It wasn’t until 1942 that the United States allowed women to fly military aircraft. In the face of a severe shortage of pilots, women were trained on how to operate B-26 and B-29 bombers and other aircraft stateside so that their male counterparts could focus on combat duty overseas.
Nearly 1,100 women out of more than 25,000 applicants were selected to serve as Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Their responsibilities included ferrying new planes from factories to military bases and testing renovated planes.
Referred to as the “Fly Girls,” their abilities were lauded by leaders. U.S. Army Air Force Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold said he initially didn’t think “a slip of a girl could fight the controls of a B-17 in heavy weather.” After the program, he quickly changed his opinion. “Now in 1944, it is on record that women can fly as well as men,” Arnold said.
However, after just two years, the WASP program was canceled. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the WASPs were actually granted military status. In 2010, they were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor given by the U.S. Congress.
This is Part 2 of a series to celebrate women pilots. Click here to read Part 1.