Women Air Service Pilots

In the 1940s, World War II brought new opportunities for women who loved flying. Although they were forbidden to join the military, women took over jobs as airplane factory workers, flight instructors, air traffic controllers, and mechanics when the men in those jobs were needed to fight in combat (McLean & Kolosov, 2001). The skills of women pilots were then put to use during that time. Nancy Harkness Love directed the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) of the Army Air Transport Command, a program in which experienced pilots ferried new aircraft, weapons, supplies, and personnel to military installations (Weinstein & D’Amico, 1999).

Seeing a desperate need for pilots to help with the war effort, Jacqueline Cochran organized and directed the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASP), an elite corps of female pilots trained to fly military aircraft. Cochran took tremendous pride in her work, becoming a vocal advocate of women’s equality with men in the air. Members of the WASP ferried and tested planes for the US Army Air Force and performed many other important duties (McLean ; Kolosov, 2001).

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Jacqueline Cochran designed the women’s flight-training program, in which pilots learned to tow targets for antiaircraft gunner trainees and pilots in pursuit aircraft or became instructor pilot themselves. Although the WASP performed services for the military, it was officially a civil, not a military, service. However, in 1949, many of its former members were offered commissions in the US Army and Air Force Reserves; some of these reservists were called to active duty during the Korean conflict (Weinstein ; D’Amico, 1999).

After the war, Cochran continued her career as a respected pilot, flying competitively and breaking records in the most sophisticated aircraft. She became one of the first women to pilot a jet plane and, in 1953, the first woman to fly faster than the speed of sound. Cochran was less successful, however, in her fight to convince the United States government to recognize the WASP as part of the military. Most people expected women to leave the jobs they had performed during the war and return to their roles as wives, mothers, and homemakers (McLean & Kolosov, 2001).

In November 1977, Congress conferred veteran status on all other former members of the WASP (Weinstein & D’Amico, 1999). Women in the Military The government actively recruited women for military service – non-combative service only – by presenting the service as glamorous, patriotic career choice. Women, however, were more than ready for new challenges and did not need much persuading. Te military was an alternative to a very small set of choices available to most women at the time.

Additionally, as more men went to war, there was an increase in the attendance of women at college, and an increase in the number of women in professional careers such as medicine, law, and banking. Although the first bill to include women in the military was defeated, women pilots, led by Jackie Cochran, formed a civilian organization in 1942, the Women’s Auxiliary Service Pilots (WASP). They entered into contracts with the Army Corps and sis everything their male army counterparts did short of flying in combat. They lived under the same conditions as the men and performed the same dangerous task of testing problematic planes.

In spite of their bravery, women pilots did not receive any military benefits, such as insurance or pension. Before long, however, the armed services did start accepting women. The Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), which became the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), was established in May 1942). The Navy established WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) a few months later. Within sex months, the Coast Guard and the Marine Corps both began to accept women. The fact that women had mostly non-combative duties effectively shut them out of the top command posts, however (Ching, 2001).