Women Air Force Service Pilots: In 1943, the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), commanded by Nancy Harkness Love, merged with the Women’s Flying Training program. The result was the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP), headed by famed aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran (who, in 1953, became the first woman to break the sound barrier). More than 25,000 women applied for pilot training under the WASP program. Of these, 1,074 graduated and 900 remained in December 1944, when the WASP program was officially terminated. WASPs flew many diverse assignments, serving as flight instructors, tow pilots, test pilots, and ferry pilots.
Though General “Hap” Arnold, Chief of the AAF, initially considered the idea unfeasible (believing that women were too “high strung”), the WASPs proved their value. WASPs filled a vital need for military service pilots, during a time when male pilots were needed for combat duties. The WASPs logged over 60 million miles and flew virtually every type of aircraft from trainers to fighters to heavy bombers, often flying them as skillfully as their male counterparts. Thirty-eight WASPs died in service to their country during WWII.
Unlike other women who served in a military capacity during WWII, the WASPs were never militarized, and remained civil service employees throughout. Despite having the privileges of officers, they did not receive the pay, injury, or death benefits given to male pilots sharing the same risks. The thirty-eight WASPs who died were buried without military honors. Sadly, for over thirty years, WASPs were not given due recognition for their tremendous service, dedication and sacrifices. Finally, in 1977, Congress granted WWII veteran’s status to former WASPs. Official military acceptance from the USAF came two years later. In 1984, the Victory Medal was awarded to each WASP, and those who served for more than one year were also awarded the American Theater medal.
“You and more than 900 of your sisters have shown that you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your brothers. If ever there was doubt in anyone’s mind that women could become skilled pilots, the WASPs dispelled that doubt. I want to stress how valuable the whole WASP program has been for the country… We of the Army Air Force are proud of you, we will never forget our debt to you.”
General “Hap” Arnold
December 7, 1944
The WASPs were trailblazers, and paved the way for future female USAF pilots. Our Signature Series™ WASP Jackets are a tribute to these pioneering aviators.
UPDATE: Recognition at last! In July 2009, WASP members were officially recognized and awarded the Congressional Gold Medal (the nation’s highest civilian honor) for their invaluable service in WWII. Remaining WASP members received their medals during a ceremony in Washington DC in March of 2010.
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