Nadine Ramsey was born on August 28, 1911, to Nelle and Claude Ramsey. Nelle and Claude settled in Carlyle Illinois and Claude went to work in the oil fields as a “wildcatter”. Even though her childhood was filled with tragedy, she was fun-loving, restless, impulsive, and fearless. Treva Eileen, Nadine’s toddler sister died from extensive burns when she pulled a pot of boiling water onto herself. Nadine was suddenly a bewildered and lonely young child, On May 9, 1917, Edwin Price Ramsey was born, and Nadine was a big sister again. The Ramsey family then decided to move to Eldorado, Kansas about thirty-three miles from Wichita, which was described as the “Garden of the West.”
After World War I the nation experienced an economic boom, new industries flourished, and factories hummed. It was the Jazz Age and social liberation for women. By 1920 women could vote, bob their hair, wear slacks, drink alcohol, and speak their minds. Young girls like Nadine dreamed of going to college and having careers outside of secretarial, teaching, or homemaking. There were women in science, medicine, business, and aviation.
Nadine’s was life influenced and even altered by Amelia Earhart, Louise Thaden, and Jacqueline Cochran.
Flying appealed to Nadine’s passionate and reckless nature. Flying was extremely perilous and unpredictable, but to Nadine, the incredible risk was far from a deterrent; it was a draw. Having made up her mind to fly, she found an instructor who was willing to teach girls. Every evening after work she went down to the little airfield at the Beechcraft factory at Wichita Municipal Airport to take flying lessons. She did not tell her mother for fear of scandal. Of course, Nelle, her mother, was bound to find out eventually.
After six and a half hours of instruction, Nadine took off in a Velie Monocoupe, soloed and landed magnificently, and climbed out onto the runway. Photographers from the Wichita Beacon were there, she posed proudly beside her plane. Nadine knew Nelle would see the photo in the paper, but she was too overjoyed to care. She was flying; that was all that mattered, she was free. Nadine went on to be the first woman to be admitted to the Wichita chapter of the National Aeronautic Association, becoming the chapter’s secretary-treasurer, and participating in regional air shows as a stunt pilot. Nadine volunteered to fly special routes for National Air Mail Week (NAMW) to commemorate airmail’s twentieth anniversary.
On May 19, 1938, she flew south from Wichita to Wellington, Kansas, and back, approximately 70 miles round trip. Nadine climbed out of the plane, smiling, and waving at everyone, posed for a photo, and flew back to Wichita as one of the first women to fly airmail.
By 1940, Nadine moved to Manhattan Beach, California, and was advertising and selling Taylorcraft airplanes; she also carried passengers for a fee. On September 2, 1940, as she tried to land, the plane’s landing gear hit a tree, causing it to nosedive. Nadine’s passenger received fractures in both arms and a badly mangled leg. Nadine received serious internal injuries, a broken back and ribs, and a severe concussion. One of her legs was almost amputated but doctors were able to save the leg. Her brother Ed dropped out of law school to care for her while she recovered. By December, she could walk, and by February, she was flying again.
Nadine heard about the formation of the WFTD (Women’s Flying Training Detachment) under the direction of Jacqueline Cochran and applied on February 9. 1943. She was accepted and scheduled to report to Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas. Nadine’s class 43-5 was the first to report to Sweetwater on March 23, 1943, initially. Her class graduated on September 12, 1943.
Nadine went on to pursuit school, where she learned to fly fighter planes. As a WASP, Nadine piloted P-T19, B-T-13, U-C-78,A-T-6, P-39, P-47, P- 51, and P-63 planes. She was also one of the twenty-six WASP who flew a Lockheed P-38 Lightning. She was originally assigned to Love Field, Texas, but was asked to be transferred to Long Beach Army Air Base in California, where she ferried aircraft and was an instructor in “preflight transition”. After the WASP were disbanded, she remained at Long Beach as an attaché to the Sixth Ferrying Group.
In 1945, Nadine bought her own P-38, in Kingman, Arizona from Army surplus for $1,250. She became the first female civilian in the world to own a P-38 (one of the world’s fastest airplanes). Nadine flew her P-38 for two and a half years, selling it when she could no longer afford to maintain the plane.
Written by: Ann Haub | Collections Director
Photos courtesy: National WASP WWII Museum Archives & the family of Nadine Ramsey – Taking Flight – The Nadine Ramsey Story (nadinebramsey.com)
Partner with the WASP Archive in achieving its mission to collect, protect, preserve and provide access to materials that chronicle the WASP story, its legacy, and the personal and professional lives of its pilots. New artifacts are always welcome. Please call Ann Haub at 325-235-0099 or by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.