Women Airforce Service Pilots

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Part One Changes on the Homefront

During World War II, many of the nation’s men were drafted into service abroad, but things were changing on the homefront, too. With the men overseas battling our enemies, many jobs and roles in our nation that men traditionally held fell to the women. The women, anxious to help in any way they could, picked up where the men left off. According to an online exhibit, “Partners in Winning the War,” on the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) website, the women who assumed these new roles made victory possible for our soldiers overseas. Out of this era came some famous images like Rosie the Riveter, a now iconic symbol originally designed as part of a massive advertising effort to encourage women to take on these new roles during wartime.

In addition to taking up factory jobs, women across the nation helped raise money for war bonds, knitted socks and hats for soldiers, worked for the Red Cross collecting blood, and even travelled overseas into battle zones to help with medical treatment. Other women  served as “Government Girls,” helping to run the federal government in the men’s absence, while still others joined the nurse corps and the armed forces. Women were encouraged to take on nursing or clerical jobs in the military in order to “free the men to fight” (“Partners in Winning the War”). Close to 400,000 women served the military in some capacity during the war effort (“History of the WASP”).  

 

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Part Two The WASPs

Some of the more adventurous or daring women opted to become military aviators, or Women Airforce Service Pilots, more commonly known as WASPs. A female military aviation program was first proposed by Jacqueline Cochran, a female civilian pilot, who  “envisioned a women’s air corps that would handle almost any noncombat flying job, thereby releasing men for duty overseas” (“History of the WASP”). Cochran’s vision was shared by Nancy Harkness Love, another young female pilot. Cochran eventually started Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) in 1942, and almost simultaneously, Love started the Women Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), which recruited willing female civilian pilots with extensive flight experience (“History of the WASP”). The WFTD and the rival WAFS merged in 1943, under the guidance of Cochran and Love, to form the WASP program (“History of WASP”).  

These women underwent intensive training to ferry supplies, deliver planes, instruct male cadet pilots, simulate bombing runs, test new aircraft models and engines, and