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WASP: Breaking Ground for Today’s Female USAF Pilots

Gen. Hap Arnold, Chief of the Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Gen. Hap Arnold, Chief of the Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Eleanor Roosevelt. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Eleanor Roosevelt. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- On July 1, 2009, President Barack Obama authorized Public Law 111-40 awarding the Congressional Gold Medal-the highest civilian recognition that Congress can bestow-to the Women Airforce Service Pilots(WASP). The 111th Congress awarded the medal "In recognition of their pioneering military service and exemplary record, which forged revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces of the United States of America." The medals on display are bronze replicas made by the U.S. Mint. They were presented to WASP veterans Marie Barrett Marsh and Genevieve Landman Rausch in 2010, and donated to the Museum on their behalf in 2015. The original WASP gold medal is kept by the Smithsonian Institution. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- On July 1, 2009, President Barack Obama authorized Public Law 111-40 awarding the Congressional Gold Medal-the highest civilian recognition that Congress can bestow-to the Women Airforce Service Pilots(WASP). The 111th Congress awarded the medal "In recognition of their pioneering military service and exemplary record, which forged revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces of the United States of America." The medals on display are bronze replicas made by the U.S. Mint. They were presented to WASP veterans Marie Barrett Marsh and Genevieve Landman Rausch in 2010, and donated to the Museum on their behalf in 2015. The original WASP gold medal is kept by the Smithsonian Institution. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) Exhibit in the WWII Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) Exhibit in the WWII Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- On July 1, 2009, President Barack Obama authorized Public Law 111-40 awarding the Congressional Gold Medal-the highest civilian recognition that Congress can bestow-to the Women Airforce Service Pilots(WASP). The 111th Congress awarded the medal "In recognition of their pioneering military service and exemplary record, which forged revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces of the United States of America." The medals on display are bronze replicas made by the U.S. Mint. They were presented to WASP veterans Marie Barrett Marsh and Genevieve Landman Rausch in 2010, and donated to the Museum on their behalf in 2015. The original WASP gold medal is kept by the Smithsonian Institution. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- On July 1, 2009, President Barack Obama authorized Public Law 111-40 awarding the Congressional Gold Medal-the highest civilian recognition that Congress can bestow-to the Women Airforce Service Pilots(WASP). The 111th Congress awarded the medal "In recognition of their pioneering military service and exemplary record, which forged revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces of the United States of America." The medals on display are bronze replicas made by the U.S. Mint. They were presented to WASP veterans Marie Barrett Marsh and Genevieve Landman Rausch in 2010, and donated to the Museum on their behalf in 2015. The original WASP gold medal is kept by the Smithsonian Institution. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- On July 1, 2009, President Barack Obama authorized Public Law 111-40 awarding the Congressional Gold Medal-the highest civilian recognition that Congress can bestow-to the Women Airforce Service Pilots(WASP). The 111th Congress awarded the medal "In recognition of their pioneering military service and exemplary record, which forged revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces of the United States of America." The medals on display are bronze replicas made by the U.S. Mint. They were presented to WASP veterans Marie Barrett Marsh and Genevieve Landman Rausch in 2010, and donated to the Museum on their behalf in 2015. The original WASP gold medal is kept by the Smithsonian Institution. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- On July 1, 2009, President Barack Obama authorized Public Law 111-40 awarding the Congressional Gold Medal-the highest civilian recognition that Congress can bestow-to the Women Airforce Service Pilots(WASP). The 111th Congress awarded the medal "In recognition of their pioneering military service and exemplary record, which forged revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces of the United States of America." The medals on display are bronze replicas made by the U.S. Mint. They were presented to WASP veterans Marie Barrett Marsh and Genevieve Landman Rausch in 2010, and donated to the Museum on their behalf in 2015. The original WASP gold medal is kept by the Smithsonian Institution. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- On July 1, 2009, President Barack Obama authorized Public Law 111-40 awarding the Congressional Gold Medal-the highest civilian recognition that Congress can bestow-to the Women Airforce Service Pilots(WASP). The 111th Congress awarded the medal "In recognition of their pioneering military service and exemplary record, which forged revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces of the United States of America." The medals on display are bronze replicas made by the U.S. Mint. They were presented to WASP veterans Marie Barrett Marsh and Genevieve Landman Rausch in 2010, and donated to the Museum on their behalf in 2015. The original WASP gold medal is kept by the Smithsonian Institution. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- On July 1, 2009, President Barack Obama authorized Public Law 111-40 awarding the Congressional Gold Medal-the highest civilian recognition that Congress can bestow-to the Women Airforce Service Pilots(WASP). The 111th Congress awarded the medal "In recognition of their pioneering military service and exemplary record, which forged revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces of the United States of America." The medals on display are bronze replicas made by the U.S. Mint. They were presented to WASP veterans Marie Barrett Marsh and Genevieve Landman Rausch in 2010, and donated to the Museum on their behalf in 2015. The original WASP gold medal is kept by the Smithsonian Institution. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- On July 1, 2009, President Barack Obama authorized Public Law 111-40 awarding the Congressional Gold Medal-the highest civilian recognition that Congress can bestow-to the Women Airforce Service Pilots(WASP). The 111th Congress awarded the medal "In recognition of their pioneering military service and exemplary record, which forged revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces of the United States of America." The medals on display are bronze replicas made by the U.S. Mint. They were presented to WASP veterans Marie Barrett Marsh and Genevieve Landman Rausch in 2010, and donated to the Museum on their behalf in 2015. The original WASP gold medal is kept by the Smithsonian Institution. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- On July 1, 2009, President Barack Obama authorized Public Law 111-40 awarding the Congressional Gold Medal-the highest civilian recognition that Congress can bestow-to the Women Airforce Service Pilots(WASP). The 111th Congress awarded the medal "In recognition of their pioneering military service and exemplary record, which forged revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces of the United States of America." The medals on display are bronze replicas made by the U.S. Mint. They were presented to WASP veterans Marie Barrett Marsh and Genevieve Landman Rausch in 2010, and donated to the Museum on their behalf in 2015. The original WASP gold medal is kept by the Smithsonian Institution. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

