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Honoring Women's History Month at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

  • Published
  • By Lisa M. Riley

Throughout our nation’s history, women have made immeasurable contributions to its establishment and progress. As we observe Women’s History Month in March, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force will offer special tours of its exhibit titled “Women in the Air Force: From Yesterday into Tomorrow,” which honors women’s achievements in their civilian and military careers. Tours will be available for free to all museum visitors on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. throughout the month of March.

The exhibit, which opened in March 2021, features displays located throughout the museum, and has been a highlight for visitors over the past year. Historical issues, changes in laws and attitudes, and women’s contributions to the Air Force mission throughout its 75-year history and beyond are among the topics covered in the displays.

In the Early Years Gallery, visitors can learn how British female pilots led the way beginning with Mary Wilkins-Ellis, who joined the Britain’s Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), and transported aircraft from factories to active service squadrons during World War II.

The story of Jacqueline Cochran, who was ranked among the top female pilots of her era by setting an incredible number of records, and breaking men’s distance, altitude, and speed achievements can be seen in the Early Years and World War II Galleries, as well as throughout the museum. Cochran would go on to become the founder and director of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal - the highest non-combat award - for her work in 1945.

Displays in the second building include the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which was signed into law by President Truman in 1948, and authorized women to serve permanently in all military branches. Among the stories featured in this building include that of SSgt. Esther Blake, who became the first woman in the Air Force by enlisting on the first minute, of the first hour, of the first day that Air Force authorized women’s participation; and the heroic actions of Lt. Regina Aune and Lt. Harriet Goffinett, who carried many children to safety during Operation Babylift.

The drive to break down barriers is further illustrated by the Significant Women Silhouette - a uniquely designed display that introduce visitors to those who created new opportunities for women. This exhibit covers a diverse range of achievements such as the first American woman to fly solo in an airplane (Blanche Stuart Scott); the first woman to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean (Amelia Earhart); the Air Force’s first female physician (Capt. Dorothy Elias); and the “Bouncing Bettys” award-winning munitions team.

Among the many “female firsts” on display in the third building are the first 10 graduates of the U.S. Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) program; the first female fighter pilot (Jeannie Flynn Leavitt); the first female aerial gunner (Airman Vanessa Dobos); the first female to fly a fighter aircraft in combat (Capt. Martha McSally); and the first female F-35 pilot (Lt. Col. Christine Mau).                                     

The story of pilot Nichole Malachowski, who took her first solo flight at age 16 (earning her pilot’s license before her driver’s license), and later became the first female pilot on any U.S. military high performance jet team as a member of the Thunderbirds in 2005, is also featured in this building.

Amazing stories of courage are highlighted including Air National Guard pilot Lt. Heather Penney of the 121st Fighter Squadron. On Sept. 11, 2001, Penney along with another pilot received one-way orders to stop hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 as it headed towards Washington, D.C. Armed with shoot to kill orders, but no weapons, they were on a suicide mission with the full intention of ramming the Boeing 757 in order to protect national security. After sweeping the D.C. airspace for over an hour, the pilots learned the passengers had forced the aircraft down in a Pennsylvania field.

Another ground-breaking display titled Moving Towards Equality highlights milestones in legislation that brought policy changes on issues such as automatic discharge for pregnancy or having custody of minor children; the expansion of women’s rights allowing women to have the ability to serve in any military occupation, and further opportunities for advancement. In addition, female leaders who have overcome roadblocks, defeated biases and led the way in recent years are featured in a display titled Women Leading the Way.

Finally, in the fourth building visitors can learn about the first American female astronaut to go into space (Sally Ride); the first U.S. military woman in space who was also the first woman to work aboard the International Space Station (Maj. Susan Helms); the first female space shuttle pilot (Maj. Eileen Collins); the first women to serve as commanders in orbit at the same time (Col. Pamela Melroy and Peggy Whitson); and some of the most important discoveries and inventions that female Air Force scientists, engineers, mathematicians, medical professionals, and artists have developed over the years.

According to National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Curator Christina Douglass, as the Air Force celebrates a major milestone, it’s particularly important to tell the story of how women have helped shape today’s force.

 “This year the U.S. Air Force is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and integral to that story is the part that women have played throughout history,” said Douglass.  “The ‘Women in the Air Force’ exhibit features stories of dedication, passion and the challenges that women have faced in their desire to serve our nation. Although this is a permanent exhibit in the museum, it’s my hope that during Women’s History Month, visitors will take the time to come see it and will better understand the sacrifices women have made as well as be inspired to continue to advocate for equality.”

To learn more about this exhibit, visit

In 2022 we proudly celebrate the 75th anniversary of the United States Air Force. Throughout the year we will host a variety of events and exhibits to share the history of the Air Force and the stories of our airmen with the public. Look for additional information on our website later this month.

The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, is the world’s largest military aviation museum. With free admission and parking, the museum features more than 350 aerospace vehicles and missiles and thousands of artifacts amid more than 19 acres of indoor exhibit space. Each year thousands of visitors from around the world come to the museum. For more information, visit                                                                           

NOTE TO PUBLIC: For more information, contact the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at (937) 255-3286.

NOTE TO MEDIA: For more information, contact Lisa Riley at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Public Affairs Division at (937) 255-1283.