Written by Cynthia J. Beeman
Read by Debra Winegarten
In 1942, six months after the United States’ entry into World War II, the U.S. Army Airforce, facing a shortage of male combat pilots, turned to pioneering female pilot Jacqueline Cochran to launch her flight training program for women. Of the 25,000 women who applied, 1,830 were accepted and 1,074 completed training to become Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs. The first WASP training facility at Houston’s Municipal Airport was replaced in early 1943 by Avenger Field near Sweetwater, the only all-woman military flying school in the world.
Cochran’s program trained women to fly every sort of mission except combat—thus freeing male pilots for combat duty. The WASP were highly effective: they served at 120 Army air bases throughout the U.S. and flew more than 60 million miles in fighter, bomber, transport, and training aircraft, conducting tests on new aircraft, ferrying planes across the country, and training male pilots. Thirty-eight WASPs lost their lives flying for their country, but because they were classified as civilian employees they did not qualify for military benefits, and the women often pooled their own money to send their fallen comrades home for burial. These brave pilots did not get full recognition and benefits until 1977, when federal legislation finally reclassified them as military veterans. In 2009, the WASP received the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of their service as the first women in history to fly American military aircraft.
Inkley, Sherwood. "WOMEN'S [Sic] AIRFORCE SERVICE PILOTS," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qpw01), accessed January 07, 2015. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
111th Congress, Public Law 40, An Act to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots, July 1, 2009.
“Women Airforce Service Pilots,” Official Texas Historical Marker file, Texas Historical Commission, Austin.
“W.A.S.P. Training Base: Avenger Field,” Official Texas Historical Marker file, Texas Historical Commission, Austin.
Audio Source Information
Our project, "Texas Women's History Moments," received the 2012 National Council on Public History Outstanding Public History Award and the American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award. The audio clips were broadcast on KUT radio from 2011-2016 during Women’s History Month.