National WASP WWII Museum
Avenger Field Sweetwater, Texas

A History of the women airforce service pilots


In 1942, as the country reeled from the attack on Pearl Harbor, trained male pilots were in short supply. Qualified pilots were needed to fight the war. The Army also was desperate for pilots to deliver newly built trainer aircraft to the flight schools in the South. Twenty-eight experienced civilian women pilots volunteered to take those ferrying jobs. They formed the country’s first female squadron late summer 1942.

Between November 1942 and December 1944, 1,074 more women were trained to fly first in Houston and then moved to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, TX. Nancy Love and Jacqueline Cochran founded the two programs (Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron and Women’s Flying Training Detachment) that became the WASP.

WASP flew every aircraft in the Army’s arsenal. In addition to ferrying, they towed gunnery targets, transported equipment and non-flying personnel, and flight-tested aircraft that had been repaired before the men were allowed to fly them again. For over two years, the WASP went on to perform a wide variety of aviation-related jobs and to serve at more than 120 bases around the country.

The man who championed the WASP was Army Air Forces Commanding General “Hap” Arnold. He was revered by the U.S. Congress, but in June 1944 when he sought to officially designate the WASP as members of the United States military, Congress said “no.” After a protracted fight, the WASP were granted military status in 1977, thanks to a law signed by President Carter. These 1,102 Women Airforce Service Pilots flew wingtip to wingtip with their male counterparts and were just as vital to the war effort.

Sarah Byrn Rickman, WASP author and historian