Through skill, competence, experience, and fortitude, women have played a pivotal role in aviation, from its dawn to the present day. From travel in lighter-than-air balloons to powered aircraft; from the earliest bi-planes to single-wing planes, autogiros, and helicopters. From the Golden Age of Aviation to the Jet Age, and into the Space Age, it would take volumes of text to cite the hundreds of notable women who have contributed and advanced the cause of aviation and the widening of aviation technology today.
Harriet Quimby, the first American woman to earn a pilot’s license, was once described to me by aviation historian and Quimby’s biographer, Giacinta Bradley Koontz, as a ‘woman moving forward with purpose.’
Such can be said about Quimby’s successors, especially the over 1,100 young women who flew military aircraft during the Second World War as Women Airforce Service Pilots.
One of these young women moving forward with purpose was Nadine Ramsey, a Kansan from Wichita, who after her first solo flight in 1936 was a stunt-racing and barnstorming pilot in the Midwest. She made headlines when she flew a Kansas airmail route in May 1938, and she also flew for the Civil Air Patrol.
Hoping for a career in aviation, the incorrigible Nadine pursued her ambition to fly, and with the gathering storm clouds of World War II, she was provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fly the hottest aircraft in the USAAF arsenal, graduating with WASP class 43-W-5 on September 11, 1943. Nadine was in her early thirties when she became a WASP, older than most of her fellow trainees at Avenger Field, but she had already been flying planes for seven years. Assigned to pursuit school, where she learned to fly pursuit (or fighter) aircraft, she graduated on May 1, 1944, and was posted to the USAAF’s Sixth Ferrying Group at Long Beach AAF under the command of Barbara Erickson. As a WASP, Nadine piloted the PT-19, BT-13, UC-78, AT-6, P-39, P-47, P-51, and P-63 aircraft. She was also one of 26 WASP who flew the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and the first woman to own one.
Following my June blog for the National WASP WWII Museum on Barbara ‘BJ.’ Erickson London’s Air Medal, I was contacted by Nadine Ramsey’s sister-in-law, Raquel Ramsey, the author of Taking Flight: The Nadine Ramsey Story, a book she co-authored with Tricia Aurand. The initiation of the book began when Raquel’s husband, the late Col. Edwin Ramsey asked Raquel to write his sister Nadine’s epic story. Col. Edwin Ramsey, who passed away in March 2013 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, was a decorated World War II hero who commanded a guerrilla army in the Philippines for three years behind enemy lines. Of his sister Nadine, Edwin, who knew heroism when he saw it, once said, “She had more guts than I ever did.” And, he wanted his sister’s story told.
In honoring her husband’s request, Taking Flight: The Nadine Ramsey Story was published in 2020 by the University of Kansas Press, then re-published in paperback in 2022. Presently Raquel Ramsey is working with Vanilla Fire Productions as executive producer on the completion of the documentary, Taking Flight: The Nadine Ramsey Story, based on her book of the same title. The documentary is set to premiere in November 2024 at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. The Nadine Ramsey story is a profile of the courage of a woman who helped clear the flight path for today’s female commercial and combat aviators. There is so much more to learn about her at https://nadinebramsey.com
Written by: Julia Lauria-Blum
Photos courtesy of: Raquel Ramsey
About Julia Lauria-Blum:
Julia Lauria-Blum earned a degree in the Visual Arts at SUNY New Paltz. An early interest in women aviation pioneers led her to research the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII. In 2001 she curated the permanent WASP exhibit at the American Airpower Museum (AAM) in Farmingdale, NY, and later curated ‘Women Who Brought the War Home, Women War Correspondents, WWII’ at the AAM. She is the former curatorial assistant & collections registrar at the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island and is currently editor-in-chief for Metropolitan Airport News.
Julia is the proud mother of two daughters and a rescued Boxer. Her many interests include swimming, painting, traveling, aviation history, cooking, and storytelling.