As early as 1930, the War Department had considered using women pilots but the Chief of the U.S. Army Air Corps had called the idea "utterly unfeasible," stating that women were too "high strung." Famed woman aviator Jacqueline Cochran in 1939 wrote Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt (wife of then-President Franklin Roosevelt) to suggest women pilots could be used in a national emergency. Aviatrix Nancy Harkness Love in 1940 made a similar proposal to the Air Corps' Ferry Command. 

Nothing was done until after American entry into World War II. Facing the need for male combat pilots, the situation by mid-1942 favored the use of experienced women pilots to fly U.S. Army Air Forces aircraft within the United States. Two women's aviator units were formed to ease this need and more than 1,000 women participated in these programs as civilians attached to the USAAF. These were merged into a single group, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program in August 1943 and broke ground for U.S. Air Force female pilots who would follow in their footsteps.

Click on the following links to learn more about women pilots during WWII.

Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron
Women's Flying Training Detachment
WASP Created
WASPs Demonstrate Their Abilities
WASP Disbanded
Epilogue
WASP Uniform

Click here to return to the World War II Gallery.

 

Find Out More
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Lectures
Maj. Nicole Malachowski: "America's Women Military Aviators" (00:59:50)
Florene Miller Watson: "Early Women Pilots in World War II" (01:12:49)
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Other Resources
USAF Historical Study No. 55: Women Pilots with the AAF (Provided by AFHRA)
WASP Official Archive (Texas Woman's University)
National WASP World War II Museum
Wings Across America
"Fly Girls" (PBS Documentary)
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Note: The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the National Museum of the USAF, the U.S. Air Force, or the Department of Defense, of the external website, or the information, products or services contained therein.

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