By BG Anne F. Macdonald: This will by no means be inclusive of all women aviators— past or present—but highlights a few who paved the way for others to follow.
Just a few years after the Wright brothers’ conducted their first powered flight in 1903, E. Lillian Todd designed and built an aircraft. In 1910, Blanche Stuart Scott became the first woman to solo an airplane. Harriet Quimby became the first U.S. woman to earn a pilot certificate in 1911 and to cross the English Channel in 1912. In 1932, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to cross the Atlantic solo.
Women have embraced the allure and adventure of flying and have proven to be bold, competent and capable aviators.
World War II proved to be a defining era for women in military aviation. With a country in desperate need of talent, the nation came to rely on women to ferry aircraft from factories, tow targets for ground and aerial gunnery training, instruct male pilots and conduct aerial mapping.
Over 1,000 women, in what came to be known as the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP, flew more than 60 million miles across the nation in every type of
plane the Army Air Forces owned.
The exploits of these remarkable heroines and pioneers were recognized by GEN Henry “Hap” Arnold, AAF commander, at the last WASP graduation in 1944.
“You and more than 900 of your sisters have shown that you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your brothers,” Arnold said, “If ever there was any doubt in anyone’s mind that women can become skillful pilots, the WASPs have dispelled that doubt. I salute you, we will never forget our debt to you.”
When WWII ended, the WASP disbanded. Thirty years elapsed since the disbanding of the WASP and the beginning of women in Army aviation.
Editor’s note: This article led up to the Association’s 2009 Annual Convention in Nashville, Tenn. marking the 35th anniversary of women serving in the Aviation Branch. We thank BG Anne Macdonald, Aviation’s first female active duty general officer, for helping to chair and kick-off this series.
2009 marked the 35th anniversary since the first woman graduated from Army flight school at Fort Rucker, Ala., and highlighted some of the extraordinary women who overcame challenges, and soared to new heights to reinforce the notion that it is not gender but rather the capability of a person that matters, whether in
piloting aircraft or defending the nation.