, they were actually volunteers. In March of 1942, Cochran and her pilots were allowed to leave for England. By a fortuitous accident, Nancy Love was accidentally given the go-ahead to recruit female pilots for training on September 5, 1942.
This accident infuriated Jacqueline and General Arnold (the man who was supposed to be in charge of planning for a female pilot unit). However, it was a happy mistake. Women were now training to fly for the military. Jacqueline would get the go ahead to begin training pilots and female pilots would get a chance to prove their worth. At first, Love ran the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Service and Cochran ran the Women’s Ferrying Training Detachment, for a salary of $1 a year. On August 5, 1943, the two joined forces and formed the WASPs.
Technically, the WASPs were never military pilots. Nothing short of an act of Congress could have accomplished that. However, they were the first women to fly military aircraft on military missions. Unfortunately, they were deactivated in December of 1944, when they were no longer needed for the war effort. Their bravery and dedication has not been forgotten.
Timeline of WASP history, retrieved 9/7/10, tinyurl.com/32kga2p
History of the Wasp, retrieved 9/7/10, twu.edu/library/wasp-history.asp